While waiting with baited breath for the conclusion of the tragic events in Syria, we have been too distracted to notice the recent evolutions of the three Mediterranean countries that endured long, difficult revolutions last year. And yet Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are very important not only for the political equilibrium of a region so close to Italy, but also for Italian interests directly.
Let’s start with Egypt.
Two months ago, the military junta voided the results of an election that turned out not in their favor. Shortly thereafter, however, in an unexpected reversal of the balance of power, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in turn dismissed the powerful Minister of Defense, in a move that appears to have defined the relationship between the new leadership and military. Morsi now presents himself as the unopposed leader of the entire country: he has personally selected the new military leadership and has consequently limited their power, a decision that has radically changed the political and economic landscape of Egypt.
The new president did not limit himself to challenging just the military. He has also struck Muslim extremists with perhaps more force than Mubarak himself, starting with the Salafists, who had enjoyed and undisputed success in the elections.
Egyptian troops were deployed against extremists in the Sinai in an unprecedented operation that disabled a sizeable portion of the illegal tunnels that connect Egypt to the Gaza Strip.
It is hard to imagine that all of this happened without the explicit authorization of the United States, taking into account that Egypt still depends heavily on American aid. With this policy, President Obama probably hopes to usher in the birth of a new Egypt, still tied to the west, but in a more democratic and socially balance way.
It is a sensible policy and has been implemented with skill and realism, but it has been meet with growing mistrust by Israel and by vehement opposition from the Salafists and from within the Muslim Brotherhood itself.
Despite the policy, Egypt’s social and economic landscape is continuing to decline. Both the administrative function and security apparatus of the government organization are in tatters. Crime is on the rise while corruption remains unopposed in the relationship between citizen and state. The economy struggles to restart, crushed by the enduring tourism crisis and by the difficult international situation.
Morsi’s task is getting more and more difficult as the IMF, which visited Cairo at the end of last month, is likely to impose conditions of economic discipline that will put Morsi at odds with his supporters.
Better is the situation in Tunisia, where more favorable conditions and a more balanced relationship between secular and religious forces have made the post-revolutionary stage more manageable, although dangerous contrasts appear to be emerging, most importantly regarding equality between the sexes, a notion that is not recognized by the more traditional Islamic movements.
Worse, instead, are the circumstances in Libya. The regime change there was caused not by internal forces, but by a bloody war that saw the overt participation of foreign powers.
Although recent elections enjoyed widespread participation and muted tensions between secular and religious parties, Libya is not a pacified country.
Human rights violations continue without pause, while armed conflict continues to cause widespread bloodshed throughout the country, and no political authority has thus far been able to obtain the return of the military armaments freely distributed during the revolution. Violence and gun battles are by now an everyday occurrence in Benghazi, and the fighting in the southern deserts is being joined by dangerous infiltrations of Islamic terrorists. The disbanding of the various armed groups is a nearly impossible task, largely due to the impossible conditions set by those who were, or claim to have been, opponents of the previous regime.
This is certainly not a favorable setting for an economic recovery that has yet to take off, weighed down by widespread unemployment.
Libya’s economic potential, however, is completely different from Tunisia or Egypt. Oil and natural gas production, stimulated by large international oil companies, is rapidly returning to prewar levels, constituting a resource reserve able to fund a reconstruction in only a few years, but only if Libya begins the process of reconciliation, and soon.
These brief summaries of the most recent developments in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya offer several elements of knowledge that Italy should take into account to reinforce and renew the fundamental political and economic ties with these three Mediterranean countries.