Countering the fallout from Arab conflicts


Picture of Moushira Khattab
Moushira Khattab

Moushira Khattab is Human rights activist, former Egyptian minister of family and population, and former assistant minister for foreign affairs

The European Union and its EUROMED partners have so many economic, political, cultural and historical similarities that they’d best be seen as one big region brought together by the Mediterranean. Centuries of interactions through trade as well as military conquests in both directions have made us more than just neighbours; we are inseparable. This is especially pertinent nowadays as we face common challenges that would undoubtedly bring common benefits when overcome together. With this appreciated, the European Union must elevate its relationship and overall approach to its southern neighbours to a true partnership.

Mass migration from the Middle East to the EU is without doubt the most pressing issue of today. Several conferences and meetings have taken place, and the EU continues to channel funds to its external members and closest neighbours. But these efforts will continue to be futile if we do not study the root cause of the problem. What may have started decades ago simply as economic migration has now been overtaken by the devastating impacts of the conflict in Syria, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lawlessness in Libya and other devastating events since the so-called Arab Spring. The effects on the EU are obvious, with many European economies now directly burdened by suddenly having to accommodate millions of extra people, increased lawlessness, and the cracking of economic and social infrastructure. The refugee crisis also presents a massive brain-drain on the Middle East, and is leading to a loss of identity, blurred lines of loyalty and an increased feeling of isolation.

Terrorism’s cause is usually cultural, economic and societal, only disguised under a thin veil of religious ideology

The rise of radicalism among the young, by far the largest and most important segment of society in the Middle East and North Africa, continues to pose a threat to Europe just as much as to the MENA region. The number of second and third-generation European immigrants who’ve joined Daesh is not far fewer than those from the MENA region. The number is relatively low in some MENA countries despite their numerous economic and social problems such as mediocre education and high unemployment, to name but two, that are often the catalysts to radicalisation.

The entire Mediterranean region is suffering the horrors of terrorism. The Paris attacks of last year and the shocking attacks in Brussels this March serve as deadly reminders of this, and in most cases these attacks are planned and carried out by terrorists of various European nationalities, not foreigners. Whether the perpetrators are first-, second- or third-generation immigrants, they often suffer from a lack of integration within their adopted societies. This new breed of terrorist feels no belonging or loyalty to their adopted home or its way of life, and has no problem seeking to destroy it. The underlying cause is usually cultural, economic and societal, only disguised under a thin veil of religious ideology. Again, this is a problem affecting Europe and the Middle East almost equally, so we must address it together.
The unrest that has swept across the MENA region over the past five years has exposed the deep vulnerabilities of these countries, but also spot-lit the fragilities within the EU: the divisiveness over how best to deal with the refugee crisis, and the extreme differences of opinion over democratic development in MENA countries. The definition of terms like ‘revolution’, ‘coup’ and ‘uprising’ have, to a degree, unmasked double standards among some EU member states. Division has been evident in the EU’s handling of key countries like Egypt, with France, Greece, Spain and Italy showing more understanding for recent developments than the UK and others. The political roadmap here in Egypt has faced numerous obstacles, partly due to Islamist politicians using social problems – such as poverty, the age-old overpopulation issue and the deterioration in the standard of education – to drive a wedge between the people and decision-makers. This has led a sizeable number of young people to become obsessed with conspiracy theories and to have an extremely intolerant attitude towards those with a difference of opinion.

If Europe were to focus on developing the human capital of its southern neighbours, the benefits would surely be immeasurable for both sides

Education is the cornerstone upon which people can create a new and more positive culture. If Europe were to focus its efforts on developing the human capital of its southern neighbours, the benefits would surely be immeasurable for both sides. Such an investment as to shore up the education standards of the MENA region would bring guaranteed rewards to Europe. It’s necessary to instil an inclusive culture of education that offers future generations the power to shape their own lives. And it’s equally important that we build peace into the minds of the men and women of tomorrow. Technology keeps bringing us closer, and has already made the world one big community. It should only be natural that global citizenship embrace cultural diversity and thrive on its richness. Most of all, it’s imperative that future generations appreciate that we are all citizens of this huge community, and we must therefore work together on solutions for the common good.

Developments in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa over the past few years have demonstrated the urgent need to revisit the EUROMED ‘partnership’ and adopt a new approach to its implementation – one based on the true principles of collaboration. This partnership will only succeed if we work to eliminate the stark north-south divide, and it should ultimately result in equal access to rights on both sides of the Mediterranean. The right to an empowering education, the right to a decent standard of living, the right to live a healthy life and the right to justice. The countries of the south need to exert a tremendous amount of effort towards sustainable development. We do not need to re-invent the wheel, but we need to focus our resources on producing generations of forward-thinking individuals who can make that same wheel work better for us.

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