No. 23

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Arab Spring: Expectations, Hopes and Threats

  • Helle Ruusing

    Editor-in-Chief, Information Adviser of the Chancellery of the Riigikogu

  • Marko Mihkelson

    Marko Mihkelson

    Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, Pro Patria Union

  • Erik Männik

    Senior Researcher of the International Centre for Defence Studies

  • Hannes Hanso

    Social Democratic Party

In Riigikogu Toimetised (RiTo) conversation circle on 24 May, three foreign policy experts analysed the present situation in Arab countries, where the demonstrations against the ruling powers that started in Tunisia have spread over almost the whole North Africa and Middle East.

The participants in the conversation circle were the Chairman of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson, Senior Researcher of the International Centre for Defence Studies Erik Männik and Expert on Asian and African foreign policy Hannes Hanso, expert on Middle East. RiTo Editor-in-Chief Helle Ruusing acted as the moderator and compiled a summary of the discussion.

The participants in the conversation circle agreed that the stormy changes which started in the countries that for a long time had stayed relatively peaceful contain both hopes and expectations and also lots of question marks. On the one hand the sympathy of all democratically-minded people goes to the insurgents who have managed to overthrow the dictators who have enjoyed unlimited power for decades. At the same time all major changes involve certain risks, therefore it is still too early to rejoice. The huge wave of optimism accompanying the overthrow of dictators may rather quickly be replaced by a deep crisis, and the result of that may be that instead of democratic changes, some extremist forces who establish a new dictatorship come to power. The behaviour of transitional countries that are still moving from one social formation to another may be even more unpredictable than that of the countries with authoritarian regime. In the opinion of the participants in the conversation circle, one of the key issues for the whole region is the development of economy that should help mitigate poverty and unemployment, and reduce the wish of the people, especially young men, to leave their homeland to seek fortune somewhere in Europe. And here is a huge challenge for the international community – how to help the Arab countries pass the transition period so that their economy could continue to develop normally and the whole region would survive the hard times as painlessly as possible. Otherwise the crisis and the risks it involves will only become deeper. At present the lion’s share of the export income of North Africa and Middle East, with the population of 400 million, depends only on oil and gas. Both the EU and the USA have helped the countries of the region for decades with huge sums of money, but this is not a solution because actually they do not need fish but fishhooks. And therefore, until the Arab countries have not been successfully integrated into the global economy on a wider scale and have not found any export articles to add to the existing ones, they will depend on oil for ever.

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