Andreu Bassols

Director General of the European Institute of the Mediterranean

This is the first issue of Quaderns de la Mediterrània that I have the honour of presenting as Director General of the European Institute of the Mediterranean. Apart from paying the well-deserved due homage to Senén Florensa for his work at the head of the institution and in relation with this journal, I would also like to thank Maria-Àngels Roque and her team for the constant and intelligent dedication to a publication that has managed to reflect the affairs and issues that interest and concern those who study and love the Mediterranean.

2011 will be remembered as the year of transitions in the Arab world. The revolutions, reforms and, unfortunately, also the repressions, have been the three responses to the social demands and aspirations of countries that, for the most part, have lived through the second half of the 20th century and first decade of the 21st century with a surprising and sometimes deceptive stability.

Indeed, beneath the politics, beneath the rocky stability of the authoritarian regimes, the current of Mediterranean Arab societies never stopped. Societies that were once mostly rural and today have high levels of urban population; demographically weak societies with high child mortality rates, which today are societies with a great population density; illiterate societies, now far more literate; economies dominated by the public sector in the 1950s that have made or are making a transition towards market economies; societies in which women had no place outside the family sphere transformed into societies with a growing participation of women; and, finally, young, very young, societies with an average age of 25, concerned about the future, disappointed with their leaders, connected to the world, aware that changes are needed.

Fernand Braudel said that the changes experienced by Europe over 200 years were now affecting the Arab world in the space of a single generation. In the end, these social changes have inevitably been reflected in the political structures, so that the tectonic plate of politics will have to shift to the same level as the tectonic plate of society and the economy. The social and political tremors have been the result of this separation that has developed over years.

If we must summarise what has happened in the Arab world in the last few months we could do so through four key factors: networks, youths, women and Islamists. The first three have been at the centre of the change, while the latter are on the way to becoming the beneficiaries of this change, capitalising on the social dissatisfaction and promising that religion and tradition hold the answers, some answers, to face the challenges of an unprecedented social transformation. These changes, and the actors of change, are discussed in the articles by Mohamed Kerrou on Tunisia and Randa Achmawi on the role of women in the Arab revolutions.

But the Mediterranean is not only concerned with current events. Our dossier for this issue focuses on the ecological challenge and the role of culture, neo-rurality and the return to the land, fishery resources, water management and their political and social implications. These are wide-ranging issues, issues that will decide the future of the Mediterranean even more than the momentary result of elections or the state of opinion of a country from the southern shore of our shared sea. The Mediterranean is a great stage of climatic change and its profound ecological implications: scarce resources, degradation of natural habitats, impoverishment of diversity, desertification, and so on. We are, perhaps, facing the great challenge of the 21st century: to guarantee the habitability of our planet and make possible a rational, sustainable, mutually beneficial and just use of our resources and our natural heritage.

This brings us to a key issue: the need to foster a management, a regional governance, of the Mediterranean. Without the collaboration of all countries and actors, the Mediterranean might not be sustainable. We need this regional cooperation to approach together all the issues that have a transnational dimension. We should begin with ecological governance, given that climatic change and pollution do not stop at the borders of any country. Neither must we forget peace and security, regional integration as an instrument of progress and democracy, water, energy or transport. These are all priority issues for the Union for the Mediterranean, which needs a decisive boost to acquire tools to resolve its current doubts. Only in this way will it be possible to approach, jointly and mutually, basic issues so that the Mediterranean is an area of culture and history, but also of future and hope for the coming generations.

Quaderns de la Mediterrània seeks to be, precisely, a forum of reflection for these issues in which, together, we can approach the challenges of the Mediterranean with real intellectual rigour. A Mediterranean of great richness and complexity that is, for all who live there, their living space, their geopolitical space and their cultural horizon.