Future Scenarios for a Common Mediterranean Culture
Mohammed Hashas 9 March 2011

The current unprecedented Arab revolts can have consequential fruits for regional and world politics, if not aborted from inside or outside. In this article I outline ten remarks for future scenarios for the fulfillment of the ‘Common Mediterranean Culture’ project which the Arab uprisings and future democracy can bring about, in alliance with especially the European continent and the Mediterranean countries. One, the Arab revolts have corrected, or at least up to now have managed to shake, a number of stereotypes about the Arab-Muslim population and politics. The dictatorships and their systems exported the idea that democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, liberty, and justice are alien concepts to the people of the ‘decaying civilization’ of the Arabs-Muslims. Now, the world is obliged to show respect to the hundreds of people who are dying to bring freedom to their kids and future generations.

Two, the Arab standing for liberty and justice is not exported to them or fueled by external players. If it were, it could have happened a long time ago, maybe after independence, when the liberation movements, be they secularist or religious, failed to cater for the needs of the masses. Three, the West (Europe and the US, besides Canada and Australia) have to stand for the rights they themselves fought for years ago. Principles should come before interests (oil) if they want to have the new regimes in the region to be their friends. Direct military intervention is not the solution unless asked for.

Four, to ask these revolting countries to democratize by putting aside religion, i.e. Islam, is futile and does not help at all. People are religious and are fighting for democracy. To ask them to choose just one is not right. To play the card of Islamism does not help either. Five, the success of the Arab revolutions will (or at least should) bring democratic regimes, which with time will try to unite as a block, as regional blocks (e.g. the Maghreb Arab Union, the Gulf Market, along with the Turkish alliances that seem in the making), to have more solid political and economic weight in the Mediterranean, and in the long run in world politics. External players will fear such attempts and projects because that will weaken their presence and rival with them. This may weaken these emerging democracies for a while, and the challenge is to face these external pressures; otherwise, again, the card of Islamism and incompatibility of Islam and democracy will be brought up again and again.

Six, the Arab revolts will have positive effects on the Muslim Diaspora and Western Muslims in general, i.e. Muslims living or born in the West, especially in Europe. A number of cultural attitudes will change according to the democratic and religious reforms that take place in the countries of origin – the Arab-Islamic world. This will play a big role in the rapprochement Muslims of the southern and northern shore of the Mediterranean play together. The universal claims of democracy and human rights that rule in the West and that will rule in the Arab-Muslim world will make people aware of their commonalities and shared values. Seven, the rapprochement democracy brings about should go further by developing a common worldview, a common approach to politics, starting by the Mediterranean Basin, which would lead to the following remarks.

Eight, the growing importance of the southern shore of the Mediterranean will not be based on economy alone; shared values will be the next cooperation benchmark. This can change a lot in world politics; for example, the US will start to feel the importance of geography, and will need to preserve its world status, which is already shaken. The democracies around Israel will force it (Israel) to stop its ‘arrogance’ and ‘constant escape’ from finding a solution for the long Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Growing democracies in the Arab world will try to find a just solution for the issue, and Israel will be isolated if it does not cooperate. The US will be weak to intervene in the Arab world if solid democracies are built. The EU, by then, should have learnt to distance itself from US biased policies. The EU has more advantages to ally with the growing and developing Arab world than with the developed but ‘declining’ US. Any political bias will just weaken the US (and EU) political and economic world presence. Finding peace in the Middle East will obviously make the Mediterranean among the most pluralist geographies on earth, where the main three divine religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) can co-exist.

Nine, a democratic change in the Arab world will oblige the world main players (The US, the EU, and China) to respect its choices, and the choices I see the Arab world can opt for can be closer to the Western world than to the Eastern emerging one, led by China, India, and South East Asian four tiny tigers. The ‘Common Mediterranean Culture’ I call for does not mean exclusion or anything of Mediterranean-centrism, but simply a way for a more just and balanced world in the region first. As to world politics, a balanced region would stand well in the global scene. China is present already in different spots in Africa, and that should not be ignored. It is better for both the West and the Arab-Islamic world to ally than to swim in different directions.

Ten, this remark is not political but has to do with terminology and cultural diplomacy. The idea proposed here is first for a Mediterranean culture, and not civilization, because the aim is to develop, first and foremost, shared values and customs, which can be transmitted to future generations. The Mediterranean civilization could flourish after a culture for that is developed. Now, the West and the Arab world have for a period of time developed into two civilizations, with two different social classes and hierarchies, different government systems, economy, and urbanism, channeled through technological development. To go for one system of thought and governance immediately without educating the two of their common values and practices will endanger the idea envisaged here. A ‘Common Mediterranean Civilization’ will take more time than a ‘Common Mediterranean Culture’; the latter precedes the former.

Without honest democratic policies in the Arab-Muslim world and honest defense of justice and democracy in the region by Europe, and the US if it wants to save its future from isolation, there will be no space for this idea of a ‘Common Mediterranean Culture.’ If interests are defended at the expense of principles, this idea will remain a mere wishful thinking. Overall, these scenarios that revolve around the idea of a ‘Common Mediterranean Culture,’ are demanding. They necessitate open minds and profound insight that only pluralistic education can teach.