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MENA: Reactions to the Mediterranean Summit

French President Nicolas Sarkozy joined leaders from more than 40 countries on Sunday for the inauguration of the new Union for the Mediterranean. The union, nicknamed “Club Med,” has the lofty goal of solidifying relations between southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans, and will be co-chaired by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Sarkozy himself.

Every invited country was represented, with the notable exception of Libya, whose de facto leader Muammar Qaddafi, refused to attend. Libyan blogger Anglo-Libyan expressed frustration:

Yet again the Libyan rulers prove they have no respect for their own people, for many years Libya has been portraying itself to the outside world as Jamahereya, which means something like the nation or land that is ruled by the masses i.e. Libyan people! yet in reality we all know that the country is ruled by one family and its followers.

The blogger explained Libya's absence from the summit and concluded:

Europe might not be perfect but it is for sure a better choice for Libya if life there is to improve for everyone, what can Libya loose from such a union? at the end of the day they can opt out if it is not for them.
I am sure Libyan people are just about sick of all that nonsense they keep hearing about why Libya can not become a part of the developed world.

God bless Libya and its people….

The attendance by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on the other hand, was a pleasant development for many. On Saturday, al-Assad confirmed that Syria and Lebanon intend to establish embassies in each other's capitals, normalizing relations between the neighbor countries. Syrian blogger sasa explained the significance of this development:

Syria said it would open an embassy in Beirut when a friendly government is formed. That happened yesterday, and so Syria has come good on its promise.

But why does all this matter? When Lebanon was carved out of western Syria, and the two countries gained independence, Syria refused to recognise Lebanon as an independent entity. As Hafez Al-Assad said, one country, two governments. Syria retained its territorial claim on Lebanon until Bashar came into power.

Rime Allaf, referring to the French media's treatment of Syria, remarked:

As usual, not only has the subject been totally ignored by Syrian media, government and embassies (what a shock, I know), but most of them aren't even apparently aware that an anti-Syrian campaign is taking place in France. Isn't it time to put a stop to this, and to give Syria equal rights and equal duties to the others? And isn't it time Syria's position was explained by Syrians, and its image drawn by something other than Lebanese, Israeli or American paintbrushes?

Also from Syria, On Olives & Sake acknowledged the significance of the event but wondered what his country's leader was thinking as he headed to Paris:

On the other hand, as beautiful and elegant our First Gentleman and First Lady look together as they walk down that red carpet, I can’t help wondering whether people like Michel Kilo, Anwar al-Bunni or Aref Dalileh even cross their minds as they smile and shake hands. As they walk triumphantly through the streets of Paris, what kind of a country do they think of, that country that they left behind. What do they think of that? The poverty, the corruption, the pollution, the monopolies, and the stagnant social, educational, political and cultural life. What about Seydnaya?

Eastern Med map in Arabic

Nearly as significant as President al-Assad's attendance at the summit was the notable absence of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, who sent his brother, Prince Moulay Rachid in his place. Although the King had a prior engagement, the press speculated that the King's aim was to avoid Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Western Sahara Info. believes that the King's decision not to attend is justifiable:

After considerable coaxing, President Bouteflika of Algeria decided to go, while King Mohammed VI of Morocco sent his brother carrying some lame excuse. Some Moroccans are annoyed, but in all frankness, in this case, the Sarkozy government's slobbering over Bouteflika, contrasted with the shrug that accompanied M6's absence, probably had less to do with any preference for Algeria, or even for its gas/oil millions, than with the fact that Morocco has been cooperative all along, whereas Bouteflika threatened to try and undermine the summit by being absent as a point of principle — therefore, he was needed, while the king could send a representative instead, and no one would mind.

the a la menthe doesn't think the summit will have an effect on Algerian-Moroccan relations:

I hardly think warmer relations between Algeria and Morocco are imminent, particularly in light of the parlous state of the Algerian government, but I guess Sarkozy gets points for trying.

General opinion on the summit seemed to vary, though much of the blogosphere found some fault in it. Some bloggers, including Egyptian ramsesthesecond were less than impressed:

In his speech, Mr Mubarak, seemed very optimistic by the idea of the union, its aims and expected results… indeed his speech would be a dream come true if the things he said were done..
Common Projects, investments, progress, development and even cultural co operation, which is a strange idea from the man who refuses to establish normal relationship with Israel after more than 30 years of peace!

The blogger did acknowledge Sarkozy's role in bringing Syria and Israel into the same room, however:

Indeed it is a big victory for the French president to be the first man to get both Syrian president and Israel's prime minister below one roof for a common idea of development…

Tunisian blogger Stupeur!! Un Nouveau Départ!!! [fr] is displeased with the idea:

Alors bénite soit cette union. Union POUR la méditerranée vous avez dit ? Merci, ne vous unissez pas pour moi ni à mon nom. Je vous aurais pourtant prévenu.

So this is the holy union. A union for the Mediterranean, you said? Please, do not unite for me or my name. I should have been warned!

Finally, from Tunisia, blogger Kissa-Online قصة اون لاين [fr] disagrees with the union, making a rather poetic point:

Je ne veux pas de votre union car elle est à sens unique :
Liberté totale pour vos capitaux
Les barques de la mort pour mes frères et sœurs.

I do not want your union because it is like this:
Total freedom for your capital
The boats of death for my brothers and sisters.

Creative Commons-licensed photo by whodisan215

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