Both shores of the Mediterranean have more in common than they imagine
The divide between both shores of the Mediterranean is not as wide as many may think. The southern shore may be Arab and Muslim but its young people, much like European populations across the sea, yearn for freedom, democracy and a brighter future.
Over the past few years, young people in the region demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice everything for their dreams. Former regimes did not fathom the new generations’ thirst for freedom and failed to comprehend their desperate call for reform.
The autistic attitude of fallen regimes did not, however, justify the rash response of the West seven years ago. The massive military campaign it launched in Libya, reducing the country to ruin and leaving without any thoughtful exit strategy, irresponsibly endangered the Libyan people as it made the country’s quandary worse.
The Libyan people continue to pay a heavy price for that war: weapons proliferate, militias and criminal gangs rule the streets and human trafficking and smuggling of all kinds thrive throughout the country. The state is virtually nowhere to be found.
Libya’s fate is, in many ways, representative of that of the rest of the southern shore of the Mediterranean basin. Europe’s attitude towards other North African countries is similar wherever one looks. Europe looks for piecemeal solutions and immediate fixes. It looks for places to install its disembarkation platforms and for those to trust as proxies to protect its shores.
The task of upholding security and peace in the Mediterranean basin requires a wider vision and a sense of shared responsibility. Whether in controlling migration flows or guaranteeing regional peace, both shores of the Mediterranean must be partners. It is not wise for Europe to look at the countries of the southern shore as mere sentinels and border guards for its borders.
Europe cannot plan in isolation from its southern shore or from the rest of Africa. Whether it likes it or not, as long as there continue to be ambitious Arab and African young people who are dissatisfied with their realities, and as long as people suffer from terror and war, there will be migratory flows to Europe, both legal and illegal.
Rather than deny this basic reality, it is far better to accept it and adjust policies to it.
It is obvious that the Mediterranean region will continue to experience birthing pains. This simply has to do with the existence on the southern shore of the Mediterranean of new generations of sophisticated, educated young people in search of jobs that commensurate with their qualifications and ambitions.
Access to education and modern communication technologies has instilled the new generations with a desire for decent living and freedom. No different from other young people, they feel entitled to pursuing such goals. The days of countries and populations living in de facto seclusion are gone.
In the countries of the southern shores, regimes eventually came to understand that they could not hold people down for long nor deprive them of their legitimate ambitions. It is now Europe’s turn to understand that, as long as people on the southern shore look at migration to the north as the only way to fulfil some of their ambitions, erecting more barriers will not stop them.
We southerners may look different but we share Europe’s legitimate fear of extremism and terrorism. We recognise that a minority of our youth can fall prey to radicalisation. Europeans, however, must understand that most of our people are victims of religion-cloaked terrorism, too. Islam is the first victim of those who spread terror in its name. We on the southern shore are the first in line to face the threats of violence and terror, now and in the future.
It is counterproductive for Europeans to turn their fear of terrorism into a fear of Islam and hatred for Muslims. Such fears are based on misperceptions that could kill hope for empathy and dialogue.
What people on both shores want first and foremost is stability and security so they can live in peace and work towards a better future for their children.
When we realise this, we will have made the first crucial step towards collective peace and security. Then, everybody in the region wins.