Securing Stability in the Maghreb and the Middle East – What Should the West do?

The 26th Economic Forum will mark the second time our Security Forum theme path gets expanded to include the most pressing issues of contemporary security in an extended time allotment. It is hard to overestimate the significance of what currently takes place at the southern frontiers of the European Union. Since the events of 2011, the Arab Spring and the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, the EU has found itself under constant pressure of multiple internal and external threats originating in the countries of Maghreb, as well as the Middle East.

The Arab Spring was, in many ways, a domino effect phenomenon. It started in Tunisia where it took the form of civil unrest and successful ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who could pass as a moderate autocrat by regional standards. The same desire soon took Egyptians to streets. Citizens of the most culturally significant Arab state gathered at Tahrir Square to demand the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. This ended in a long stand-off involving the military and some bloodshed, yet the aim was eventually achieved. The true problems started when uprisings reached states run by fierce dictators, namely Libya and Syria. The resulting civil wars prompted a serious death toll, dislocations and disintegration of administrative authority. Both required intervention from the Western powers, which is negatively seen by the traditional Islamic segments of those societies.

The fall of Gaddafi regime in Libya resulted in lack of state control and opened up the immigration gateway to Europe via the Malta-Sicily-Italy sea route. Many Africans used this opportunity to flee conflict and instability prevalent on the continent. The politically fractured Syrian conflict on the other hand paved way for the rise of the terrorist-militant ISIS, which took form of a quasi-state with the aim of destroying Western civilization and establishing a global caliphate. This war too forced many people to flee to Europe via Turkey and the Aegean, in addition to causing an IDP humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.

The situation was unfolding slowly. In 2011 Europe was still primarily engaged at home, trying to combat the effects of the Global Economic Crisis. Arab Spring was just extraordinary news. But its effects dragged on for the next couple of years and soon reports came in from the Mediterranean telling the stories of capsized boats and hundreds of people landing at the shores of Lampedusa or Malta. By 2015 there were hundreds of thousands of immigrants trying to enter the EU via the Balkan route. The immigration crisis is just one aspect of the European “soft underbelly’s” instability. The pressure on European countries is enormous, with various conflicting views on how to tackle the problem. The incautious German policy of open doors led many European politicians to wonder as to how far the humanitarian obligations of the EU should go.

There are many arguments questioning the right of external citizens to seek refuge in the EU: cultural differences from the Christian-secular core, infringement on the rights of the EU citizens, or disputable status of those crossing the EU’s borders. Among them the issue of internal security is the one which apparently seems to also be present. With the 2015-2016 terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, the perception that ISIS might be using the immigration wave to infiltrate the EU and carry out terrorist attacks is growing. Yet ISIS in itself is also a huge pull factor for radicalised Muslims who were born in Europe and decide to join its ranks, or act against the West at the home front.

The participants of the panel Securing Stability in the Maghreb and the Middle East – What Should the West do? will have to approach a series of aspects related to the problems discussed above. What actions should be taken by the West to stabilise the situation? What can be done by the armed forces, and what by humanitarian organisations? How to maintain appropriate long-term living conditions in failed states? Especially this last question should be crucial to the thinking behind the proposed solutions. In order to secure the Europe’s southern frontier we have to go back to the original causes of the Arab Spring: poor conditions of living, democracy and human dignity in the countries discussed. If these are not improved, then the internal security of Europe will continue to be threatened, as the factors forcing the people to abandon their states of origin will remain in place. The stakes are extremely high. Radical animosity between the hosts and the refugees, as well as increased terrorist alert will burden the European society and might undermine many of its fundamental principles, leading to the collapse of order at the European continent. The Security Forum taking place in Krynica-Zdrój in September will be one of those events, which could provide a working platform for decision makers aiming to prevent such a scenario from unfolding.