February 27, 2019
EU bets on stable dictatorships to guard its south
We would not normally offer a post-mortem of the EU’s recent summit meeting with the Arab league, the first in what is to be an annual shindig alternating between EU and Arab capitals. No doubt to the frustration of more than a few of the participants, Brexit news and talks predictably hijacked parts of the summit. The impassioned plea by the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for Europeans not to interfere with the Arab States’ management of their own affairs was perhaps the other salient summit event. The Egyptian dictator’s seemingly-impromptu press conference speech was greeted with vigorous applause from Egyptian media representatives; and it was left to Jean-Claude Juncker to insist that the question of human rights had indeed been raised. The joint declaration published at the end of the summit mentions neither these words, nor democracy. It is quite simply as if the Arab Spring had never happened – or rather, it has happened, and therefore those fearsome words must never be mentioned again.
All this is a long preamble to say that the EU has now determined that nothing matters more or so much as to sustain and cultivate a ring of stable states on the Mediterranean’s borders, countries able and willing to keep Africa’s refugees from travelling across the Mediterranean to Europe. As the earlier EU idea of creating vast refugee camps where the asylum requests could be pre-screened or dealt with has been universally rejected across the region, the business of keeping the refugees out or away is now done quietly. The logical conclusion is that the EU will henceforth see the economic stabilisation of the dictatorships in Egypt and other Arab states as a vital own interest. We note with a degree of wonder about the times we live in that it fell to one Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to chide Egypt ahead of the summit for its liberal use of the death penalty.