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Meeting Note: The OSCE-Mediterranean Partnership and the Arab Uprisings

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Stephanie Liechtenstein, rapporteur

This meeting note summarizes discussions at an IPI workshop in Vienna, held on October 25, 2011, about how the uprisings and changes in the Arab world affect the partnership between the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and its Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation (MPCs). Based on the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the OSCE has developed and intensified relations over the last two decades with six MPCs: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, and, Jordan.

Today, the OSCE-Mediterranean partnership is based on a broad political framework. However, there has been a lot of form and little substance. Much of the focus has been on improving dialogue and on the voluntary implementation of OSCE commitments by partners, but there has been little practical cooperation. This meeting asked whether this is changing.

The first panel examined the current state of the OSCE-Mediterranean dialogue. Speakers provided an overview of the dialogue’s positive achievements and also addressed its shortcomings. Also, since the OSCE is one among a crowded field of players offering assistance to Mediterranean countries in transition, the need for close cooperation with partners was stressed. The importance of meaningful dialogue was also stressed, with emphasis on it being a "two-way street."

The second panel focused on the revolutions in the Arab world and examined the resulting geopolitical changes. Speakers discussed the relevance of "society," comparisons to the 1848 revolutions in Europe, and the impact of the uprisings in the "Greater Middle East." The third panel looked at whether the Helsinki process could be used as a model or a source of inspiration for promoting security, democracy, and development in North Africa and the Middle East. The idea of whether the Middle East needs its own Helsinki process was discussed.

The paper concludes that recent changes and events in the Arab world could give new momentum to the OSCE-Mediterranean partnership. It is therefore important that the OSCE makes use of this window of opportunity and seizes the moment.