The dramatic events named “Arab Spring” resulted from the popular uprising against authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East and led to the toppling of rulers in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Thus, astonishingly, the long-standing aspirations of Islamist factions wanting democracy, economic equality, and the elimination of corruption were realized in the blink of an eye. Though it is unclear what the character of these new regimes in the Arab world will be – authoritarian as in the past, democratic, or Islamist – it appears most likely that the latter will take the reins.
The response of the European Union and its member states to the dramatic events is puzzling; for decades, partnerships existed with the authoritarian regimes in the Arab world and friendly relations prevailed – though this policy ostensibly conflicted with the central European values as it ignored the denial of democracy in the Middle East. Now, with the outbreak of the “Arab Spring,” Europe’s leaders have turned their backs on the “friendly” regimes and enthusiastically supported their opponents – in political declarations, in official policy, and in physical involvement – despite the real concerns that Islamist forces can reap the benefits of the revolution. This turning point in Europe’s policy raises many questions and concerns.
The article analyzes the considerations that shaped European policy toward the Muslim world in light of Europe’s vital interests, which include curbing a massive flow of Muslim immigration; averting violent responses on the part of Muslim minorities in Europe; reducing the influence of radical and fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East amongst Muslim immigrant minorities; and securing energy resources. These are permanent and continuing interests; preserving them is one of the cornerstones of European policy. These interests and their foundations can account for the profound reversal in attitude regarding recent events in the Middle East – it is an outgrowth of a calculated risk and a lack of alternatives.
Finally, questions about the State of Israel’s status arise: Does Israel face growing danger as a result of “Arab Spring”? There is a perilous possibility that Islamist forces will take control; how is it reconciled with the chance that the events will lead to progress in peace processes in the Arab world? Future European policy toward Israel is also called into question in light of the uncertainty about the region’s future.