A reflection on the situation of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea in the light of the uprisings in North Africa and their influence on the region as well as on the world’s geopolitical scenario.
In 1492 the core axis of modern history shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, along the great shipping routes, marking a cultural but above all physical rupture with the Old World and its sea “in the middle of earth”, a centuries-old crossroads of civilizations.
The Atlanticization of trade and the birth of a world economy triggered a gradual discrimination against the Mediterranean, which subsequently would be further marginalized by 19th-century British and French colonialism, suffer the fragmentation of its geopolitical axis as a result of two world wars, be divided by the antagonisms of the cold war, exposed to US unipolarism, enflamed by the Arab-Israeli conflict.
For more than five thousand years the Mediterranean has written an important chapter in the history of man as the point of intersection of three continents, three civilizations and three religions. A lively combination of trading routes, climates, cultures, anthropological characteristics, architectures, but also a bloody theater of crusades, war and persecution, this sea shares with the nations around its shores a common identity built on multiplicity, communication and an awareness of others.
Today, globalization and corporate delocalization, and the recent popular uprisings in North Africa, are setting the Mediterranean a new challenge: to resume its old strategic role as a “middle place”, a “place for mediation”. Ultimately, these were the political, economic and cultural objectives of the 1995 Barcelona Declaration: objectives that are still waiting to be achieved today. At the moment, the Mediterranean is in danger of becoming a sea in turmoil, a sea “in the middle of conflicts”, an enormous powder keg, a forgotten cemetery, where the revolts of the last few months seem to lack a goal and a prospect, just as Europe seems to lack a plan, to be incapable of united action on the question of immigration flows and of assuming real international responsibilities. Yet the events in North Africa that have enflamed the southern Med Rim are inspired by the fire of democracy and civil harmony, not by the pyre of fundamentalism. Their strength stems from the absence of a religious leadership and from the ability to unite a variegated scenario of secular and liberal forces. And their outcome, whatever form it takes, will be of worldwide significance.
So the duty of the Western governments is to contribute to the management of change based on a commitment to establishing a path that avoids destabilization and geopolitical upheaval.
The duty of the Mediterranean is to recover its cultural power and its role as an international player fostering the dialogue between East and West, acting as a motor for innovation and education, a driver of culture and production. In order to resume fully its status as a crossroads and a motor for growth, the Mediterranean needs a development model geared to political and economic freedom, the only way toward fruitful hybridization, toward a productive dialogue involving society, production and the environment. If the Mediterranean of the future is no longer a “mare nostrum” but a “free trade zone”, a “complex and comprehensive market”, it will be able to play a strategic role in a world with multiple centers whose borders will need to be re-drawn.