by Timothy Garton Ash
What happens across the Mediterranean matters more to the EU than the US. Yet so far its voice has been inaudible
Europe’s future is at stake this week on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, as it was on Prague’s Wenceslas Square in 1989. This time, the reasons are geography and demography. The Arab arc of crisis, from Morocco to Jordan, is Europe’s near abroad. As a result of decades of migration, the young Arabs whom you see chanting angrily on the streets of Cairo, Tunis and Amman already have cousins in Madrid, Paris and London.
If these uprisings succeed, and what emerges is not another Islamist dictatorship, these young, often unemployed, frustrated men and women will see life chances at home. The gulf between their life experience in Casablanca and Madrid, Tunis and Paris, will gradually diminish – and with it that cultural cognitive dissonance which can lead to the Moroccan suicide bomber on a Madrid commuter train. As their homelands modernise, young Arabs – and nearly one third of the population of the north African littoral is between the age of 15 and 30 – will circulate across the Mediterranean, contributing to European economies, and to paying the pensions of rapidly ageing European societies. The examples of modernisation and reform will also resonate across the Islamic world.
If these risings fail, and the Arab world sinks back into a slough of autocracy, then tens of millions of these young men and women will carry their pathologies of frustration across the sea, shaking Europe to its foundations. If the risings succeed in deposing the latest round of tyrants, but violent, illiberal Islamist forces gain the upper hand in some of those countries, producing so many new Irans, then heaven help us all. Such are the stakes. If that does not add up to a vital European interest, I don’t know what does.