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How the EU's principled pragmatism sows strife in the Middle East, Op-Ed, Aljazeera



This op-ed article provides a brief analysis of the impact of the EU foreign policy towards the Middle East.
2018-10-27, 14*40How the EU's principled pragmatism sows strife in the Middle East | Jamal Khashoggi | Al Jazeera
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by Jeremy Wildeman & Emile Badarin
19 hours ago
How the EU's principledHow the EU's principled
pragmatism sows strife inpragmatism sows strife in
the Middle Eastthe Middle East
By trading values for stability the EU is actually
creating instability, and countless casualties like
Jamal Khashoggi.
People protest against the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey outside the Embassy of
Saudi Arabia in London, Britain, October 26 2018 [Simon Dawson/Reuters]
When Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi Consulate in
Istanbul on October 2, credible reports began almost immediately to emerge that
he was murdered inside. Silence was the initial EU response to the crime, carried
out within the borders of a NATO ally, on a ground reserved for diplomatic and
consular services, in violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention. It took a full two
weeks before the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security
Policy Federica Mogherini emerged to say that the EU "expects" Saudi authorities
to conduct a "full investigation". She added that the EU "expects and hopes" that
the answer will be found with full transparency and clarity.
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2018-10-27, 14*40How the EU's principled pragmatism sows strife in the Middle East | Jamal Khashoggi | Al Jazeera
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In a G7 statement on October 17, Mogherini also stated that she looked forward to
the Saudi authorities carrying out a "thorough, credible, transparent, and prompt
investigation". Three days later, on October 20 the EU reaffirmed the same
message entrusting the perpetrator of the murder, the autocratic authorities in
Saudi Arabia, to investigate its own crime. By definition, the outcome of such an
investigation cannot be credible or transparent, as demonstrated by the string of
blatant lies released by Saudi Authorities the moment of Mr Khashoggi's
The European Union prides itself on its democratic credentials, its support for
human rights and its contribution to a rules-based international system. The
murder of Khashoggi represents one of the most egregious violations of those
principles, in the most visible way possible. Further, intelligence and
circumstantial evidence confirm that the decision to target Khashoggi was taken at
a high level, involving Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and close
members of his inner circle.
The EU's response to those violations was slow and limited. Indeed this feeble
response can be seen as part of the policy of "principled pragmatism" the EU
officially adopted in 2016. That policy allows the EU to set aside its more "tender-
minded" liberal values and give primacy to tough-minded "realist" interests in
realms of security, economy and migration.
After the 2011 Arab revolts the EU became very concerned with stability in its so-
called "southern neighbourhood", a region predominantly made up of Arab
countries. Such stabilisation was wrapped into the language of security and made
possible by the logic of principled pragmatism. Values like human rights and
democracy were demoted, while cooperation with repressive and autocratic
regimes was elevated. Meanwhile, democratic elections in Arab countries (Egypt,
Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia) had been won with a plurality of votes by Islam-
oriented parties that the EU has historically viewed as a threat. Saudi Arabia and
other repressive regimes in the region also perceived the rise of these political
forces, as well as liberal democracy, as an existential threat. They saw their grip on
power and other privileges at risk. Thus, the EU quickly allied itself with the most
conservative and extreme governments in the Middle East to combat the rise of
democracy and liberal values.
Khashoggi's murder came on the heels of the "principled" pragmatic shift in EU
foreign policy towards the Middle East. This shift has sanctioned unabashed
cooperation with autocratic regimes as "partners" to safeguard stability and curb
migration. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is an important trading partner and a
close ally of the United States. The US is the EU's most important trading partner
and military ally and heads the NATO military alliance central to EU defence
policy. The result is that immediate stability, security, alliances and economic
interests weigh more in the calculus of the EU's principled pragmatism than
liberal values. The result is that when the EU considers brazen human rights
2018-10-27, 14*40How the EU's principled pragmatism sows strife in the Middle East | Jamal Khashoggi | Al Jazeera
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abuses like Khashoggi's murder, for practising a fundamental right to express his
views and an assault on norms in international relations, Mogherini can offer only
a feeble response that no perpetrator will feel threatened by.
The EU stands with WashingtonThe EU stands with Washington
Mogherini's office has confirmed that the EU stands with the US on Khashoggi's
gruesome murder. However, this begs a question that Mogherini likely does not
want to answer: which US is the EU standing with?
The Trump Administration is by no means a champion of human rights or
freedom of expression. Rather, it prefers to maintain a strong relationship with
the current Saudi government led by MBS. Trump has shown no hesitation to
accept any Saudi cover story, no matter how bald the lie.
Meanwhile, the American public, media and Congress have a completely different
view than the Trump Administration. Some have even called for an arms sale
boycott, while others have called openly for Saudi Arabia to pick a new leader.
I could not agree more. We
should also halt all military
sales, aid and cooperation
immediately. There must be a
severe price for these actions
by Saudi Arabia.
— Senator Rand Paul
(@RandPaul) October 20,
The stakes are high for Europe. Khashoggi laid out the stakes in his final column
published posthumously by The Washington Post. In it, he described how assaults
on freedom of expression and the press in the Arab world, "no longer carry the
consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these
2018-10-27, 14*40How the EU's principled pragmatism sows strife in the Middle East | Jamal Khashoggi | Al Jazeera
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actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence. As a result, Arab
governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an
increasing rate."
The consequences are broad. The security cooperation and repression of the
peoples of the Arab countries may create a false, short-term sense of stability for
European policymakers. This will come also with the sweetener of advantageous
trading opportunities, like arms deals with repressive regimes. Such an
arrangement covers up the realities of deeper, simmering social malaise in the
region, and may achieve at best a short-term sense of security.
Longer-term, that policy approach can be expected to contribute to bigger crises as
the underlying social issues get worse before boiling over again across the region.
When that crisis comes, the EU will have lost serious credibility in its foreign
policy posturing, as its policy of principled pragmatism will have come at the
expense of the people living in the region. That will weaken or completely discredit
part of the EU foreign policy toolbox to deal with those crises and engage in
normal relations with the region.
Meanwhile, principled pragmatism reveals the consequences of an international
system run without rules, which are always constructed around values. For
repressive regimes like the one that carried out the murder of Khashoggi,
principled pragmatism offers an open license for reckless and aggressive actions,
both at home and abroad. With this license and silence, the region and the world
have been subjected to the ISIL-inspired macabre which Khashoggi endured, the
war on Yemen threatening 13 million people with starvation, the large-scale
imprisonment and torture of critics and human right activists, the kidnapping of
Lebanon's prime minister and the imposition of a blockade on Qatar (which was
nearly an invasion) threatening its sovereignty.
Trading values for stability is not only morally bankrupt but also self-defeating.
Those values were developed not just out of idealistic tender-mindedness, but for
lasting stability that can endure systemic shocks. A security-centric approach built
around support for murderous autocrats only covers over deeper problems in a
young region aspiring for the freedoms they see in the West. Stability based purely
on repression is not just wrong, but incredibly ephemeral, ready to collapse into
chaos at a moment's notice. In this way, the EU's policy of "principled
pragmatism" contributes both to the erosion of the liberal values the EU defines
itself by and the incredible instability we are now seeing in Middle East and global
The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not
necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.
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