A tragedy in the making

In turning a blind eye to the corruption, nepotism and human rights violations of North African governments, the EU should share some of the blame for the violence that has recently erupted in Tunisia and Algeria, argues Belgian journalist Baudouin Loos.

Published on 10 January 2011 at 12:45
Wounded demonstrator after clashes with police, Regueb (Tunisia), 9 January.

Blood on the streets in Tunisia, Algeria in flames, violence in Egypt, while Morocco and Libya look on dismay. In recent days, events in North Africa have taken a worrying turn. However, there is no denying that the social discontent in the region, which has now risen to unprecedented levels, is the inevitable result of self-indulgent government.

What can we expect, when civil liberties are trampled (Tunisia)? Or when the political class continues to enjoy generous salaries (Algeria) in a time of rampant unemployment? When there is no future and when corruption has become a way of life (Tunisia and Algeria), is it not reasonable to expect the outbreak of popular revolt in the form of sporadic or generalised rioting?

Arab regimes use terrorism threat to justify oppressive methods

How could these despotic and contemptuous regimes not be aware of the enduring resentment engendered by organised injustice? How can they not see that the systematic violation of human rights will always result in bitterness and hatred?

Of course no governments have fallen, and in all likelihood none of these regimes will be really threatened while brute force remains a monopoly of the state. And this is certainly the case in Tunisia and Algeria, where revolt and protest movements are largely characterised by the spontaneous and disorganised expression of collective indignation.

But Europeans must assume their share of the blame for the tragic turn that events have now taken. Since the 1990s, we have entered into self-serving agreements with these regimes. In short, the attitude in Brussels has been that we will happily ignore your many faults and provide you with funding for liberalisation, and in exchange you only have to help us control illegal immigration and to clampdown on the radical Islamism.

The message inherent in this policy has not fallen on deaf ears. Since 9/11, Arab regimes have used the threat of terrorism to justify the use of oppressive methods which otherwise would not be tolerated, while allusion to the attacks in Europe (in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005) has drowned out any voices that might question support for such anti-democratic measures on the northern shores of the Mediterranean.

Time for Europe to assume its responsibility

Successive governments of a variety of political hues in Paris, Rome and Madrid have been the driving force behind this cynical European attitude which actually promotes the extremism it so ardently claims to combat. There is no denying the simple fact that these regimes are maintained by European support.

The time has come for Europe to assume its responsibility. We must actively seek to provide European support to North African politicians who offer the promise of ethical government that will serve rather than oppress the populations in these countries. And these politicians exist - we simply have to reach out to them.

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