The OSCE and the Middle East and North African region: Not so fast?
In response to the Arab Spring, many have turned their attention to the possible relevance that the OSCE could have in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Some see a value in attempting to replicate the structures of the OSCE in a Middle Eastern context; others have advocated extending the OSCE’s assistance programmes to MENA countries as appropriate.
Indeed, the OSCE’s structures themselves have begun to address and respond to the events of the Arab Spring. At the 2011 Vilnius Ministerial Council, the participating States agreed that the OSCE’s experience can be of benefit to its Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation, and decided to ‘further enhance its partnership for Co-operation by broadening dialogue and strengthening practical cooperation and the sharing of best practices’ in all three of the OSCE’s security dimensions.
This most recent initiative by the OSCE builds on discussions within the OSCE dating back to the 1990s on how the organization should engage in the MENA region, and potentially act as a model to transfer its experiences and expertise to assist democratization processes in OSCE Mediterranean Partner countries. Specifically, the unpredicted developments in the Arab Spring countries have been compared to the 1989 events in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in their regional nature, with the support of ‘older democracies’ to Eastern European dissidents being seen as ‘hastening the peaceful transformation of governance across the former Soviet sphere.’ However, the characteristics of these democratic transition processes have marked differences, which need to be considered by the OSCE in its efforts to assist Mediterranean Partners in consolidating their democracies.
This article aims to offer a brief overview of OSCE engagement efforts undertaken so far, providing a few caveats and identifying some critical challenges for consideration by the OSCE, should the participating States decide to increase its engagement in the MENA region.
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