Newsletter Editorial, February 2011

Revolutions in North Africa – a new era is born

By NAI Director Carin Norberg

In the last month, we have seen dramatic developments in the Arab world. Some have compared the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or to the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994.

Watching developments on the BBC World News, you almost have the feeling of being there, sharing the frustrations and jubilations of the demonstrators. How difficult it was to predict this development only ten years ago. Then I visited Egypt regularly as a board member of the newly opened Swedish Institute in Alexandria. The repression was hardening. I still recall the difficulties we had in organizing a seminar on the UNDP Human Development Report: Human Rights and Human Development.

The report had for the first time been translated into Arabic. And the following year, the first Arab Human Development Report (the report from 2009 opens in a new window) came out. The report immediately attracted a great deal of attention. Part of the reason for its success and the authority it enjoyed was the fact that it had been written by a team of independent Arab scholars, policy analysts and practitioners from the region. Its main message was that reform was necessary and that sustainable change could only come from within. How right the authors were.

On 17 February, the institute, in collaboration with ABF and the Swedish Development Forum (FUF), organized a meeting with Mats Karlsson, director of the Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration, and Per Gahrton, president of Cogito, the Green Party think tank. Both have dealt with the region over many years in different capacities and both underlined the historical links between Europe and North Africa, and the constant mutual influences among the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean. Europe and the EU thus could and should play a role in this new situation.

The main purpose of setting up the Swedish Institute in Alexandria was to promote dialogue between Sweden and the region, between Europe and the region and between the states themselves in the region. The latter seems to have been successful. Let us also hope that Sweden and the EU can act as “good neighbours” in this new situation and support the progressive forces.

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