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Europe Watches Arab Protests for Lessons

Thousands of Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters shout slogans as they take part in a demonstration at Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, February 8, 2011
Thousands of Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters shout slogans as they take part in a demonstration at Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, February 8, 2011

Europeans have been closely following anti-government protests in the Arab world with mixed views about their implications back home.  

Just a few months ago, Europe was rocked by popular protests against rising prices, unemployment and austerity measures. Demonstrators took to the streets of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Britain and France. Now Europe is watching another set of popular uprisings - in Arab countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt, just across the Mediterranean Sea.

The head of the New York-based Trends Research Institute, Gerald Celente, says what is happening in the Arab world has direct implications in Europe. He believes Arabs and Europeans share the same grievance: the economy.

"Could they care less if it was an autocratic government if people were making money?  Autocrat, dictator, democracy - people could care less, so long as they were doing well," said Celente.

Celente believes the 2010 protests in Europe are just the beginning. He warns the demonstrations washing across North Africa and the Middle East will migrate to Europe.

To be sure, references to the Arab protests can be seen in Europe. Tens of thousands of Serbians rallied Saturday in Belgrade, protesting high prices and unemployment, and calling for early elections. One Serbian opposition-party member said the protests in Tunisia and Egypt sent a message to all governments to listen to their people.

In Italy, a software hacking group called "Anonymous" attacked the Italian government website Sunday to protest its policies. The cyber attack was similar to those it had launched in Egypt and Tunisia.

But the Brussels director of the French Institute for International Relations, Olivier Jehin, doubts Europe will see more widespread protests.

"I think the main austerity measures have been taken last year," said Jehin. "Probably there could be some new demonstrations in a few countries, but it will not take the same importance as in North Africa, except perhaps for some specific countries in the Balkans."

Research fellow Rime Allaf, of the London-based policy institute Chatham House, also warns against comparing European and Arab protest movements.

"Yes, there are great causes of discontent in Europe," said Allaf, "however this would be forgetting that one major component of the revolts in the Arab world and the uprising is not just economic, but very importantly, it is political."

Allaf said that however imperfect European democracies are, they do not deny freedom of expression as do a number of autocratic Arab governments. Nor does she believe, as some analysts suggest, that the Arab world is going through its own version of the fall of communism in eastern Europe.

"The fall of the Berlin wall was the fall of an entire ideology that was running those regimes, which was communism," she added. "In the Arab world, it is not a single ideology that has been ruling - these 22 Arab countries."

Critics like Allaf say that perhaps the main fallout of Arab protests in Europe is the failure of its foreign policy.

"By claiming they were pushing democracy, but when push came to shove not ready to allow people in," said Allaf. "The Arab world to have the same rights as their own citizens in the West."

So today, some analysts say, the main lesson Europe can draw from the Arab street is to listen to it.

 

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