Postcolonial theory and EU–Middle East relations

Recognising co-constitution

Authored by: Nora Fisher-Onar

Routledge Handbook of EU–Middle East Relations

Print publication date:  December  2021
Online publication date:  December  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367330767
eBook ISBN: 9780429317873
Adobe ISBN:


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EU foreign policy including relations with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is often characterised as liberal, with an emphasis on democracy and human rights promotion, aid and trade through multilateral fora. Yet, many MENA-watchers question this framing, noting the preference for stability over freedom which informs much EU and Member States policy – an approach commensurate with realism. In this chapter, I suggest that while both reflexes are present in EU–Middle East relations, liberalism and realism alike are informed by legacies of colonialism. Engaging an interdisciplinary reservoir of postcolonial thought, I offer tools with which to conceptualise colonial inheritances and the (violent and asymmetrical) co-constitution of “Europe” and the “Middle East”. I then apply Fisher-Onar and Nicolaïdis’s three analytical moves – provincialising, engagement and reconstruction – which are also inspired by postcolonial theory. The argument is that relations can be improved by provincialising liberalism and realism, and engaging alternative perspectives which are mindful of colonial legacies of co-constitution.

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