Photos: Körber Foundation /
Marc Darchinger

Upheaval in the Arab World
What Can Europe Do?

The civil war in Syria has turned into a regional conflagration. Egypt is deeply divided and facing an uncertain future. Political stalemate, economic stagnation and a precarious security situation are obstacles to democratic change in Tunisia and Libya. The upheaval in the Arab world, which started towards the end of 2010, constitutes a historic opportunity. However, the regional actors and the international community are now faced with enormous challenges. As a neighbouring region Europe has a vested interest in the success of the transformation process and in the advent of more democracy, greater stability, and prosperity.

How can Europe influence the events on the ground? What are the expectations of the regional actors with regard to the Europeans? What kind of contribution can Europe make when it comes to regional security and stability? How can it support individual states as they strive for more democracy and economic development? Our various events and publications will provide you with some thought-provoking answers to these questions. And we hope that they will mark the start of a debate among political decision-makers in particular and the German public in general.
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For regular updates on our Middle East activities you can also follow @MuellerNora on Twitter.

Transformation and Democratization | Regional Security

In Focus

Photo: Körber Foundation

At the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt, due to take place on 26 and 27 May, former commander-in-chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seems to be poised for victory. After months of speculations the popular field marshal has resigned from the military in order to be eligible for president. Sisi’s announcement was met with public protests by supporters of former president Morsi, leading to several casualties. Meanwhile the Egyptian judiciary continues its crackdown on members of the Muslim Brotherhood. 529 Muslim Brothers were recently sentenced to death, a second mass trial is imminent.

A participant at the 12th Körber Dialogue Middle East said, “In order to support Egypt’s transition to democracy, the West should insist on the institutionalization of ground rules.” Here (PDF) is a summary of the discussion entitled “The Middle East at a Crossroads: Turmoil or Transition?”

In “A New Egypt? Journey through a Country in Turmoil” Asiem El Difraoui draws a multifaceted picture of the country along the Nile and of its people. His conversations with Egyptians from the various social strata, faiths and ethnic groups in all parts of the country give the reader some revealing insights into a deeply divided society that has nonetheless got its sights set firmly on the future.

Read what Sherif Amer, one of Egypt’s most prominent TV journalists, thinks about the current situation with regard to freedom of the press and free speech. Amer is the lead anchor of Egypt’s most watched Al Hayat TV. He hosts and coproduces the daily prime-time show Al Hayat Al Youm (Life Today).

There are growing concerns about press freedom in Egypt. What is your assessment?

I’m concerned, and I’m staying on high alert. Even though I don’t think that press freedom in Egypt is under attack, we mustn’t let down our guards.
With this said, we would not tolerate any serious threat to press freedom. After all, there is no way you can turn back the clock when it comes to people’s legitimate demands for freedom and democracy.

The Egyptian society is more divided than ever before. Is the media fuelling this polarization rather than calming down the political climate?

The answer you are going to get from everybody in Cairo is: “Yes, the media is to be blamed for the polarization of our society.” But I don’t agree. The media just reflects what is going on in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities. The media might be a reflection of our political and social reality, but it doesn’t create it.
As a matter of fact, it’s really hard to understand the degree and the dynamics of polarization which currently prevails in Egypt. But after all, these phenomena might be quite normal for a country immersed in an unprecedented process of political and social transformation. What is certain, though, is that it will take some time for the gaps within society to be bridged and for the wounds to be healed.
We must not forget that we find ourselves in a very interesting phase. Everything we have been going through since January 25, 2011, is new, is happening for the very first time. When the first session of Mubarak’s trial started, I was reporting, and I said: “To the judge sitting there, the doors of history will be open, and he is going to close them once he passes them.” I was sure that such a trial would not happen again. And guess what: it did happen again.

How do you explain the personality cult around Gen. Sisi? What is the media’s role in it?

Again: if Egyptians worship Sisi, this will also be reflected in the media. Everybody looks at Sisi as some kind of savior. If you go back in Egyptian history, you’ll find many examples of similar phenomena.
What’s interesting, though, is: there are people who love Sisi, but at the same time, they don’t want him to become president. You know why? Because they don’t want him to be “burnt”, to be challenged. This teaches you a very fundamental lesson about the political discourse in Egypt: At times, it’s rational and well-balanced – but at other times, it’s quite the opposite.

Transformation and Democratization

Photo: Körber Foundation /
Marc Darchinger

Keynote Speech by Hamadi Jebali, Secretary General of the Ennahda Movement and former Prime Minister of Tunisia, at the 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, November 2013

Interview with Bassma Kodmani, Executive Director, The Arab Reform Initiative, at the 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, November 2013

“The Middle East at a Crossroads: Turmoil or Transition?”
The civil war in Syria has turned into a regional conflagration. Egypt is deeply divided and facing an uncertain future. The new Iranian government has sent positive signals, but can it promote real change?
Conference report of the 12th Körber Dialogue Middle East in Berlin, November 2013
conference report (PDF)

Background Discussion with Amre Moussa, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Former Secretary General of the Arab League, April 2013

“The Future of Democracy in the Arab World”
Summary of the 150th Bergedorf Round Table in Cairo, March 2012
summary (PDF)

Regional Security

Photo: Körber Foundation

Geopolitical Upheavals in the Middle East
Panel discussion at the 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum with Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Hamadi Jebali, Bassma Kodmani and Volker Perthes, moderated by Paul Salem, November 2013

Iran and the West
Panel discussion at the 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum with Hossein Mousavian, Danielle Pletka and Ruprecht Polenz, moderated by Theo Koll, November 2013

Keynote Speech by Prince Turki al-Faisal, Chairman of the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, at the 3rd Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, November 2013

Political Breakfast with Riyad Hijab, former Prime Minister of Syria, November 2013

Background Discussion with President Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, October 2013

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