The Arab uprisings seem to continue unabated in the Middle-East, with Syria undergoing serious challenges to its leadership; evidenced in part by the unrest on the streets of its capital, Damascus; resulting in the shooting of many civilians by Government forces. The whole region is now extremely volatile and unstable, keeping many a political spectator busy trying to predict the outcome of these unparalleled, historic events. As was expected, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in Egypt is already seeing a fundamental shift in that country’s thinking towards Israel. Israel now faces Lebanon with a Hezbollah leader; Syria in upheaval; Jordan with its own unrest and challenges; and to the south a developing hostile Egyptian mind-set. Israel sits alone, an island of democracy, amid a furious and unpredictable sea of changing politics and hostile ideologies. Where will it end? The truth is none us know; but whatever the outcome, the ripple effect of these conflicts are impacting us all.

In Europe and the US we are seeing this ripple effect at the fuel pumps. In the UK it now costs around $116 to fill the average family car. I often see the figures on the pumps showing close to $160 for larger 4x4 vehicles. In the shops, food prices have risen in response to increased distribution costs, as have many other household items, and the impact of these price rises is impacting both family life and society as whole. What is happening across the Middle-East is affecting hundreds of millions of Europeans and Americans, where it hurts: in the pocket. But there are other effects rippling out from this great regional instability now worrying European Governments. The huge increase in migrants and evacuees from these nations is one. Boat loads are crossing the Mediterranean Sea seeking sanctuary in Italy or France, where Italy alone has received 30,000 since Christmas. This is in part because countries like Tunisia and Libya were once under French and Italian rule, and therefore have historic links. In Eastern Europe, frustration is growing towards Greece, still shamed by its financial collapse and EU bailout, because of its inability to manage its borders; resulting in an influx of thousands of Middle-Eastern migrants.

Consequently, the French and Italian Governments have now called upon all European countries to close their borders. This remarkable U-turn on the passport free Eurozone, set up under the 1995 Schengen regime, is a sign that the European model is crumbling. Increasingly, EU members are, in the face of the mounting problems over the Euro, seeking renationalisation of politics across the 25 member states of the EU. The closing of the borders to asylum seekers and refugees is one more symptom of the mounting concern and unease about the changing face of Europe: a predominantly Islamic face at that!

Under European Law, the border-free regime can only be suspended if national security reasons dictate. However, French and Italian Presidents, Sarkozy and Berlusconi, presumably sensing national security may be a risk, have sent a joint letter to the European Commission urging a review and requesting that the current system be re-examined. They want the EU Commission to consider reinstating the internal frontiers between EU member states, to mitigate the effect of the large number of people trying to escape their homelands in the face of the uprisings, or Arab Spring as it being called. My concern is what comes in the summer that follows this spring? What fruit may grow from these explosions of revolution and uprising?

If Muslims are now trying to escape their own regimes; regimes that have lied to them, failed them, tortured and abused them for decades, what does that tell us about Islam?

The lesson in all this for us ADR folk is simple. When something occurs in one department, office, region or sector; the consequences, if not quickly addressed, can escalate and impact other parts of an organisation: the contagion process. This is why I encourage organisations to be pro-active in ADR planning strategies, and have dispute resolution processes and mechanisms in place long before they are needed. The reasons for the Arab uprisings are many, but clearly the various Governments never listened to their people, or cared about them; indeed they often betrayed them. All organisations can and should learn from these international mistakes to ensure they don’t experience uprisings either!

by Howard Stern

Operating primarily in the UK and Europe, Howard works exclusively in conflict and dispute resolution. His work follows a 25 year career in project management, training and development. Howard is a member of the British Civil Mediation Council, accredited by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution as a mediator, and affiliated with various NGOs. His love of travel and the great outdoors has taken him to many places, sometimes in pursuit of his wider professional interests in international politics, and to explore the global pressures facing society as it copes with rapid population growth.