This page was archived on October 2020.


Regional issues

40 - Rule of law, human rights, and democracy in the MENA region

Grade: C-
Unity 3/5
Resources 1/5
Strategy 1/5
Impact 1/5
Total 6/20
Scorecard 2012: C+ (10/20)
Scorecard 2013: C (8/20)
Scorecard 2014: C+ (9/20)
Scorecard 2015: C (8/20)

Human rights and democracy slipped down the agenda as Europe confronted a deepening security crisis

As security concerns dominated the EU’s approach to MENA, democracy and human rights were largely discarded as a policy consideration. The EU stepped up support to Tunisia, the lone survivor of democratic transitions in the region, though not to the degree warranted by the country’s importance. By contrast, the EU appeared somewhat more focused on seeking a diplomatic solution to Syria’s destructive conflict. In Yemen, too, the EU took steps to end a conflict that has claimed many civilian lives, but the UK and France’s support to the Saudi campaign, despite some cases of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, undercut these efforts.

Egypt continued to stand as a major indictment of EU claims that democracy and human rights are central to its Southern Neighbourhood policies. The regime held many thousands of people under laws criminalising political speech or protest, or after unfair trials. EU pressure may have contributed to the release of some journalists and activists, but the public message was one of largely uncritical engagement, with President Sisi receiving the endorsement of German and British hospitality. Morocco continued to be treated as a favoured partner of the EU, despite intensifying its crackdown on independent journalists and human rights organisations in 2015.

Some EU member states protested against human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia. Sweden’s foreign minister caused a temporary diplomatic rupture by criticising a flogging sentence imposed on a pro-democracy activist and halting arms sales, while the UK withdrew from a contract to train Saudi prison guards. The nuclear deal with Iran opened the way for more intense EU engagement with the country; there have been discreet conversations about human rights and the death penalty, but for the most part issues of regional security and economic ties took priority in European ministries.