Samir Amin

jenyan1 jenyan1 at SPAMuic.edu
Sat Dec 30 15:38:52 MST 2000


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Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
28 Dec. 2000 - 3 Jan. 2001

     Struggling for alternatives

     By Samir Amin

                   The Euro-Mediterranean partenariat process,
                   initiated in Barcelona in 1995, has proven bankrupt
     -- first, because there is no true Euro-Arab dialogue associating
     all the Arab countries with all their European counterparts and,
     second, because since its birth, its other goal has been to impose
     Israel's integration on the region, although this country, due to
     its apartheid policies, should be isolated from the international
     community. It is Europe's responsibility to distance itself from
     the US, on the political as on the economic levels, and to lend
     substance to its references to human rights. The struggle for
     democracy (in Tunisia, Turkey...) is first and foremost the
     people's concern. The construction of alternatives must be the
     response to neoliberal expansion, the social consequences of which
     are objectively ruinous; and it must rest upon converging modes of
     struggle and resistance to the dominant model.

     A FAILURE AND ITS REASONS: First, I would like to address directly
     the future of relations between the European states -- and their
     collective organisation, the European Union -- on one hand, and,
     on the other, the Arab states. I believe that the process referred
     to as the Euro-Mediterranean partenariat, begun in Barcelona in
     1995, is not simply stalled but in fact bankrupt. This outcome
     could have been foreseen. The plane never really took off; and it
     is crashing to the ground at this moment. Such a failure could
     have been predicted, for the project itself was conceptualised on
     the basis of an unacceptable principle, which was neither credible
     nor, in consequence, feasible (even if some of its advocates may
     have been acting in good faith). This process brought about the
     intervention of two groups of participants: on one hand, the
     Europeans -- not only Mediterranean Europeans, from countries
     abutting on the Mediterranean, but all the European countries, and
     specifically the European Union. Far be it from me to question the
     Europeans' right to think of themselves as having common interests
     and as necessarily imagining a common future. This is their right,
     even if it is also the right of Europeans in each of the concerned
     countries to criticise, as some do, the European project as it
     stands today.

     The other partenariat, including coastal countries from the
     southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean, is quite odd. Yet
     these are for the most part Arab countries, which also belong to a
     distinct entity: the Arab world. Whether or not one is an Arab
     nationalist, and through passionate conviction considers that
     entity to be unified, it does exist, and it is necessary to
     recognise that it may have a certain sensitivity shared by the
     people that constitute it: a certain sense of common interests and
     a shared vision of its insertion in the contemporary world. To
     separate Mediterranean from non-Mediterranean Arab countries is
     truly disastrous, and unacceptable. What is needed, rather, is a
     Euro-Arab agreement or a dialogue -- involving all the European
     and all the Arab countries, whether or not they are Mediterranean.
     The concept of the Mediterranean means nothing unless it implies
     gathering all the coastal countries around technical problems
     linked to the sea they share, in the field of pollution for
     instance. But this is a very limited domain, and not a foundation
     on which one can conjure up the future of relations between Europe
     and that piece of the South called the Arab world.

     BARCELONA AND THE PEACE PROCESS: We must remember, after all, that
     the time at which the Barcelona conference convened -- 1995 -- was
     also the time of Madrid and Oslo, in other words a time during
     which a certain type of peace between the Arabs and Israel was
     being drawn up with America. The Europeans thus put in place a
     strategy to complement that of Israel and the US, aimed at
     dictating the content of peace. This peace was imagined on a basis
     that, as it should have been possible to foretell, was
     unacceptable, because it meant the creation of Bantustans -- there
     is no better term -- in the occupied territories of Palestine. Its
     result was the strengthening of the apartheid model, which, very
     fortunately, in its South African version, was condemned
     universally and in due course disappeared. Still, it was kept in
     place for a very long time, not only by reactionaries within South
     Africa, who ran the system to suit themselves, but also by global
     capital, the great powers, the US and the European states, which
     buttressed it almost until its final hour. They turned coat only
     when the project began to stagger under the grave blows dealt it
     by the people of South Africa.

     Former President Nelson Mandela, indeed, reminded Clinton of this
     when he visited South Africa: "Where were you during apartheid?"
     he asked. "No one heard about you at the time. On the other hand,
     those whom you believed should be banished from society, like
     Gaddhafi for example, were against apartheid, and gave us
     financial and material support, including weapons."

     But to return to the time of the Barcelona conference and the
     peace process in Israel: it is during this time that the Euro-Med
     project was thought up. It was hardly subtle: the idea was to
     impose, especially on the Arabs, Israel's integration into the
     region, and to set as a condition to cooperation between Europe
     and the Arab countries a similar kind of cooperation between those
     same Arab countries and Israel... It is just as if, during
     apartheid (to cite the same example), Europe had imposed upon the
     African states the normalisation of diplomatic and other relations
     with South Africa as a condition of European support. It is
     shameful. I feel that things must be said, called by their proper
     names; it must be said that, as long as Israel refuses to
     recognise a Palestinian state, it will be necessary to treat it as
     we treated South Africa, in other words by banishing it from
     international society.

     EUROPEAN POLICY ON PALESTINE AND KURDISTAN: Israel is an apartheid
     country, and is implementing an apartheid project. It is
     unacceptable to tolerate it, let alone back it. Boycotting Israel
     is the duty of the world's civilised nations. It is not only a
     right -- the Arabs' right, for instance; it is the duty of all the
     civilised countries of the world today. I would say the same with
     respect to the other non-Arab partner of the eastern
     Mediterranean. Turkey is engaged in a civil war against a large
     proportion of its own population, the Kurds. The problem is not
     whether Turkey wants to consider itself or does indeed consider
     itself European, or whether the Europeans agree or refuse to
     consider it as such. The question is whether Turkey has any
     particular right to massacre part of its population, and to do so
     in the absence of any condemnation.

     All this must be said, because Europe today -- its peoples, its
     governments and perhaps the European Union -- needs to inscribe
     itself within an alternative perspective to that of current
     globalisation, that is within a perspective freed from what I call
     the dual alignment that reigns today: liberal globalisation and US
     hegemony. The two are linked. If one accepts the exclusive logic
     of liberal globalisation, one must agree to give priority or even
     exclusive rights to the interests of dominant capital. And the
     interests of dominant European capital are not that different from
     those of dominant North American capital. There are conflicts, of
     course, but these are vulgar mercantile conflicts, similar to the
     conflicts that can take place between two transnational
     corporations affiliated to the same country. This is of course not
     the basis on which to conceive of Europe's possible autonomy from
     the US. All the speeches about this autonomy are simply wishful
     thinking at this point in time...

     Returning to the Middle East, at the present time, with the double
     tragedy unfolding in Palestine and Kurdistan, European
     intervention seems to impose itself -- not necessarily armed
     intervention, but a strong political intervention, accompanied by
     effective boycott measures against Turkey and Israel, until the
     latter recognises the state of Palestine. Europe raised a hue and
     cry in Kosovo for far less. It flexed its muscles, but aligned
     itself with a decision Washington had already taken. It so happens
     that, to take an independent stand on Palestine and Kurdistan,
     Europe would have to distance itself from the US, and clearly that
     is very difficult. If it is easier to cite good reasons for
     intervention when following in the US's wake, that is because a
     political -- and not simply a verbal -- Europe does not exist.

     STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY AND REFERENCES TO HUMAN RIGHTS: Can
     European references to human rights, respect for which
     theoretically constitutes a condition to partnership agreements,
     serve as a lever to civil society? I fear that this too is only
     wishful thinking, even if it is, I am sure, motivated by the very
     best intentions. A charter, even one signed by governments that
     have no intention of implementing it, but one that recognises a
     certain number of rights, can become an instrument, a lever, that
     political forces and peoples that are the victims of a given
     system can use. But this will remain marginal, because I do not
     believe that in the understanding governments and the EU have of
     Europe, this tool will be anything other than a means to be
     manipulated when facing an adversary one seeks to weaken, but that
     is not mobilised when dealing with an ally. Duality prevails:
     double standards are the rule.

     Ben Ali's dictatorship, for instance, one of the most despicable
     south of the Mediterranean, is not the target of very violent
     protests by the European governments. In Turkey, the permanent war
     being waged against the Kurds is not condemned in stronger terms.
     I know that the Europeans have imposed upon the Turks, in return
     for their adhesion to the European Council, a common declaration
     of rights, but it is quite obvious that, although Turkey did
     indeed sign, it violates that agreement every day. Worse still: it
     ignores it utterly and no one says anything. This is why I think
     one cannot separate the struggle for democracy: it is fundamental.

     The struggle for democracy is above all the people's business;
     each people fights in its own country. Internationalism is very
     useful in this domain, but change will be built essentially on the
     basis of internal struggles and the mobilisation of democratic
     forces within each society. What the outside can do is, precisely,
     to support these forces, not to fight them, even if the latter is
     done in the name of democracy as witnessed in a number of cases.

     The concept that dominates today, on the global and not just the
     European level, is that of "good governance," to use the
     fashionable jargon -- in other words, the concept of acceptable
     government. Unfortunately, this is a very poor concept that
     reduces democracy -- still, better than nothing, you will say --
     to the tolerance of party pluralism, formal elections, and respect
     for a certain number of elementary individual rights, with no
     recognition of social rights, individual and collective: the right
     to work, to an education, to health, freedom of movement both
     inside and outside one's own country -- in short, of people's
     right to self-determination, to cite the well-known formula.

     Things cannot be separated. There is no such thing as political
     rights in the narrow sense. If other rights do not accompany them,
     they become instruments that can be and are manipulated, and
     therefore that hinder the cause of democracy because they cancel,
     they destroy its credibility before the people. If Israel is
     presented as an example of democracy to the Palestinian people,
     what idea can they have of democracy? What is a democracy based on
     the massacre of children, who are shot while doing nothing more
     than showing their legitimate anger at the apartheid to which they
     are subjected? So rights cannot be separated from each other, and
     the democratic charters I aspire to must recognise all human
     rights. Yet this is not at all what Europe is proposing or even
     setting as conditions, without implementing them, to said
     cooperation.

     CREDIBLE ALTERNATIVES TO GLOBALISATION: We should not be satisfied
     with a simple critique of neoliberal practice. In this part of the
     world as elsewhere, the results are clear for most people: growing
     inequalities in income distribution, an increase in the diverse
     forms of poverty, marginalisation, unemployment, etc. These
     results are inherent to the logic of the globalised neoliberal
     model. But we must not stop at a statement of fact. Rentier
     economies, corruption, etc. are not exotic local cultural
     artefacts, specific to this or that country or region of the
     world; they are phenomena that are objectively amplified,
     supported and encouraged by current neoliberal expansion. The
     effect of this expansion is to dismantle the possible constructive
     potential of an alternative model of economic development, one
     worthy of the name, which benefits the popular strata and
     guarantees a margin of autonomy and negotiation to countries and
     societies in the global system.

     It is really necessary to put forth one or several credible
     alternatives to globalisation. Theoretically, it is not that
     difficult to imagine what must be done: multipolar globalisation,
     giving nations, countries, regional groupings some room to
     manoeuvre, a margin of freedom, autonomy, negotiation; imposing
     historic compromises on the international level, similar to market
     regulation mechanisms on the national level, and corresponding to
     social interests beyond the sole interest of the maximum
     profitability of capital. These alternatives are not difficult to
     imagine, but the fact that a research centre can express them
     coherently does not mean that they will be implemented.
     Alternatives in history are produced by struggle, the legitimate
     refusal to submit to the victor's logic and the ability to impose
     compromise on the dominant partner -- in this case, on capital,
     since we are in a capitalist system. What is the welfare state of
     the post-World War II period, in the European countries and
     elsewhere, if not an historic compromise between capital and
     labour, produced by the defeat of fascism, or in other words the
     victory of the democratic forces that gave the working classes a
     political legitimacy they had never enjoyed in the capitalist
     systems of the countries in question?

     Change will come from these struggles. They are complex and
     numerous; fortunately, they are not fading -- on the contrary,
     they are increasing, insofar as the adversary is being forced to
     make concessions, and change its language to some extent. Witness
     the World Bank's passage from a very harsh neoliberal discourse on
     poverty to a wishy-washy, diluted babbling. These developments
     would be inconceivable if we detached them from the economic
     processes that engender them. So we must think on the basis of
     social struggles. We need forums of this type (the Alternative
     Euro-Med Summit in Marseilles), as many forums as possible. Such
     forums, where experience of struggle gives rise to the exchange of
     analyses in a way that will gradually ensure maximum convergence
     among the various struggles, are indeed increasing in number. The
     alternative will be born of this convergence -- not otherwise.

                             Translated from French by Pascale Ghazaleh

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