Greek Tragedy or Arab Spring Drama: Why Greece Belongs in the Middle East

Published March 11th, 2012 - 13:28 GMT

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Greece flag & multi-Arab flag

Image 1 of 16: Greece: "The spoilt child of Europe" might fare better in the Middle East among spoilt company in nations who are used to turning to the economically stronger GCC states when times are rough. Saudi or Qatar have been known to bail states in distress out before.

Euro coins atop a Greek flag

Image 1 of 16: Greece would be in good company in the Mideast where debt is a minimum requisite for entry. The EU is not the best fit since one nation's economy can take down others. In the ME it doesn't matter if you're economically unstable, defunct or even if you're a military junta - there's a place for you in the Arab League. No risk of economic contagium.

Lebanon's central bank

Image 1 of 16: Lebanon boasts its 'European' features, though maybe less its debt-failing: Lebanon, beleaguered by wars, has practically collapsed in on itself debt-wise. Not unlike Greece's debt meltdown.

People sign up for Syria's new constitution

Image 1 of 16: Syria as we know it has a distinct lack of 'democracy' under a dictatorship, now culminating in crisis with the leader killing his people who cry out for - at the very least- for reform and a new constitution that eradicates corruption. Greece is in crisis too. But at least it's not a violent or politcally civil war type.


Image 1 of 16: "Let them eat cake": From Egypt's basic bread price woes to Greece's pitta bread panic: Greeks have been subjected to harsh conditions (austerity cuts) in order for the Europeans to bail them out. Families protest they can't feed their children. High unemployment means people can't afford the luxuries to which they may have once been accustomed.

Jordan teacher strikes

Image 1 of 16: Jordan teacher unions protested for a few weeks, striking for salary raises and annual bonuses in February this year. In Egypt, union rallies and strikes spilled into the general protests that took out Mubarak. Labor actions really boosted Egypt's mass protest. In Greece, trade unions have been staging protests over austerity cuts.

Saudi Arabia prayer time closures

Image 1 of 16: Sunny work schedules: Whether due to a desert culture of work (according to the sun's intensity) that involves regular breaks & mid-day rest, to the Mediterranean work ethos that is more relaxed with the habit of siestas, or midday naps, Greece shares a stop-start work culture with the Arab world. Some Muslim countries stop at prayer intervals.

Yemenis gather to chew Qat in a tent

Image 1 of 16: Yemen's Qat habit: In Yemen, people enjoy a 'tranquilized' culture of chewing the 'qat' (the recreational but accepted daily drug of choice) in the course of a day. Mediterranean Europe has their active clubbing axis, (from the Greek islands, through Cyprus's Ayia Napa, to Spain's Ibiza) another drug-friendly scene - it's no secret.

Sudanese officials sneak a few winks

Image 1 of 16: Greece might be a better fit with the Sudanese drowsy work environment, if we recall Germany's slating open letter: from the German tabloid, Bild, to Greece's PM George Papandreou: "Germany also has high debts but we can settle them. That's because we get up early and work all day."

A Greek woman protests

Image 1 of 16: Predilection to Protest: The Arab world has demonstrated its propensity to flare up and protest. Could that Mediterranean hot-blood seen in Greek protests be better placed in the Middle East than in the EU where Mediterranean culture is diluted with colder North European reserve?

Greek man burns himself in protest

Image 1 of 16: Arab anger goes Greek: Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian man whose burning lit the Arab fire, was swiftly followed by others in different continents. One Greek man decried his debt as he poured gasoline over himself, burning drastically before being rescued.

Iraqi man pumps gasoline at station

Image 1 of 16: Iraq, once the beacon of civilization as Ancient Mesopotamia, has been riddled with economic & political problems starting with sanctions and ending in civil-war. This oil-rich, now bankrupt, country cannot enjoy its own spoils. Greece, home to the ancient ruins, tells of how the mighty can fall, in view of modern day Greece's financial 'ruin'.

Greek ATM machine graffiti

Image 1 of 16: "Day number 10.001 and still nothing has changed": The Greek patience, like the Egyptians, after protesting their hearts out (in the Greeks' case struggling to keep it 'austere') starts to wear thin. Like comments we saw in Tahrir on banners, the Greeks are leaving their opinion in graffiti or on placards.

Iraqi singer Saif Shaheen and Greek song-stress

Image 1 of 16: Imitation is the best form of flattery: The Arabs would extend a warm welcome to the Greeks, if for nothing but for their tunes. While Arabs are known for their penchant for Turkish soap, it turns out they've got a thing for Greek music too. A Greek song rendered into Arabic by Iraqi singer Saif Shaheen is adapted Greek song, 'Macabai'.

Arabic dabke dancing and Greek dancing

Image 1 of 16: Greeks & Arabs make a song & dance of it: Greek dancing resembles the way of Arab folk-dance 'dabke'. Greek dancing traditionally takes place in weddings, tavernas, and joins people together as they huddle and whirl in a crescendoing frenzy. The Dabke - in its variations across the Arab world - joins people, by linked hand, at weddings & parties.

The Greek dip, humus

Image 1 of 16: Greek diet seals the deal: This humus loving nation is dietarily bound to the Mideast. Both 'humus' & Greek yoghurt (Arabic 'labaneh') are Mediterranean foods native to the Arabs as well as the Greeks. In the West, humus goes by the label 'Greek dip'. A shared cultural drink bond: Ouzo's counterpart Middle East anise beverage is 'Arak'.

As Greece meets the second stage of its bailout conditions, achieving a winning debt or bond-swap that has scored it some Euro points, we ask the question whether, in spite of Greek's firm bid to remain entrenched in the Euro, it should consider a 'swap' of a fundamentally different kind.

While Euro-ministers are set to meet tomorrow, Monday 12th March, to officially sign off on Greece's second bailout, we entertain the idea that Greece not be more at home in the Arab lands, trading Europe for the Middle East?

Just on Friday, 9th March, France's Premier announced that Greece's crisis was over. The sense was that the 'problem like Greece' was now officially solved, or at least no longer the conundrum it had once posed. "Today the problem is solved," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

A Greek financial voice chimed with some self-congratulations: "I would like to say how happy I am that a solution to the Greek crisis, which has weighed on the economic and financial situation in Europe and the world for months, has been found."  

Not without some reservations even today by Greece, with its Trade Unions out in protest, opposing the participation of pension funds in the debt-swap deal between the Greek state and private bond holders, Greece was mainly on board; relieved that its voyage to keeping its chains anchored down in Europe was secured again.

Still, until recently, Greece with its continental scale debt crisis was not feeling all that welcome in Europe. Its membership in the European Union had felt under-threat ever since the bailout operation began. Plus, slammed as the less than flattering epithet of 'the spoilt child of Europe', Greece could do well to shop around for other options. Other geographical affiliations or regions. Other 'Middle Eastern' states have had flexible regional affiliations when it comes to membership and definitions. Israel has for a long time held its place as a contender in the "Eurovision" Song Contest. 

Looking at the alternatives to continental Europe, Greece might be in good company in the Middle East, where countries are not held to account for their individual short-comings. Or for their co-dependency issues.  Syria has come to depend on intra-regional Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran. Palestine has for a long time now turned to its Arab neighbors for support or received it unsolicited. Lebanon has been bailed out by neighbors in the past, particularly the Gulf states. Bahrain has been able to count on neighboring Saudi for relief in times of security threat. The Arabs do not pretend to share their wealth or bind their economic fates together, and the Arab League as of yet has no plans for a joint currency.

Greek Tragedy to become a Middle East Drama?

For socio-cultural and 'economical' reasons, it could be argued (if facetiously at least) that Greece might be more at home in the Middle East than Europe. Greece, after all, shares something of an affinity with at least some of the Mediterranean-facing Middle East (and North Africa) nations, where, controversially-stating, the only markers of qualifying are to be in a state of ongoing decline.

Criteria to belonging to the Middle East-- going by the existing members' qualifications

- International Debt

- Weak currencies (some currencies are pegged to the dollar)

- A whole plethora of diverse political parties. But only a few rise to power.

- Religion controlling political life

- Belonging to the Eastern Churches

-Religio-Fanaticism and / or sectarian identity with militias doing the bidding of the state

-Having a long-time sworn enemy -- (Israel)

-Restricting freedom of speech particularly on line

-Inadequate natural resources along much of the Levant, or the Arab Eastern Mediterranean

-Dependency on tourism

-Military state, or big spender on military expenditure 

- Mediterranean Arab shared culture

- Diet is olive oil and humus-heavy, with flat-breads

- High unemployment - youth unemployment is at an all-time record

- Corruption

- Tendency to coups

- Unresolved, long-term crises


How would Greece qualify? A few striking examples

- Heavily in debt

- The Greek orthodox church is deeply involved in politics, and in turn is protected by the State.

- Long-time sworn enemy  --  (Turkey)

- High unemployment along with Spain - 2nd highest rate in Europe. Youth unemployment 40%

- Dependent on tourism

- Greece spends a lot on its military - second highest in Europe

- A history of military coups

- Mediterranean hot blooded, expressive culture, with a 'flexible' attitude to life

-Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil and humus and pitta breads

- Disposition to lengthy lunches, breaks and siestas

- Living in a state of crisis

Arguments for or against Greece joining the Middle East?


Please comment on whether you think Greece should move out of Europe and into the Middle East.

Yes/ No. Maybe you have other regional alternatives to suggest?





Well, I am a Greek from the Middle East, (Egypt), and I say Greece, and the whole rest of the Balkans, certainly has a lot more in common-- culturally, politically, historically-- with the Middle East than we do with western europe! In fact, up until the 20th century, Greece was considered part of the Levant.

I think every Greek knows it (although few will admit it) that culturally we have far more in common with Turkey than we do with Germany! The only reason we can't admit it is because of the virulent nationalism, throughout the Balkans, that was imported from the west in the 19th century. Greeks have tried to hide our cultural commonalities with the rest of the former Ottoman empire, over the course of the 20th century, as we have tried to "Europeanize." We have tried to caplitalize off of western Europe's fetish for ancient Greece (as ancient Greece is part of the colonizing west's creation myth about itself) in order to argue that we are part of the "west." But the current financial crisis shows that that will never be good enough.

It is time for Greece to divorce itself from the fantasy of "Europe" and stand in solidarity with struggles for liberation and freedom against all forms of fascism, in the Middle East and the rest of the Third World.

Perhaps a nice first step could be for Greeks to stop shitting on immigrants and refugees-- many of them from Arab and Muslim countries-- living in Greece. Growing up my family was constantly telling stories about how welcome the Greeks were in Egypt. I only wish Greeks would wake the f*** up and return the favor.

Aigyptiote (not verified) Sat, 09/27/2014 - 07:57

Greeks are arrogant like their middle eastern counterparts. They believe that welfare should be paid to them for life.

so many Greeks cheered on 9/11 in 2001.
Remember that Greek fans booed during the minute of silence for the victims at a football match in Scotland the week after 9/11.

Sounds middle eastern to you?

Anonymous (not verified) Sat, 02/16/2013 - 12:55

what a stupid dumb article!! Greece has nothing in common with the Middle East. Middle east is an opressive muslim torn war region, full of conflicts and dilemnas. Greece is the cradle of western civilization and the heart of Orthodox Christianity. The New Testament was written in Greek and the book of Revelation in the island of Patmos. The Byzantine Greeks protected Europe from muslim invaders from 500-1453AD. Greece is in Europe, the word Europe is a Greek word.. you need to wake up from your illusive dreaming and pour some cold water in your face

Athena (not verified) Tue, 12/11/2012 - 19:08

The Middle East is a concept more than it is a hard and fast geographical or cultural reality. That said, it would seem that Greece's long standing cultural identity crisis has been fed by an inability to ally itself successfully with any neighboring nations. Culturally, biologically, and historically, Greece has way more in common with Middle Eastern nations than it ever has or will with "Europe" (also more of a conceptual construct than a concrete one). So, it would make sense. However, it's also Balkan as well as highly westernized compared to other Near Eastern (to use an antiquated term) states. The real nirvana would be a union of all Mediterranean states, from Portugal to Egypt. These countries all have immense connection to each other. If they were to unite, they would become so strong. Unfortunatel, the super powers will never ever allow this to pass. There is too much interest in controlling the water, oil, and mineral resources those countries sit on. So, separating them by inane categorizations like Euro/Asian, East/West, Christian/Jewish/Muslim remains a very powerful and successful tool in world occupation. It's pretty sad...signed, A Middle Eastern Greek.

Elia (not verified) Mon, 08/13/2012 - 01:23

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