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Home » News » Fourth International Foreign Policy Conference dedicated to Bronisław Geremek

Fourth International Foreign Policy Conference dedicated to Bronisław Geremek

- Central-Eastern Europe – unlike the Middle East – has managed to implement democratic reforms. Yet we need to see the Arab countries in a long-term perspective  because some political transformations have taken  years to materialize. And the long-term future is revolution, opined Angus Blair during the 4th international conference dedicated to Professor Bronisław Geremek.  

 

On 12-13 September 2013 the Lazienki Park in Warsaw  hosted an  international conference  under the heading “Arab Revolts: Two Years After” . This was the fourth edition of a project conceived to perpetuate Prof. Bronisław Geremek’s political thought in Europe. The annual meetings are meant to serve as  a forum for regular debate on pivotal issues concerning the future of Europe and its foreign policy; the participants include top intellectuals, analysts and politicians.

The introduction was delivered by Gilles Kepel – French political scientist, professor at Sciences Po  and the Institut Universitaire de France, expert on the Arab world, regular contributor to “Le Monde”, “New York Times”, “La Repubblica” and “El Pais”.

Kepel analyzed the genesis of the “Arab spring” in its historical and political aspects, highlighting the similarities and differences between its progress and other revolts of a social character – including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Prague Spring and  even  the Spring of Nations (1848).  The French scholar  put the developments in the Middle East  in the context of two historiographic  concepts of American scientists : Francis Fukuyama (“the end of history”) and Samuel Huntington (“clash of civilizations”). Each allows a different perception of the  socio-political developments in the Middle East , though  each recognizes as the key catalyst the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. “ The challenge that terrorism poses  to the Western powers  is exceptionally important. In addition to its various negative effects, it has also had the effect of  incorporating the socio-political system of the Middle East  into the global system – despite all the differences, including drastic ones, that separate the two worlds”, Kepel underlined.  He suggested that the momentum of political developments in the Arab countries is a consequence of the big-power rivalry between the United States and Russia, with  two other aspects superimposed on the situation: the geopolitical (including the position of Israel) and the economic.  The Arab spring has degenerated into an   Islamic winter wherever oil and gas interests were not involved or there was no threat to Israel. Paradoxically, in such instances, suppression of the revolution was congruent with international  consensus.

PANEL I

The participants in the  first panel  (Two Years After – an Attempt of Recapitulation)  included:

Angus Blair – President of  Signet Institute, commentator on global economic and political processes

Ahmed Driss – professor at Tunis University, Director of the Centre for Mediterranean and International Studies (CEMI)

Amira Hass – columnist for the Israeli daily “Ha’aretz”, specializes in Palestinian issues in the Western Bank and the Gaza Strip

Robert Wexler – President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington, former long-time member of the US House of Representatives

The discussion was moderated by Patrycja Sasnal.

The participants attempted to define the real effect of the Arab awakening. Some key questions: how do protracted conflicts (e.g. the Israeli-Arab conflict) undermine the political  stability  in the region? What is the nature of the internal political forces active in Egypt, Tunisia , Libya?  Can European Union and US policies influence changes in the Arab world, and if so – to what extent? And, most importantly, is the situation evolving in a favorable, optimistic direction? 

In view of the absence of  clear-cut results, the participants agreed that the most vital achievement of the Arab spring  consisted in the sense and awareness of freedom gained by the peoples involved in the revolts. Robert Wexler emphasized: “We shouldn’t confuse  violence, lawlessness and chaos with dilemmas if a policy is good or bad. When you have people demanding greater freedom  - you come down on their side, without any “buts”. Even if “just” stability is at stake -  we are duty-bound to be on the right side of history”.

Even though the political situation in the region is not simple and most people – including commentators – are disappointed at the development of events, the  struggle has awakened much hope, pride and self-respect.   Thus, we have witnessed a fight for principles, for dignity and liberty. The next stage should involve building the foundations of a democratic culture. 

 

PANEL II

The participants in the Panel II (How Can Europe Engage  in the Middle East? ) included:

Ebtissam El Kailani – lawyer and human rights activist from Libya, founder of the organization “ Lawyers for Justice in Libya”

Koray Çalişkan – assistant professor at the Political Science Institute of Boğaziçi University in Istanbul

Leila Nachawati – professor of communication at Charles III University in Madrid, Spanish-Syrian social and political activist

Christian-Peter Hanelt – political  scientist, senior expert at the Bertelsmann Foundation, specialist on the Middle East

Stanisław Smoleń – staffer of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former ambassador of the RP to Iraq

Paweł Świeboda was the debate moderator.

The panelists  analyzed the perception of Europe in the Middle East and North  Africa, and considered reactions in European countries to the Arab revolution.  They also reflected on what Europe was doing  to support various civic groups and individual activists in their efforts  to create conditions for ending social conflicts. The participants argued over the role that Europe should play in the future: should it focus on the protection of universal values or become  more active in seeking direct political solutions?

It was repeatedly underlined that in order to  save the elements of the civil society that had emerged during the revolt, it was essential to reject the dichotomy between Al Qaida  and the  authoritarian regimes. Since political instability in the Arab countries constitutes a threat  to the whole region, assistance to the states of the Mediterranean amounts to an investment in global peace. Turkey, as the only lay state of the Middle East, has a particular role to play in these processes. The European Union should rethink its strategy toward the Arab countries, adopt a broader perspective and discard its purely bureaucratic, technical approach that is ineffective when confronted with dynamic and largely unpredictable  political transformations.  As Leila Nachawati underlined: “ The region must be seen as a whole, though in the context of a self-organizing society. It is that society that should enter the arena  as a full-fledged subject and partner in  international dialogue. Meanwhile, it is the professional political players  who still remain in the forefront”.  Thus, Europe needs to identify the right partners for dialog.   

PANEL III

The participants in Panel III (Potential Scenarios for the Region) included:

Bahey el-din Hassan – Co-founder and Director of the  Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

Alexander Dynkin  - economics professor, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO)

Rima Marrouch – journalist, correspondent for “L. A. Times” and “Al Hayat”

Rana Sweis – journalist and media scholar , works for “New York Times”, specializes in socio-political issues

Mazin Qumsiyeh – professor  and lecturer at Palestinian universities in Bethlehem and Birzeit, human rights activist.

The panel discussion was moderated by Adam Daniel Rotfeld.

The participants considered potential future political and social changes, the outlook for ending the civil war in Syria, as well as the influence of Turkey and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on stability in the region. The key problems include the situation of the Syrian refugees and the general condition of the young generation in Middle East countries, where 60 per cent of the population  do not see any future for themselves, falling easy prey to Islamic groupings. Also disturbing is the tendency towards global settlement of internal conflicts, though – on the other hand – the international community needs to possess some negotiating potential, allowing it to deal with instability in certain parts of the world. Mazin Qumsiyeh  underlined that preservation of stability in the Middle East requires resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. – “ I remain an optimist even though we live in a decade of deceit. Why am I optimistic? Because I have multicultural  experience  - and  globalization in  fact constitutes an opportunity for us.  Justice will flow like a strong current and peace will reign  over the world”.

That scenario is set out for the next few decades, though its implementation is certainly possible. Crucially, the events of the Arab spring have eradicated a certain psychological barrier and authoritarian rule is no longer seen as the sole political alternative for the region.

The conference partners included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the RP, the College of Europe, the Centre of French Culture and Francophone Studies of Warsaw University, the Royal Lazienki  Museum in Warsaw and PKN Orlen. “Gazeta Wyborcza” was the media patron.

 

Jacek Głażewski