Passport

The perils of ‘stability,’ Europe edition

As Egypt spent the last few weeks proving, strongmen are a great means to maintain an unpopular policy status quo — until they’re not. Policymakers in Washington were famously glad to do business with Hosni Mubarak as long as he kept peace with Israel; now they have to worry that a democratically elected Egyptian government ...

557876_110215_Lampedusa2.jpg
Tunisian immigrants who arrived on the island of Lampedusa in the last days wait to board a ship that will bring them to a reception centre on February 14, 2011. Over 2,000 Tunisians asylum-seekers who have arrived on the island following the North African country's popular uprising are now being lodged in a reopened reception centre and the International Organization for Migration said the same day that no new boats carrying Tunisian asylum-seekers to Italy's Lampedusa island have been sighted since the night before. AFP PHOTO / ROBERTO SALOMONE (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP/Getty Images)

As Egypt spent the last few weeks proving, strongmen are a great means to maintain an unpopular policy status quo — until they’re not. Policymakers in Washington were famously glad to do business with Hosni Mubarak as long as he kept peace with Israel; now they have to worry that a democratically elected Egyptian government may not feel inclined to honor the pact.

But Americans and Israelis aren’t the only ones now realizing the shortsightedness of this kind of realpolitik. Europeans in particular have made more than their fair share of devil’s bargains with Arab regimes. And it seems like they’ll be the first to reap the consequences:

The Italian government has declared a state of emergency and asked for EU help in blocking thousands of Tunisians from reaching its shores…

Some 3,000 people from Tunisia arrived over the weekend on the Italian island of Lampedusa following the ousting of Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in recent days, according to Rome…

Anti-immigration policies lie at the core of Mr Berlusconi’s government. He has sealed similar deals with other authoritative regimes, such as Tunisia’s neighbouring Libya, irrespective of the abuses and bad treatment of refugees.

Europe has long been codependent on Arab regimes with less-than-scrupulous human rights records. Like the United States with its extraordinary rendition program, the European Union has kept its hands clean by outsourcing its illegal immigration problem to neighboring dictators: For the promise of good relations and sizable foreign investment, Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Libya’s Qaddafi have been willing to use their security forces to ensure that poor Africans don’t reach European shores. But what happens when those forces are accountable to the public’s common good, rather than a leader’s personal deals? The answer probably involves Europe enjoying a brief period of denial and then building much more housing for asylum applicants.

Cameron Abadi is a deputy editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @CameronAbadi

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola