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Arab Spring

Between apathy and utopia

by Peter Hauff

In brief

Only a tenth of the top candidates for Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly were women

Only a tenth of the top candidates for Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly were women

Europe’s politicians could do more to support the democratic awakening in the Arab world, but they hesitate to stray from well-beaten paths, German academics argue.

According to Isabel Schäfer, an expert on Mediterranean affairs at Berlin’s Humboldt University, EU policymakers prefer to cooperate with the Tunisian partners and organisations they were in touch with under the regime that supposedly disappeared with ex-President Ben Ali. During a symposium at Evangelische Akademie Loccum, a participant reported that well established institutions have been showered with money since the beginning of this year. Newly formed Tunisian organisations that sought funding from Brussels or Berlin mostly left empty-handed, said Isabel Schäfer.

Annette Jünemann of Hamburg’s Helmut Schmidt University similarly believes that Europe has failed to respond appropriately to revolutionary developments in North Africa. Speaking at a symposium at Evangelische Akademie Loccum, a Protestant conference centre, the political scientist said that, ever since the terror attacks of 11 Septber ten years ago, EU member governments have basically been “picking up the pieces”. In Jünemann’s view, they consider security more important than democracy. She also says that there is a lack of policy coordination, for instance between France and Germany on Libya, so the European Union’s hands are tied except in sectors that are considered technical such as energy and environmental protection.

Missed demographic opportunities for Germany

Stefan Winkler of the Goethe Institut in Munich reckons that a quota for “circular migrants” from North Africa could serve German interests in regard to demographic trends. It has been known for years that promising individuals from North Africa prefer to study in America, England or France rather than in Germany. Winkler told his audience in Loccum: “What we really need is systematic German-Arab youth exchange.”

According to Germany’s Academic Exchange Service DAAD, the level of student exchange is modest: only about 30 specialised German Master students per year opt to study in Arab countries of the Mediterranean, while around 100 Arab students get a scholarship for Germany (note essay on water issues in a Jordanian village on page 431). In Syria, for example, the DAAD could allocate less than 20 studentships in the period from 1993 to 2003. As experts point out, however, there is little scope for expansion because of a lack of German applicants.

There could be more private sector involvement in the region too, says Alfred Tovias. However, the lecturer in European studies at the University of Jerusalem, expresses some understanding for Germany’s export-oriented mid-sized enterprises showing little interest in North Africa.

Future growth of the world economy is not expected to be driven by the economies of Egypt and Tunisia, he concedes, but by major emerging markets like Brazil, Russia or India. Even so, German companies could still create jobs for the young revolutionary generation and profit in the process themselves. Tovias considers both the agribusiness sector and services promising. He believes that, on top of tourism, aviation training facilities, cement and recycling works as well as artificial landscapes for the film industry could generate employment.

Peter Hauff