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The European Union's Mediterranean Policies after the Arab Revolts: From Crisis to a New Order?

The revolts sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 have shaken long-held truths about the region, truths become such through their assiduous repetition by Middle Eastern regimes and the unconditional support conferred on these regimes by the West. True, Middle Eastern regimes had been remarkably resilient, remoulding their authoritarian practices to the prerogatives of a globalized world (Guazzone and Pioppi, 2004; Schlumberger, 2007). True also, despite all their liberal rhetoric, external actors – the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) in primis – played a prime role in sustaining these regimes, viewing them as the lesser evil in a region supposedly plagued by religious extremism, but reliable partners in pursuing foreign policy agendas, commercial and energy interests and the management of migratory flows.Yet the sustainability of these regimes has proved a chimera (Colombo, 2010). No one knew exactly when the underlying traits of this unsustainable situation – from political repression and corruption to deep inequalities, youth unemployment and widespread poverty – would reach the point of no return. Some commentators simply stressed the gravity of these problems and sought to explain why, nevertheless, authoritarian regimes survived (Guazzone and Pioppi, 2004). Others believed that ultimately these ills would acquire political shape and form (Spencer, 2009; Colombo, 2010). The West however persisted in its largely unconditional support, extending the lease of life of these increasingly illegitimate regimes.