Steering with one hand behind our back


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the European Union has made a major contribution to the democratisation of Central Europe. Designing a democratic state under the rule of law was the most important condition set for the former Eastern Block countries that aspired to membership of the EU. Brussels punished governments that violated the democratic rules by putting their accession negotiations on the back burner, as happened, for instance, to the government of the authoritarian populist Mečiar in Slovakia in the mid-nineties. His successor came to power promising to bring the country back into the leading group of candidate countries; a promise that he managed to fulfil. Slovakia became a member state of the EU in 2004, at the same time as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, the Baltic States, Cyprus and Malta.

Romania and Bulgaria joined at the beginning of 2007. The EU had set the bar lower for these countries; too low, given the inability and unwillingness that Bucharest and Sofia are still showing when it comes to tackling corruption and organised crime. Nevertheless, the American

democracy watchdog Freedom House has acknowledged democratic progress. There is, for example, a 'vibrant civil society' in both countries.

In its promotion of democratisation in these countries, the EU had a carrot and a stick at its disposal. The carrot was the promise of belonging to an area of permanent peace, with open borders and a high standard of living. Full membership would give the right to vote in the European institutions and the right to claim support from European funds. The stick was the possibility of freezing the accession process. Candidate countries that flouted the accession conditions ran the risk of ending up as political pariahs and economic paupers, isolated from the rest of Europe by high boundary fences.

Limp carrot

The EU also held out the carrot of membership to the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey but only Croatia can be reasonably certain of being able to join within the next few years. The European carrot is starting to look somewhat limp to the other candidate countries. Many EU citizens are suffering from enlargement fatigue. Most European politicians have learned the lesson from the enlargement rounds of 2004 and 2007 that in future they must stick more strictly to the accession criteria. Some, such as the French President Sarkozy, even want to renege on promises of future membership that have already been made. It is understandable that many aspirant EU citizens, from Bosnia to Turkey, are asking themselves whether they are really welcome in the EU. Does the uncertain prospect of membership really make up for the sacrifices that the EU demands, the painful reforms and difficult reconciliation processes that it tries to exact from them with its stick? Might it not turn out at the end of this long road that the European carrot is well past its sell-by date?

Among Muslims in the aspirant countries, in particular, doubts are growing about the honourable intentions of the EU. Mustafa Eminefendić, our friend in Sarajevo, reports that the Muslims in his country were left in the lurch by Western Europe before, during and after the Bosnian war in the 1990s. He is European through and through, but feels that he is mistrusted and humiliated on account of his Islamic roots. This is the very reason why he has started going to the mosque. ''The West has turned me to Islam'', he says.

Many Turks also doubt whether their country will ever be allowed to join the EU, given the fear of Islam. It is partly due to this that the reforms have ground to a halt. That in turn is leading to increasing criticism from Brussels. Turkey and the EU are in danger of getting caught up in a spiral of mutual suspicion if the renewal of the democratic mandate of the AKP government is not seized by both parties as an opportunity to breathe new life into the accession process.

Promoting processes to further democracy in the countries neighbouring the EU is even more difficult when there is no prospect of membership at all. Countries like Morocco and Egypt have no chance of joining the EU, if only because they are not geographically part of the continent of Europe. Morocco's request for membership was turned down in 1987. Without the carrot of EU membership, the stick that the EU can brandish against these countries is much smaller.

Moving forward with our Muslim neighbours is in these circumstances rather like riding a bike with one hand behind our back and, as every cyclist knows, gusts of wind, oncoming traffic and potholes can then result in painful collisions. That should not, however, be an excuse to avoid all confrontation. It should not be used as an argument to invest less political and financial capital in relations with these Muslim neighbours than in relations with Eastern Europe. Europe has a huge interest in stability and development in both cases. The political and economic stagnation in many Islamic countries feeds the resentment of Muslims against the West - and also that of Muslims in the West. The best guarantee of stability and development is democracy.

Democratisation is a long drawn-out process. The short sharp blow does not work, as we have learned from the American experiences in Iraq. The EU should not be steering a course toward regime change, but playing an active role in the politics of Rabat, Cairo and Damascus, even when those in power do not appreciate our involvement.

European Neighbourhood Policy

The EU has developed a Neighbourhood Policy in recent years for those neighbouring countries, from Morocco to Ukraine, for which membership is not or not yet in prospect. The underlying principle is sound: the promotion of democracy and human rights leads to stability and development. In exchange for the desired reforms, the EU offers its neighbouring countries as much integration into European structures as is possible without becoming a member state. ''Everything but the institutions'', was the slogan launched by the then President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, when the Neighbourhood Policy was still on the drawing board: no right to vote in the European institutions, but participation in the internal market, financial  support and a freer movement of persons. The granting of these benefits is dependent on the extent to which the neighbouring countries implement the promised reforms, laid down in bilateral action plans.

Although there is no carrot of EU membership, the European Neighbourhood Policy still seems to be a tempting offer to the neighbouring countries, which could give the EU maximum influence.

Unfortunately, the results have been disappointing, on both the supply and the demand sides. The European budget for the sixteen partner countries amounts to less than €2 billion per year. When it comes to access to its market, the EU is no more generous, as it insists on exceptions for agricultural products, for instance. Initiatives from the European Commission for a migration policy that would offer temporary jobs in Europe for job-seekers from the neighbouring countries founder in the Council of Ministers.

What Europe is offering has not been sufficiently attractive, therefore, to prompt the governments of the Mediterranean to work harder on reforms. They will not allow themselves to be pinned down on repealing repressive laws. They block the participation of moderate Islamists in numerous Euro-Mediterranean consultative forums. The modest resources earmarked for democracy and human rights end up with organisations that have close ties with the regime. Democratisation, a tough condition for accession candidates, is no more than loose change in the negotiations with neighbouring countries.

What is most troubling is that some governments within the EU simply don't make the effort anymore. Alarmed at the success of Islamist movements like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, they seem to be turning away from the pursuit of democratisation in the Mediterranean region. The traditional approach is gaining ground again: support for authoritarian regimes purely in the interests of stability in the short term and/or energy supply. European governments are swallowing their criticism of repressive measures, certainly when Islamists are the target. As a consequence, the EU is also guilty of selective indignation. Brussels protested to Cairo when the secular opposition leader Ayman Nour was imprisoned, but remains silent when large numbers of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are rounded up.

Firmer approach to incumbent governments

The credibility of the EU is therefore at stake in the Mediterranean countries on our southern border. The gulf between democratic rhetoric and actual policies is all too obvious to the dissatisfied majorities in these countries, who - rightly - hold the governments in office responsible for the lack of jobs, prosperity, legal certainty and political say. When the EU

presents itself as an uncritical ally of these regimes, we are feeding the radicalisation that we say we want to combat, not least among Muslims within our own borders. That may yet lead to regime change in one or more of the neighbouring Islamic countries, but then it will come in the

form of a revolution that brings new tyrants to power.

We argue for the abandonment of the short-sighted Realpolitik and for the revitalisation of the ideal of democratisation that lies behind the European Neighbourhood Policy. In order to increase its influence, the EU needs to offer a more attractive proposition to its Mediterranean neighbours: more relief funds and better access to the European market, but also more visas for students and scientists and more opportunities for temporary migration for work.

The drama surrounding the clandestine migrants who try to reach the southern coast of the EU in flimsy boats is reason enough to increase the opportunities for legal migration. Add to that the fact that the ageing European populations are experiencing increasing labour market shortages. We are faced with the task of developing a policy that is tailored to the labour market of each EU member state, but that combines the collective supply of jobs available, and publicises this in the countries of origin. Such a policy also needs to obviate the disadvantages of the guest worker schemes of the past. The work permits, exceptions aside, should offer no prospect of permanent residence. The goal should be that migrants take knowledge, experience and financial resources back to their country of origin. Payment to workers of the social security and pension contributions deducted from their wages on their departure would be an extra incentive not to try to stay in Europe illegally. Employers of illegal migrants should be dealt with severely, as proposed by the European Commission last year.

Legal migration of labour is not the panacea for illegal migration into Europe, but an  indispensable part of any attempt to regulate the inevitable movements of migrants. A large share of the political credit of the EU, plus a growing share of its support funds are at present being spent on attempts to involve North African governments in helping to guard the borders. The

EU wants them to discourage their own inhabitants, migrants from African countries to the south and refugees from elsewhere, but the cooperation from the North African authorities varies from being reluctant to poor. Opening up a route for legal migration would meet their wishes. It would

turn a European problem into a joint challenge. That could give the EU more elbowroom for its pursuit of democratisation.

The Mediterranean neighbouring countries of the EU are also asking for greater access to the European market. When it comes to agricultural products, in particular, both processed and unprocessed, the EU still protects its market with import quotas and duties. More Euro- Mediterranean trade is not at odds per se with sustainable development. If unilateral trade concessions from the EU contribute to economic development in the partner countries, if this increase in prosperity benefits education and health care, not least for the poor, then that will advance the emancipation of women and their participation in this labour market. That

would curb population growth, which in turn would greatly benefit the environment and the climate.

The biggest question is whether the poor really do gain from increasing export income. This is by no means certain in the Mediterranean countries, which currently have an extremely unequal distribution of income, and where opportunities for the poor to fight for their own interests are limited by the absence of political rotation. There is therefore a lot to be said for making increased access to the European market for neighbouring countries dependent on democratic reforms.

Stricter conditions are certainly necessary when the EU makes more generous financial support available. If a government refuses to include democratisation in the action plan, or to implement the promised reforms, the EU should draw consequences, in the form of reduced support. That

sounds paternalistic, and it is. This is not just about development cooperation - there are poorer countries further away in Africa and Asia that are more eligible for that - but it is just as much about security policy. The EU has offered Morocco, the most liberal country in the region, relatively less financial support than the dictator-led Tunisia. Our interlocutors in Morocco have expressed their indignation about this. They are right to do so, because the EU should not create the impression that it rewards repression. On the contrary, our policies should increase the cost

of repression for authoritarian regimes.

Moroccan politicians have a strong case when they claim an 'advanced status' for their country in its relations with the EU. Lately, some European governments and the European Commission have signalled their willingness to meet this demand. The other side of the coin is that the EU should be ready to cut back on gifts and loans, to put cooperation on the back burner, for countries that flout democratic standards. There is no reason to yield in advance to incumbent governments' arguments that their firm hand is the only alternative to the dictatorship of the Islamists, with the latter being tarred with the same brush as terrorists. This politics of fear

is a dead end road.

Free and fair elections

The EU must make the case for democratic reforms that create the conditions for real political contests in its neighbouring countries south of the Mediterranean: free and fair elections that force politicians and political parties to consider the needs of the whole population, that give the electorate the chance to punish the abuse of power, corruption and nepotism and to reward successful reform policies. That demands freedom to form political parties, to appoint candidates and to run campaigns. That also demands fair election procedures, a parliament with powers and an independent electoral management body. Respect for human rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association, is also essential. Without these rights parties can be silenced and a civil society cannot develop. An independent judiciary, which does not dance to the tune of those in power, is necessary to safeguard these rights. A free press is also indispensable. All these reforms, including interim steps large and small, lend themselves to inclusion in the action plans that the EU draws up with neighbouring countries.

Not only secular opposition parties, but moderate Islamists should be given access to the political arena. Democratisation does not amount to very much if the most popular social movement, and the one most open to change, is excluded from participating. A country like Egypt would do well to lift the ban on forming religious parties.

Admittedly, on our visit to Cairo we too had our doubts about the Muslim Brothers. Their willingness to observe democratic rules, universal human rights and international agreements is not beyond dispute. The written questions that our parliamentary delegation submitted to the Brothers after our meeting with them have still not been answered. Perhaps they have not resolved these questions yet. However, their present status - officially they do not exist - does not challenge the Muslim Brothers to come up with a political programme that throws more light on their intentions. If they were allowed to form a party, it would then become clearer whether or not they are prepared to respect constitutional principles. If not, then a ban on their participation in elections would meet with few protests from Europe. In that case a more moderate party such as Wasat would probably get the chance to translate the call for more Islam and less social inequality into a political manifesto.

Of course, a party programme cannot rule out the risk that the Muslim Brothers would abolish democracy once they had won an election - one man, one vote, one time - and then set up a theocracy. That is why the EU should not stop at requiring the regimes in neighbouring countries

to hold free elections as soon as possible. Democratisation entails more than that. A strong and pluralistic middle class, a free press and an independent judiciary are the necessary buffers against parties that take the slogan 'winner takes all' too literally. Support for training magistrates, for nongovernmental organisations and for independent media - even when they sympathise with the Islamists - should be given much higher priority in the European Neighbourhood Policy, even if these forms of assistance are not high on the list of priorities of the incumbent regimes. Support for democratisation need not come directly from European or national governments. When civil initiatives receiving European support run the risk of being portrayed as 'foreign agents' by the authorities, it may be better to route aid through development and human rights organisations.

Deep state

Democratisation amounts to more than reforming laws. In many of the EU's Islamic neighbours, the constitution and other laws are more liberal than what happens in practice. This is why the same party invariably remains in power in countries with a multi-party system, such as Egypt

and Tunisia.

The 'deep state', in its various manifestations, is a powerful obstacle to progress: manipulation of elections, parliamentary decisions, judicial decisions and public opinion; intimidation, bribery, detention, torture or liquidation of political opponents. There is a broad range of unlawful methods by which senior figures in the government, the army, intelligence services, police or the justice system perpetuate the balance of power, whether or not in collusion with religious  authorities, economic interest groups or organised crime. Even Turkey, which can pride itself on having a democratic tradition, has a secret network like this. Prime Minister Erdoğan spoke openly about this on Turkish television in 2007. As a reform-minded newcomer, he has been seriously thwarted by the deep state. His complaint gained credibility when, in January 2008, the police arrested dozens of members of the Ergenekon group. The accusations against them, including their involvement in several political killings, seem to be well-documented.

In Egypt, President Mubarak is the spider at the centre of the web of the deep state. He can 'order' a charge against members of the opposition and have them put in jail. In Morocco the web seems to be more powerful than the spider. The Makhzen, the 'circles around the palace', determine the pace of democratic reforms. And the king himself? ''Even if he wants to, he cannot change things'', confided a human rights activist to us in Rabat. 

Action plans for democratisation should not only cover better laws, but also contain tests for the extent to which the authorities observe existing laws. Thanks to independent human rights organisations, international human rights rapporteurs, watchdogs such as Transparency International and Freedom House and our own diplomats of the EU, testing the implementation of the law in practice is not an impossible task. Every violation of human rights or the law demands an appropriate diplomatic démarche.

International observers at elections are a means of exerting pressure to ensure compliance with the law. Certainly when Islamists request the presence of election observers, the EU should make a case for them to be sent out. That would help the European commitment to democracy to gain


Beauty contest

Operating stricter conditions in the bilateral relations between the EU and its Mediterranean neighbours may create the impression that Brussels wants to play one neighbouring country off against another. Will this not make Euro-Mediterranean cooperation a kind of beauty contest, where the biggest prize goes to the participant that pleases Europe the most? Should the multilateral dimension of the Barcelona process not be given far more emphasis? Our impression is that it is not so much lack of will on the part of the EU, but conflicts and suspicion between its Mediterranean partners that are obstructing a genuine regional integration process. The Arab

Maghreb Union, which five North African countries have joined, has simply not got off the ground because of the conflict between Morocco and Algeria about the status of Western Sahara. Democracies usually cooperate better than dictatorships and semi-dictatorships.

From this perspective, the 'Union for the Mediterranean' announced by the European Council in March 2008 might well be putting the cart before the horse. This plan to revitalise the Barcelona process, a scaled-back version of French President Sarkozy's earlier proposal for a 'Mediterranean Union' rivalling the European Union, meets with a lot of scepticism. Not only in EU capitals, but also in Turkey. Many Turkish politicians haven't forgotten that Sarkozy's original proposal was partly designed to offer Ankara an alternative to EU membership, to which Sarkozy is still opposed.

At the same time, the projects on which the Union for the Mediterranean will focus, varying from energy supply and pollution to exchange programmes for students and scientists, are of undeniable importance for the sustainable development of the region. The challenge for 'Brussels', now that it has taken over the steering wheel from Paris, will be to make sure that these projects support the wider aim of democratisation and do not reward the countries with the most oppressive regimes. In the field of energy supply, it would be short-sighted to assist Algeria in exploiting its natural gas reserves without helping Morocco develop its nascent renewable energy sector.

If the Union for the Mediterranean only results in more meetings between officials, making solemn but noncommittal declarations, it will not fare better than the current Barcelona process. It makes far more sense to bring non-governmental organisations together, from the EU and from the neighbouring countries, to learn from each other. To get politicians from secular and Islamist camps round the table together. This could create a forum for reform-minded forces. At the moment they allow others to play them off against each other too easily. Secular opposition parties and Islamist movements often have an even greater aversion to each other than to the regime. This perpetuates the status quo. There is everything to be gained from reducing mutual suspicion and formulating shared objectives.

In the wider region of EU's neighbours, less obvious forms of cooperation could open up. The researcher Richard Youngs points out that the Al Ghad party of Ayman Nour borrowed its orange motif from the Ukrainian democratic revolution of 2004 (Youngs, 2006). The EU failed to

bring Egyptian and Ukrainian democrats together: a missed opportunity.

Secularists and Islamists

Islamist movements and parties are political factors that we cannot ignore. They form the main opposition movements in the countries on the Mediterranean Sea that come under the European Neighbourhood Policy. If democracy suddenly broke out, in many countries the Islamists would

form the largest group in parliament or the government. Even from the more realistic scenarios of political transformation, their role cannot be airbrushed out of the picture.

It is an illusion to hope that the Islamists will be weakened by isolating them. That kind of strategy paves the way for radicalisation. It increases the risk that political change in the neighbouring countries will be achieved through violence. It leaves the path free for jihadis who are not pursuing any national goals, but whose aim is international subjugation to Islam. There can be no compromise with them.

For Europeans it is easier to talk to the secular opposition parties in these countries. The cultural gap is narrower. We share many of their liberal and socialist values and have a better understanding of their criticism of those in power. However, their role is a minimal one. They do

not represent the great mass of the population.

When we spoke to the Secretary General of the Parti Socialiste Unifié in his crumbling office in Rabat, he admitted that the Islamists are far better at winning converts to their cause. Another leftist party, the Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires, has allowed itself to be co-opted by the regime. It is part of the government but does not have any power. When we argue for cooperation with parties of the left, it is to spur them on to have more courage, so that the political opposition to the Makhzen is not left entirely to the Islamists. Another reason is so that they do not take the route of the established secular parties in Turkey, who because of their aversion to political Islam and their complicity in the deep state have become obstacles to democratic reforms. Finally, should the Islamists come to power, a credible secular opposition can show itself to be a counterweight and an alternative.

In Egypt we spoke to three secular opposition parties, including the party of Ayman Nour. They are too small and too elitist to be able to make a difference at the moment. The new electoral system offers them more chance of winning seats in parliament than the Muslim Brothers, because of the ban on religious parties. To make use of these opportunities, however, the secular opposition will have to ally itself more emphatically with the poor, and adopt social justice and the fight against corruption as campaign themes. They will then run the risk that the regime will hit back even harder. Even then we do not see them matching the popularity of the Muslim Brothers in the near future. A politician like Nour is more popular in the West than in his own country at the moment.

We urge the EU, therefore, to stop avoiding dialogue with Islamist movements, but to engage in it without preconditions. These discussions will be more difficult than those with the secularists, as we ourselves found, but the rewards to be gained from a successful dialogue are greater. This has been pointed out by Muriel Asseburg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs: implicit in the dialogue with Islamists is the promise for the EU of ''a broader influence in the societies of the region, rather than remaining confined to the rarefied circles of the civil society elites'', (Asseburg, 2007).

America's dirty hands

Up to now the EU has hardly done any better than the US when it comes to working for democracy in the Muslim world. If points were given out in international politics for good intentions - quod non - Bush could even claim to be in the lead: with the invasion of Iraq did he not at least try to parachute democracy into the heart of the Middle East?

The American President also surpasses all his European counterparts in rhetoric: ''Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because, in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export''.

Bush spoke these words in 2003 at a meeting on the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. At that moment in time Binyam Mohamed al Habashi was being held in a secret prison in Morocco, where interrogators were working on his genitals with a

scalpel. The Ethiopian who was resident in England was picked up in Pakistan and transferred to Morocco by the CIA, under its extraordinary rendition programme for terrorism suspects. Mohamed, a harmless nobody according to the British intelligence service MI6, is still imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay.

Other governments in the region, such as Egypt and Jordan, have also been called in by the American government to assist with the 'war on terror'. They can use methods of interrogation that are not permitted in the US. Naturally the regimes demand a price for this cooperation: no criticism of human rights violations and no political recognition for the Islamists. According to the American journalist Ken Silverstein, the US broke off its contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as far back as the end of the 90s, following complaints from the Mubarak regime. American diplomats are now officially prohibited from speaking to the Islamists. Silverstein points out the contradiction between Bush's doctrine of freedom and his choice of friends: ''It is precisely Egypt's lack of democracy - the regime's willingness to throw Muslim terrorism suspects into secret prisons and employ torture against them - that has made it such a valuable ally''.

The gaping gulf between words and deeds makes it difficult for the American government to start up a dialogue with representatives of political Islam. Add to that the fact that the government has to bear the American media in mind, which for its part does not want to offend the feelings of the pro-Israeli public with an over-subtle distinction between Islamists and terrorists.

The Europeans too can be blamed for hypocrisy, but they can count themselves lucky that the EU as such did not offer any support for the invasion of Iraq. Public opinion in Europe is less inclined to be led by the Israeli government when interpreting relations in the region. Several European countries have been complicit in the extraordinary renditions but they did not organise the torture programme. Meanwhile the EU and most of its member states have openly distanced themselves from it. To sum up: the EU is in a better position to enter into useful dialogue with the Islamists

and to work on building up trust on both sides.

We do not doubt that Europe will find partners to talk to. Many Islamists yearn for international recognition. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood runs an English-language website (, the Moroccan PJD has a site in French, English and Spanish ( That illustrates their need for contact with the West. In 2007, Ikhwanweb ran a poll on whether the Brotherhood should engage in direct dialogue with the US - assuming that Washington would be willing to do so. The fact that the Muslim Brothers raised this question is as telling as the outcome of the poll: 52% in favour, 39% against.

In February 2008, the editor-in-chief of Ikhwanweb, Khaled Hamza Salam, was arrested and put behind bars, apparently because of his protest against the use of military tribunals for trying Brotherhood leaders. The Egyptian authorities seem to consider moderates and reformers within the Brotherhood, such as Hamza, as their most dangerous enemies.

Cross-examining the Islamists

What should the dialogue with Islamists be about? To start with, there are quite a number of issues on which they need to speak in plainer terms. In 2007, an American think-tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, listed a number of 'unanswered questions', which we paraphrase below. The questions were geared to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, but they could also apply in discussions with its political friends in the region.

•1.      Which has priority, sharia law or constitutional democracy?

Are the Islamists prepared to observe the rules of a constitutional democracy? Even when secular laws are adopted that they feel are not compatible with the law of Allah, the sharia? Will they confine their opposition to such laws to democratic means? Following in the

footsteps of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP), Mediterranean Islamists are increasingly comparing themselves to the Christian Democrat movement in Europe, to endorse their democratic credentials. Do they, however, accept, just like the Christian Democrats, that it is for parliaments and judges to decide which laws are permissible? Or would they, once they had come to power, entrust that review of the law to Islamic scholars, who could overrule the secular authorities?

The Carnegie Endowment does not doubt the willingness of the Muslim Brotherhood to submit itself to political rotation through free elections, but the significance of one man, one vote is seriously undermined if religious authorities are given a right of veto over all laws. We see that in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The draft political platform of the Brotherhood, circulated for discussion in the summer of 2007, did indeed propose a council of religious scholars and suggested their advice on new laws would be binding. This proposal was severely criticised, however, both from the outside and from within the movement. In later statements, Brotherhood leaders made it clear that conflicts between parliament and the religious scholars would have to be settled by the Constitutional Court.

While the Egyptian Muslim Brothers are a touch too fanatical, the Parti de la Justice et du Développement in Morocco should be on its guard against adopting an all too meek position. The party has reconciled itself to the king being at the same time the highest religious authority and the most powerful political institution. That concession has made the PJD more acceptable to the powers that be, but it raises the question as to where it will find the lever for greater social justice and democratic development. What would the party manage to do if it became a part of the government, now that its demands for democratisation have been so moderated?

Under these circumstances participation in the government by the PJD is likely to play into the hands of its more radical rival, al Adl wal Ihsan. That movement wants to reduce the role of the monarchy to a ceremonial one, that much is clear. However, if they decide to participate in elections, Yassine and his people will also have to come clean on the relationship between sharia law and democracy.

•2.      Do they aim to split into a religious movement and a political party?

It seems discourteous to ask the Muslim Brotherhood this question, as the Egyptian regime does not allow religious parties. Nevertheless, the Islamists need to say how much distance they are prepared to accept between their religious and political wings. Religion and politics are two very different domains. Religion is concerned with absolute truths and the voluntary submission to these by believers. Politics is a matter of conflicting opinions and interests, of debate and compromising with people with different views. Would the political representatives of the Brotherhood be given the freedom by the religious leadership to listen to the electorate, develop their own viewpoints and enter into compromises? That political freedom is vitally important, as it will largely determine whether the Islamists can handle moral issues that touch upon sharia in a pragmatic way: questions such as wearing the veil or drinking alcohol, which the average voter usually loses less sleep over than religious quibblers.

The PJD seems to have appropriated scope for pragmatic action. For instance, after initially protesting against it, the party sided with a (diluted) reform of Moroccan family law that gave more rights to women. The party was flexible enough to label these rights as compatible with sharia law. The more radical al Adl wal Ihsan on the other hand continued to lead the conservative protest.

•3.      How are decisions taken within the movement?

The Brotherhood is extremely vague on this point; not surprising for a banned organisation whose leaders can be thrown into jail at any moment (and repeatedly are). It is due to this secrecy, however, that the image of an undemocratic organisation with an all-powerful

leadership has stuck, even after the surprisingly open debate among the Brothers on their draft political platform in 2007. That image is difficult to reconcile with the political ambition to democratise Egypt.

Let's admit it, similar criticism can be levelled at the EU. In terms of openness and democratic control, its foreign policy pillar is behind that of other European policy fields. European diplomats and Islamists are both entitled to question each other's credibility.

The leader of the Moroccan PJD, Othmani, was elected by the party congress in 2004. Al Adl wal Ihsan on the other hand is largely a oneman- band of Abdeslam Yassine, despite the fact that his daughter Nadine dubs the movement a 'political association'. Critical questions will have to be asked about the structure of the movement if it becomes involved in elections.

•4.      Do religious and ethnic minorities have equal rights?

The British diplomat Lord Cromer wrote in 1908 ''the only difference between the Copt and the Muslim is that the former is an Egyptian who worships in a Christian church, whilst the latter is an Egyptian who worships in a Mohammedan mosque''.10 Things are not so simple any more. Egypt has become strongly islamised in recent years and tensions between Muslims and Christians have increased. Senior representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood have poured oil onto the fire by proposing measures that discriminate against the Coptic minority. The 2007 draft political platform explicitly bars non-Muslims from the Egyptian presidency, although Brotherhood leaders later recognised that Egyptian voters might legitimately decide otherwise at the ballot. A pertinent question to ask the Muslim Brotherhood is, therefore, to what extent they endorse the principle of 'universal citizenship' in the Egyptian constitution, and, if so, would that mean that when the Brotherhood forms a political party, non-Muslims could join it?

The moderate Islamic democrats of the Wasat party provide a good example. The initiators of this nascent party include, in addition to ex-Muslim Brothers, several Coptic intellectuals. That is universal citizenship in practice. The AKP in Turkey, in many respects a model for Wasat, could learn from this. It is strongly Sunni biased. By pursuing and displaying greater internal pluralism, Erdoğan's party could help reduce the suspicion that they arouse among religious minorities, especially the Alevis.

•5.      What rights do women have?

On this point too the Brotherhood should be required to put an end to its institutionalised equivocation. The rhetoric about 'women's rights in an Islamic framework' is not inconsistent per se - as can be seen from the pragmatic position of the PJD on the new family law in Morocco - but it is far too vague. What does it mean for divorce law, inheritance and access to public positions? In some countries Islamists produce more female parliamentarians

than the secular parties. The Muslim Brotherhood has also put forward female candidates for parliament, but their election was thwarted by the regime. In order to judge what women have to fear from the Islamists, we need to judge their standpoints and practices against the standards of the region, not our own European standards.

At the same time, however, Europe must not disavow its own beliefs on equal rights for women and sexual minorities. It is not necessarily a waste of time engaging the Islamists in debate on this. We can point out to them that the appeal to universal human rights gives the

Islamists a political weapon against their oppressors. The EU demand for respect for human rights has helped the AKP in Turkey to remove obstacles to people of faith. However, that appeal to human rights loses its credibility if these rights exclusively serve the freedom of the

Islamists and not those of people with more modern lifestyles. Egypt has pledged itself to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the UN Women's Convention. If the Islamists are selective in respect of which of these obligations they choose to observe - for instance by barring women from top government positions, as the Brotherhood's draft platform does - then they are behaving in the same way as the incumbent regimes.

The EU should also make it plain that, were the Islamists to come to power, the EU would pursue all possible avenues to encourage other emancipation movements. After all, do the Muslim Brothers not know from their own experience how unfair it is to be excluded from exchanges with Europe by those in power?

It is also a good idea to point out to the Muslim Brothers that some of the suspicion in the West and at home about their agenda with regard to women could be dispelled if they turned against traditions that are hostile to women and have nothing to do with sharia, such as  onour

killing and female circumcision. In Turkey, the Erdoğan government gained credit for its campaign against honour killing. It did not dispel suspicion of the AKP, but it did lessen it.

•6.      Would international obligations be observed?

This question concerns not only human rights conventions, but also the agreements between Egypt and Israel. The revocation of these agreements by an Islamist regime would unleash an international storm of protest. More important than the recognition of these agreements, however, is the question of whether Islamists are prepared to observe them in fact. It would be worth the EU's while to investigate this fall-back option in its dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Morocco the PJD is already working on a pragmatic approach towards Israel, for the eventuality that it is called to join the government after the next elections. The line seems to be that, as a party the PJD will continue to avoid contacts with representatives of Israel, but as a partner in the government it would observe Morocco's international obligations.

•7.      What is the socio-economic programme?

Running a charitable network is not the same as governing a state and keeping an economy turning. What instruments do the Islamists aim to use to achieve a more equitable distribution of income? What is their position on privatisations? What guarantees will there be against clientelism? No country is self-sufficient. Economic choices can have major consequences for international trade and investments.

The EU should engage in dialogue on these issues with the Muslim Brothers, the PJD and al Adl wal Ihsan without laying down preconditions. Whether the dialogue can move on to the next stage of cooperation, should these parties come to power for instance, depends very much on their answers to these questions and on the extent to which the Islamists can remove European qualms about the mixing of religion and politics.

Hamas and terrorism

One important question is absent from the list of the Carnegie Endowment: the question of terrorist violence. The Egyptian Muslim Brothers, to whom the questionnaire was geared, have not committed any attacks for over half a century. They have moved away from violence as a means to achieve a more Islamic Egypt. However, the question is extremely relevant in the dialogue with Hamas, the Palestinian sister organisation of the Muslim Brothers. Until three years ago, these hardcore Islamists were still committing suicide attacks on Israeli citizens. They have not renounced terror and violence against Israel and that is why Hamas is on the EU's list of terrorist organisations.

Cooperating with terrorists is problematic but the EU countries made an error of judgment in deciding to avoid dialogue with Hamas, certainly after these Islamists beat the corrupt ruling Fatah party in the Palestinian general elections in 2006. The diplomatic boycott of the new Hamas

government, combined with the suspension of direct aid, helped the hawks in Hamas to gain the upper hand over the doves. The isolation and impotence of its own ministers paved the way for radicalisation.

In June 2007, alarmed by American military support to Fatah, the hawks organised the assumption of total power by Hamas in the Gaza strip. The paradoxical effect of the refusal to engage in dialogue is that the EU, now more than ever, is being forced into some form of cooperation with Hamas, as it cannot abandon the impoverished residents of 'Hamastan' to their fate. Desperation breeds violence, undermining the peace process or what is left of it. The bloody confrontation between Hamas and the Israeli army at the beginning of 2008 derailed the talks between the Israeli government and Palestinian President Abbas.

Doubts about the boycott of Hamas are increasing among European politicians. One way out of the impasse could be for the EU to make a distinction between the military wing and the political and social wing of Hamas. There would then be no cooperation with the first group, but there

would be cooperation with the more moderate forces in the second group. Instead of the demand for the recognition of Israel, which is difficult to realise in the short term, the EU could settle for the unofficial ceasefire that Hamas has exercised since 2005 and the declaration that Hamas is working for a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. The EU may demand from Islamists in the region who are interested in dialogue with the EU to support this line, even if a significant proportion of their grassroots supporters would for the time being not support it.

The peace process in Northern Ireland began with the making of a distinction between the paramilitary wing of Irish nationalism (the IRA) and the political wing (Sinn Fein). Negotiations between the political representatives and the British government ultimately led to the disarmament of the paramilitary wing. Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom until June 2007, played an important role in the Northern Ireland peace process. As envoy for the Middle East, he would do well to press this successful formula on his appointers: the United Nations, the EU, the US and Russia.

What do the Islamists want from Europe?

When Islamists in the Mediterranean region accuse the EU of double standards, they are mainly referring to Hamas and the Palestinian elections these days. Pressing for more democracy in the Muslim world then not recognising a government that emerged from exceptionally free elections,

and not even trying through engagement and support to encourage Hamas to adopt a more pragmatic position toward Israel - it is this mode of action on the part of the Europeans that is seen as a model of hypocrisy by many Muslims.

A more nuanced European approach to Hamas, as advocated above, would help the dialogue with the Mediterranean Islamists. It would increase their confidence that the EU would respect the outcome of free and fair elections in Egypt or Morocco, even if a majority of the electorate voted for political Islam.

The EU needs to have the courage to risk a collision with Washington over Hamas. That would come as a welcome break with accepted practice. Although the EU has been more critical than the US in its statements about Israeli measures that are making peace with the Palestinians more difficult - such as the continued construction of settlements and a dividing wall on Palestinian territory - European policy still usually follows that of the American government. The confidential (but leaked) end of mission report of the Peruvian diplomat Alvaro De Soto when he left his position as UN coordinator for the 'peace process' in May 2007 illustrates this submissiveness. The EU is playing a vital role. It is the largest donor of humanitarian and development aid to the Palestinians. European troops in Lebanon are protecting the northern border of Israel against attacks from Hezbollah. Despite this the EU puts up amazingly little resistance to the US. It has hardly taken any political initiatives. The most striking feature of De Soto's report is how few words he devotes to the EU and its member states.

De Soto (2007) wrote:

The US [...] is an indispensable player in the Middle East and it holds the key - if anyone does - to Israel. But we must be utterly clear-headed about the downside of being among the led, given that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is but one piece of the Middle East peace process, which should (but doesn't) include the search for comprehensive peace between Israel and all its neighbours, including Syria, and also that the MEPP has become strategically

subservient to US policy in the broader Middle East, including Iraq and Iran - a policy that has become discredited not just by the usual suspects abroad but also in the party in opposition in the US and irreproachable Republican elders.

These words were intended for De Soto's UN colleagues, but the EU should also learn a lesson from them. Given the unwillingness of the Bush government to bring a settlement with the Palestinians and the neighbouring countries closer by putting pressure on the Israeli government, the EU should pluck up the courage to steer a more independent course. Israel and Palestine is no sideshow in the conflicts around the Persian Gulf. Anger about the lot of the Palestinians is the greatest obstacle to better relations between the EU and its Mediterranean neighbours. If Europe were to show a more balanced and a more forceful commitment to the promised two-state solution, Islamists in the region would not fail to notice this.

The Islamists have other grievances and wishes that the EU should also take seriously. Uncritical European support for repressive regimes, which deny the principles of the Neighbourhood Policy, has already been discussed. Brussels must raise its voice against human rights violations, even when the victims are representatives of political Islam. When incumbent governments in neighbouring countries refuse to make verifiable promises on democratisation, or do not fulfil their promises, that should have consequences for the support that the EU gives them. The question of which forms of conditionality are the most effective lends itself well to discussion with Islamists and other opposition groups.

Cartoon scandal

Islamists also demand respect for their faith from Europe. Statements from politicians about the backward and violent nature of Islam do not pass unnoticed in the Muslim world. European politicians who see no good coming from escalation should emphatically distance themselves from such Islamophobic comments, also in the international, Arabic and Turkish press. At the same time they have to make clear that European governments cannot protect Muslims from having their feelings offended. Europe is proud of its freedom of speech. That does not stop at other people's religions.

The fuss in 2006 about the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad printed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 made it painfully obvious that EU countries and Muslim countries have a different view on the limits to freedom of speech. A compromise would seem to be a less obvious solution here than an agreement to disagree. Discussing the sensitivities of both sides in the Euro-Mediterranean consultative forums, specifically to include Islamists, increases the chance of a timely deescalation of conflicts such as the cartoon issue. After all, neither the EU, nor political Islam has anything to gain from a 'clash of civilisations', which would be grist to the mill of the nationalists in Europe and the anti-political jihadis in the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden must have been laughing up his sleeve at the cartoon scandal.

Everyone looks to the AKP

At the height of the cartoon crisis, the Turkish Premier, Erdoğan, and his Spanish counterpart, Zapatero, published a joint appeal for calm and respect, in which they recognised that the Mohammad cartoons came under the concept of 'freedom of speech'. At the same time they expressed their moral censure at the lack of responsibility and respect on the part of those who had published the cartoons. The appeal was a difficult balancing act, which brought criticism down on the authors from both sides in the controversy.

Nevertheless, Erdoğan won admiration for his role as a builder of bridges - between democracy and Islam, between Turkey and the Arab world, between Europe and its Muslim neighbours. Shortly before the cartoon crisis, the Egyptian commentator Mohamed Sid-Ahmed described what made the appearance of Erdoğan so unusually refreshing for the Arab world:

What is new is the admission that a policy of avoiding violence presupposes the search for peaceful - that is, political - solutions of issues of contention. This entails always keeping channels of communication open and abandoning the politics of exclusion, which has the added advantage of defeating the advocates of violence and supporters of terrorism. That is the logic of Erdoğan in Turkey and also of the Wasat party, a breakaway faction from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Can this be the key to a policy of reform and change that has become indispensable if we are to overcome the present impasse?11

In Egypt, not only the secular progressives, which included Sid-Ahmed (since deceased), and post-Islamists as the founders of Wasat follow the adventures of Erdoğan's AKP with great interest. The purer Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood also see Turkey as a touchstone for their strategy of changing the political system from within. Issam El-Erian, one of the leading Brothers, was therefore concerned about the way the Turkish army tried to sabotage the election of an AKP President. ''Military intervention would strengthen the arguments of jihadi leaders who warn against participation in elections'', he is quoted as saying in the Financial Times (2007).

In Morocco, Mustafa Ramid, an MP for the moderate Islamist Parti dela Justice et du Développement, has commented along similar lines: ''Success in Turkey could lend moral support to Islamist parties that are playing the democratic game while failure will also have an impact''. Certainly for a party like the PJD, which bears exactly the same name as the AKP, it is

difficult to avoid comparisons. For the time being the PJD is using this to its advantage. When we spoke to the party leader, Othmani, he was emulating the modern and post-Islamist character of the AKP. The AKP government inspires no fear, so why be fearful of an election victory of the PJD?

Othmani conveniently ignores the fact that the AKP is more controversial in its own country than abroad. Erdoğan and his party still have not won the confidence of the establishment and of many secular Turks, as witnessed by the chief prosecutor's request to the Constitutional Court, in March 2008, to ban the AKP. The suspicion is partly inspired by frenetic Kemalism - an almost Jacobin aversion to a pluralist Turkey - but the AKP is partly to blame. The party has not made sufficiently clear how much tolerance it wants and is able to summon up for citizens who do not share its Islamic principles. The PJD should learn from the problems that the AKP has brought upon itself through this. The PJD also still encounters suspicion. Even so participation of the PJD in government could act as a spur to the democratisation of Morocco.

Turkey, a test case

Less partisan observers in the region are paying particular attention to whether the Turkish wrestling match between the AKP and the establishment will play itself out within constitutional bounds. For the moment, the army dares not stage a real coup and the AKP has used legal means to skirt around the resistance to an AKP President. The street too - 'no sharia, no coup' - has made its influence felt. "The dedication of all to the letter and the spirit of the law and the constitution in solving a really serious political dispute is tremendously important", wrote the Lebanese paper, the Daily Star. It is an irony of history that at the moment of updating this book it is still unclear whether the attempt by the Turkish chief prosecutor to close down the AKP will set the precedent of a 'constitutional coup'. The result could be a complete overruling of the wishes of the population as expressed in the July 2007 elections.

When describing relations between Turkey and the Arab world, it is important to be precise and realistic. Sceptics in Turkey and in countries like Morocco and Egypt are keen to make reference to the painful shared history: until the beginning of the 20th century, the Arabs were the underdogs in the Ottoman Empire. Add to that the fact that many Arabic Muslims consider the Turks to be mere 'softies' when it comes to the interpretation of Islam, and the fact that there has been no secular revolution in the Arab countries such as the one that took place with the founding of the Turkish republic, and it is easy to come to the conclusion that people in the Arab world cannot and would not want to learn anything from present-day developments in Turkey. Such a total dismissal would, however, be an over-simplification and it is belied by the growing interest in Turkey and its ruling AKP. It is true to say that Turkey will never be able to serve as a role model for countries with a very different history and very different state and social models, but Turkey is now an example for its Islamic neighbours, or rather, a test case.

The growing interest in Turkey among those in the Arab world can be attributed on the one hand to the failure of Arab nationalism and on the other, to the hopelessness of jihad activism. Many people in the neighbouring countries are asking: How can it be that the Turks have economic success while we fail? Why is it that Turkey seems to have managed to reconcile democracy and Islam?

On the other hand, its higher status in the region is also the fruit of active self-promotion by Ankara. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey stood with its back turned against its former imperial territories in the Middle East for decades. The Kemalist elite did not want to belong to the backward East but the enlightened West. The AKP has shattered this false divide. It has done more in moving towards the EU than all previous governments but at the same time has strengthened links with the Muslim world in the areas of diplomacy, trade, culture and tourism.

The warm relations with its Arab neighbours have been made easier by the fact that Turkey has started to steer a more independent course visà-vis the US. The progressive democratisation has meant that Ankara can no longer ignore the fact that the Turkish people are far less pro-American

than their leaders. In 2003 the Bush government wanted to station troops on Turkish territory for the invasion of Iraq. The Turkish parliament blocked that, against the will of the AKP government. Turkey-watcher, Hugh Pope (2006), observed: ''The US has long hoped that Middle

Easterners would follow Turkey's path. Ironically, this is now happening in part because of Turkey's distance from US policy''.

Geopolitical gains

With the influence it has acquired in the Middle East, Turkey is cleverly emphasising how much the EU has to gain in geopolitical terms by accepting Turkey as a member state. Turkish efforts to join the EU are not seen by its Islamic neighbours as a betrayal. On the contrary, Turkey has got further in its overtures to the EU than many of them thought possible and Ankara has won admiration for that. At a conference of Arab and Turkish intellectuals in Cairo at the beginning of 2007, delegates heard the argument that Turkish membership of the EU would be a good thing because it would give the Muslim world a voice in the EU.

Hopefully Turkey's opponents inside the EU did not hear or read about that, because it would be grist to their mill: the accession of the Muslim country, Turkey, would undermine the Judeo-Christian and humanist character of Europe. These opponents ignore the fact that the great merit of the EU is that it has formulated its values to be inclusive, that is without ruling out any religion. The core values propounded by the Bosnian Grand Mufti, Cerić, in his Declaration of European Muslims fit in seamlessly.

The new Reform Treaty of the EU contains the following summary: The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

It is these tried and tested values that the EU holds up to its neighbouring countries for the purposes of the accession process and the Neighbourhood Policy. If Turkey is converted to these values, and the EU nevertheless breaks its promise to allow Turkey to join, it will have a lot of

explaining to do to all its Muslim neighbours, especially to the Islamists, to whom it has recommended the burgeoning synthesis between democracy and Islam in the AKP as a recipe for stability, development and religious freedom.

The message that lies concealed in a rejection of Turkey is that Muslims are unfit for democracy. That is precisely what the most blinkered Islamists thought all along and what bin Laden would have the Muslims believe. However, without democracy it is not God's law that will prevail but the law of the strongest. Would Europe be safer if we resign ourselves to repression and revolts in the Islamic countries on our borders?

In addition to that there is the fact that there are Muslims living in Europe; they have been here for centuries. There is a chance that countries like Bosnia and Macedonia, with their significant Muslim populations, will join the EU before Turkey, because we cannot exclude the Western Balkans. A black hole in the middle of Europe would undermine our security, in spite of all the border fences. Muslims in the Balkans nevertheless regard Turkey's EU-membership as the real litmus test. Professor Berishaj gave us this advice in Pristina: ''Europe should allow Turkey to become a member of the EU. By doing so the West would remove all the doubts of the Muslim<


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