Barack Obama’s speech on 19 May was one of the most expected events last month. He outlined his vision of the new US diplomacy for the Middle East, including the explicit demand for the recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and announced US economic support for the region. Although widely accepted by the international community, Obama’s plan met with the outright opposition of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who emphatically rejected the border issue. Both leaders actually met a few days later at the White House where, despite their disagreements, they insisted on their good relationship. The international reaction also had a deeply economic character. On 24 May, the President of the World Bank, Robert Zoelick, presented the Bank’s new partnership for the MENA region and announced a US$6 billion package of aid over the next two years for Tunisia and Egypt. A day later, the EU presented its renovated Neighbourhood Policy, which focuses on the southern Mediterranean and is based upon conditionality. Also in late May, the G8 met in Deauville, France, with an agenda that included the so-called ‘Arab spring’. Ahead of the meeting, the US Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton, and of the Treasury, Timothy F. Geithner, had sent a joint letter urging the Ministers to consider the democratic transitions in the region a priority. Thus, together with the final declaration that renewed the commitment to freedom and democracy of the most industrialised countries, the leaders of the G8 also issued a specific declaration on the ‘Arab Spring’ and launched the ‘Deauville Partnership’ that envisages political and economic support from G8 countries and multilateral development banks.
The two countries that are already engaged in a democratic transition, Egypt and Tunisia, continued taking steps to advance the process. Egypt entered May in the midst of increasing ethnic clashes between Muslims and Copts. To face and prevent a further spiral of sectarian violence, the Cabinet created a National Justice Committee entrusted with drafting a unified law on religious places. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood registered its Freedom and Justice Party to run for the September elections, and so did the workers’ leftist movement with the newly founded Democratic Workers Party. On the judicial side, in early May Habib al-Adly, Minister of the Interior under Mubarak, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, although he still has to face charges of assassination for his action against the demonstrators. As for the former President Mubarak and his sons, their trial before the Cairo Criminal Court has finally been scheduled for 3 August . In Tunisia, the former Minister of the Interior’s warning of a coup d’état if Islamists win the elections caused unrest and further demonstrations. On the other hand, the High Commission for the Realization of the Revolutionary Goals chose the 13 members of the electoral body that will organise the upcoming elections and proposed, despite the government’s initial rejection , government rejected the delay (finally, on early June, the government fixed the election date for October 23rd).
Meanwhile, and despite a new attempt by Jacob Zuma, as the envoy of the African Union, to broker a peace deal, no significant progress has been made regarding Libya. By mid-May, the ICC Prosecutor General presented his report on Libya requesting the Court to issue a warrant for the arrest of Colonel Gaddafi, his son, Saif al Islam, and his Chief of Intelligence, Abdullah Senussi. The UN International Commission of Inquiry also accused Gaddafi of human rights violations. Furthermore, NATO decided to extend its intervention for a further 90 days, while representatives of the Libyan rebels attended the second meeting of the International Contact Group in Rome and the EU opened a representative office in Benghazi. Increasingly moving towards a Libyan-type revolution, the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters intensified, with the 13-year-old Hamza al Khatib becoming the symbol of the revolution. At the beginning of the month, both the US and the EU decided to impose sanctions on Bashar al Asad and other high-ranking officials (although the EU was initially reluctant to target the Syrian President). Rising international pressure also pushed Syria to withdraw its bid for a seat at the Human Rights Council. In turn, at the end of the month, the Syrian opposition gathered in Turkey for the Syrian Conference for Change, while Bashar al Asad issued a general amnesty to all political prisoners, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood. As for Yemen, civil war is looming after President Saleh’s refused, for the third time, to sign the transition plan proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council. As regards the latter, the GCC announced in early May the potential joining of Jordan and Morocco, aroused no little controversy. Finally, considered a positive move by some but negative by others, May saw the reconciliation, brokered by Egypt, of the two Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah. On this issue, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé joined Barack Obama in his intention to foster durable peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Amnesty International (2011), ‘Egypt Rises. Killings, Detentions and Tortures in the ’25 January Revolution’, Report, May.
Damascus Center for Human Rights (2011), ‘Open Letter from the Damascus Center for Human Rights to the Arab League’.
Dennison, Susi, Nicu Popescu & José Ignacio Torreblanca (2011), ‘A Chance to Reform: How the EU Can Support Democratic Evolution in Morocco’, ECFR-Policy Brief, online.
HRW (2011), ‘“We’ve Never Seen Such Horror” Crimes against Humanity by Syrian Security Forces’, 1/VI/2011, online.
Muasher, Marwan (2011), ‘A Decade of Struggling Reform Efforts in Jordan. The Resilience of the Rentier System’, Carnegie Papers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC, May, online.
Paciello, Maria Cristina (2011a), ‘Tunisia: Changes and Challenges of Political Transition’, Mediterranean Prospects Technical Report nr 3, Istituto Affari Internazionali, May, online.
Paciello, Maria Cristina (2011b), ‘Egypt: Changes and Challenges of Political Transition’, Mediterranean Prospects Technical Report nr 4, Istituto Affari Internazionali, May, online.
Pioppi Daniela, Maria Cristina Paciello, Issandr El Amrani & Philippe Droz-Vincent (2011), ‘Egypt: A Neo-Authoritarian State Steering the Winds of Change’, Mediterranean Paper Series, German Marshall Fund of the United States, May, online.
Dossier Nº 1 (May 2011)