Europe’s Deep Reservoir of Goodwill in the Middle East: Lessons for Public Diplomacy

Source: Middle East Institute

Author(s): Lindsay J. Benstead

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Political and economic transitions are seldom, if ever, compartmentalized processes, insulated from regional and global influences. On the contrary, they are often informed and shaped by exogenous forces and the policies of external actors, including states and international organizations. How can external actors develop interventions that are more likely to be well received and thus support transitions to democracy?

Last fall I took part in a conference on “Europe and the Middle East & North Africa: Building Bridges, Mapping the Future”[1] hosted by the Kuwait Program at SciencesPo in Paris. In his keynote speech, Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) founder and Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya Ghassan Salamé posed the question, “Is the ‘Europe-MENA’ strategic bond a myth?” The conference raised questions about internationalism and yielded important insights about the importance and practice of public diplomacy.

My contribution at the conference was to speak about public opinion examining the view of Europe from the Arab world. Based on surveys conducted by the Arab Barometer[2] and the Transitional Governance Project[3], I found that there is a deep reservoir of goodwill in Arab countries toward Europe. In all eight Arab countries in which questions about Europe had been asked, citizens regarded the European Union more positively than almost every other country or bloc, including the US. This surprising finding holds important lessons for the public diplomacy benefits of promoting internationalism and the costs of unwanted interventionism.

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