Europeans and Americans have been on the same political wavelength in their clumsy reactions to Arab uprisings, but the former have tended to lead the way in economic support.
On the major geopolitical issue of 2011, the wave of popular uprisings in the Arab world, Europeans and Americans had no serious political disagreement. However, neither was in a position to launch a large-scale programme of economic support for countries in transition and, as a result, transatlantic co-operation on the issue was limited. The Arab Awakening took everyone by surprise and forced governments to quickly reassess their longstanding support for dictators and to show pragmatism. Transatlantic co-ordination about how to approach the regimes of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was mostly bilateral – that is, between Barack Obama and the leaders of France, Germany and the UK (as well as Turkey). There were no prominent transatlantic disagreements on the degree of pressure to be applied to various countries – overwhelming on Libya (see component 32), increasingly strong on Syria, light on Bahrain, and very gentle on Morocco and Jordan.
Economic support for transitions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya was also a consensual issue, but neither side was in a position to launch a “Marshall Plan”. In May, the G8 initiated the “Deauville Partnership” with the people of North Africa, with a pledge of $20 billion, but this was composed mostly of loans through multilateral institutions. The US is primarily interested in Egypt, and in spite of the ambitious objectives enunciated by Obama in his speech of 19 May, American assistance has been limited and slow. This is explained by worries in Congress about the direction Egypt will take, and by a more general de-prioritising of the Middle East. That leaves Europeans in the front seat in the Maghreb. The Task Force set up by the EU for the Southern Mediterranean has successfully brought together all EU actors and international institutions, while ensuring ownership by Tunisia and Egypt. Americans have expressed interest in participating, and co-ordination of limited efforts is good.