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Mid-east Gets The Lamps Burning Late In Europe …

  • February 22nd, 2011
  • Posted by 7thmin

mideast-eu-map.jpgCrisis means danger and opportunity, a message known to European Foreign Ministers preparing a fresh round-table in Brussels (21.2.11), on what to do, or not, about the Middle East this week.


Most have been vocal condemning gratuitous violence being committed by despotic regimes confronted suddenly by citizen protests demanding they quit office.

The European Union High Representative, Catherine Ashton, led the condemnation, in particular of attacks on citizens in Libya.

gaddafi-2.jpgDespite an attempted blackout of foreign mass media and telecommunications by the government of Muammar al-Gaddafi, (picture), evidence had built up by Monday, of as many as 200 deaths.


The High representative Ashton said the European Union was backing the movement across the region, calling for democratic reforms – and would support that with financial assistance.

During extensive travels in the Mid-east in the last fortnight, this week taking her to Egypt, she announced a strong start in neighbouring Tunisia, pledging €258-million (A$349-million; 22.2.11) over two years, to the newly-installed interim government.


In the many efforts to assess the sudden political shake-up of the Middle East, and foretell the actions of main players:-

Commentary from the Chinese news agency, Xin Hua, interpreted the European diplomatic initiative in Europe in terms of opportunity, to consolidate and make good existing ties.

“These visits have delivered a strong message that the European Union, which has kept long-time political and economic ties with Arab countries due to geopolitical and historical factors, is increasing its efforts to consolidate relations with these countries and expand traditional influences in the Arab world”, it said.

Simultaneously, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, became the first overseas head of government t to visit Egypt since the removal of the President of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak.

The chief representative of Egypt’s former colonial patron outlined the preferred outcome: the new situation was an “opportunity for democracy to become established” there.


An alternative European view was more cautious about the opportunities, more watchful of risks.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy, another state, a Mediterranean neighbour, with lasting interests derived from a colonial past, mused about talk of a partition of Libya, to follow the present violence.

“That would be really dangerous”, he said.

“We Europeans are very concerned about the migratory flows impact that would be one of the consequences of more turbulence in North Africa,” he added, then going on to add to the preferred formula in Europe at this moment.

“We need a European comprehensive action plan; we should support all peaceful transitional processes that are ongoing in the Middle East while avoiding a patronising position.”


If that indicated hesitation, in a state of affairs after-all rife with uncertainties, other points of view were seeing mostly the confusion of political leaders, not quite yet knowing what to do.

Commentary from German radio, Deutsche Welle, for example:

“What was for decades unthinkable has suddenly become reality: People in the Arab world no longer fear their rulers. They are fighting fearlessly for their rights …

“While history is being made in North Africa and the Middle East, the regions’ neighbor Europe has been reduced to a mere spectator. It’s no surprise that Europe is baffled as to how to react. Freedom and democracy are the European Union’s most precious values. And yet, economic and pragmatic considerations have long led the EU to cooperate with autocratic rulers.

“The unjust regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi, where the military and police turn and shoot on their own people, is the same regime that ensures EU countries are not overwhelmed with illegal immigrants.”


The prospective fall of Gaddafi provides the focus at the beginning of this week of crisis: the signs of a bloody show-down; the long history of the regime in power – 42 years – suddenly confronted with a mortal threat; the bizarre figure of the dictator himself.

“We urge restraint”, said Catherine Ashton, speaking for many.

Concern is understandably widespread.

In Australia, the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, deplored “unrestrained violence and use of lethal weaponry” by the government in Libya, for which it had “no excuse”, as a signatory of international covenants on human rights.

He called complaints by that government to the EU, that it was fomenting trouble from outside, the “tired script” of tracing all problems to Western interests and interference.

On Monday 21.2.11 civil strife continued across North Africa and much of the adjoining Middle East; street demonstrations that brought down the government leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, were being followed by protest action, or repression, in several states including Algeria, Djibouti, Iran, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen.

The episode has invoked recollections of the domino chain of falling regimes in Eastern Europe, in 1989; it has also excited special interest in geo-political, and economic concerns, global oil prices making a sudden leap at the start of this week.


AP / Raf Casert, “EU ministers urge Libya to end attacks on protests”, Associated Press, NY, 22.2.11., (21.2.11).

Rainer Sollich, “Opinion: Europe at a loss to promote democracy in Arab world”, Deutsche Welle, Bonn, 21.2.11.,,14856737,00.html, (21.2.11).

S1fy News, Chennai, “EU calls to stop violence in Libya, urges restraint”, 21.2.11., (21.2.11).

Xinhua, Beijing, “EU seeks more presence in Middle East”, 20.2.11., (21.2.11).

Gaddafi – wikipedia