That white sea in the middle, as the Med is known in Arabic, has for millenia been the scene of strategic juggling. So it was particularly helpful to have as erudite an analyst as Dr. Bichara Khader of Belgium's UCL (Université Catholique de Louvain) as the latest speaker at Tangier HEM's Université Citoyenne. Khader, who comes from a family of Palestinian patriots, is a visiting professor at HEM.
I would do him no favor if I tried to summarize in this short blog post the encyclopedic analysis Dr. Khader provided. He traced the genesis of institutions like the Union for the Mediterranean, UPM in the common French acronym, putting them in their European political and geopolitical contexts. But more than historiography, he concentrated on today's renewed interest, in Europe and beyond, in the democratic ferment on this Southern side of the Mediterranean.
"The Arab Spring has earned this region new respect," said Bichara Khader. He sees this in the post-Arab Spring pronouncements by European leaders, in the renewed interest in supporting democratic change, in the falling out of favor of autocratic rulers who might happen to sit on large reserves of petroleum. "Oil is no longer a defense" against charges of misrule.
And while the principal focus was on North-South relations in the UPM, the 5-nation UMA or Union du Maghreb Arabe has also seen a flurry of activity, witness the visit of Morocco's new foreign minister to Algeria and travel by Tunisia's president to Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania. Suddenly, UMA is back as a potential regional actor, which Khader sees as bolstering the position of the Maghreb vis-à-vis Europe and the UPM.
This alphabet soup of North-South and regional groupings wouldn't be complete without mention of NATO and its Mediterranean Dialogue, which got its start in 1994 when then Secretary General Willy Claes started to become aware of nascent dangers in the post-Cold War Mediterranean. A different kind of dialogue - this time to rescue the Libyan opposition in Operation Unified Protector - ensued in the wake of Kaddafi's 2011 attacks on protesting civilians.
The presence of eminent political scientists like Dr. Bichara Khader among the business students at HEM is indicative of their seriousness of purpose, intent on creating Morocco's "citizen managers" of tomorrow. Not bad for a "business school." Being a good, informed citizen is everbody's business.