OPINION

An Arabian wind

From Gibraltar to the Persian Gulf, the Arab world is in revolt, in a reformation that will affect our country and the rest of Europe. Libya and Egypt are our immediate neighbors and natural partners for our future development — but they are also the potential source of great dangers if they do not prosper. Greece today has an opportunity to play a significant role in their reconstruction and development. We do not have only our domestic problems to deal with; we must also give serious consideration to the dangers and opportunities of the time and act accordingly.

Today we mourn a quality of life that we are losing, and we are at risking of sinking into endless fear and reaction. The Arabs, still at the beginning of their revolution, are shaking off the yoke of autocratic regimes, on their own volition and with their own blood. They are developing new self-confidence and optimism. They have wind in their sales. In fighting for their liberty, though, they also offer us a unique opportunity to look beyond our borders. The Greeks are among the few Europeans who can say to the Arabs with a clear conscience that they too fought for their own liberation from foreign occupiers and local despots — and they never colonized other nations. At the same time, the Greeks have enough experience of democracy and of being part of a united Europe to allow them to offer their Arab neighbors help in developing democratic institutions and procedures. We can make ourselves useful to our friends at the time of their greatest need, while also acting like true representatives of Europe (and not as suppliants or poor relatives).

The Arabs’ great awakening is the most important development in the region since the delineation of borders by the colonial powers at the end of the World War I, after the founding of Israel in 1948 and after the triumph and dominance of autocratic regimes (either monarchies or the results of military coups). The borders were drawn without consideration for historical concerns nor for ethnic and religious divisions, with the evident aim of creating endless sources of tension to the benefit of the Europeans. The sources of friction are many, and if they are not dealt with carefully, it will take a very long time for the region to stabilize.

If developments are smooth and most Arab countries become more democratic, spreading their wealth among their citizens, we will see unprecedented economic development in the broader region, with the opening up of new markets and tens of millions of new consumers forming a new middle class. The countries themselves and Europe will gain from this. Oil supplies will continue to flow, the river of illegal immigrants will dry up and gradually we might see the establishment of institutions like those that helped western societies develop into magnets for other peoples.

But there are many dangers in the way of such progress. Most regimes in the Arab world relied on buying social stability through subsidized foodstuffs and a large state machinery, and by maintaining order through fear. Today the fear is gone. If the financial assistance to the people also disappears, either through reduced income from oil, the rapid rise in food prices and political instability, chaos may ensue. The broader region will face a new wave of migration, the affected countries will need huge injections of financial assistance from Europe, radical political and religious groups will develop, and the price of oil will rise further (prompting another increase in the price of food). Poverty and anarchy in any Arab country will bring new problems and place new burdens on Greece and other European countries, forcing them to take in refugees, increase their humanitarian aid and pay higher prices for oil and food, and for the social consequences of a recession that had begun long before this «Arab Spring.»

For us Greeks, this difficult time is a godsend: While we were sinking, afraid that we did not have the strength nor the resources to survive, our neighbors have suddenly reshuffled the cards. They have given us another chance to get back into the game.