The state of dis-Union: The EU and Europe in the MENA region since 2011

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This article is featured in the ORIENT IV 2019

In the past decade, several countries in the Middle East and North Africa have undergone dramatic changes, and with one exception – Tunisia – turmoil has resulted in civil wars, mass population displacements, unprecedented destruction, new forms of creeping authoritarianism, and increasing violent penetration from regional and extra-regional powers. With the exception of Iran, where Europe has displayed a consistently transformative approach, oriented not just to the suspension of Iranian uranium enrichment, but also to the normalisation of the country’s diplomatic relations both in the region and on the global scale, in key other regional instances Europe has been either a passive bystander when political space has been closed (Morocco, and even more so, post-2013 Egypt), thereby reinforcing ongoing trends favouring authoritarian reconfigurations, or has contributed to destabilising countries (the intervention in Libya in 2011 and the intra-EU split since then). The ‘principled pragmatist’ rhetoric has concealed a laissez-faire attitude which has emboldened new manifestations of foreign policy assertiveness and aggressiveness by both regional (Saudi Arabia, the Emirati, Turkey) and extra-regional players (mostly Russia) which are re-shaping regional power hierarchies, to the detriment of Europe and the US.

Ruth Hanau Santini is Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at Università L’Orientale in Naples. She has previously worked at The Brookings Institution in Washington, served as foreign policy consultant to the Italian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister in 2012-2013 and has coordinated two international research projects on Citizenship after the Arab Uprisings (EUSPRING) and on Grassroots’ mobilisation in the Arab World since 2011 (STREETPOL). Her research focuses on European foreign policy, popular protests in the Arab world and geopolitics of the MENA region. On a more theoretical level she is interested in issues pertaining to regional orders, hierarchy and status-seeking behaviour.

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