EU religious engagement in the Southern Mediterranean: Much ado about nothing?
Since the Arab uprisings, religious engagement is central to EU relations with the Southern Mediterranean. Given that the EU is a liberal-secular power, this article investigates why and how the EU is practising religious engagement and whether it is a rupture with past EU modalities of engagement in the region. The main finding is that EU religious engagement constitutes both a physical and ontological security-seeking practice. This is illustrated in three steps.
First, EU’s physical security is ensured by the promotion of state-sponsored forms of religion in Morocco and Jordan that aim at moderating Islam. Second, the framing of religion as an expertise issue in the EEAS and European diplomacies reinforces EU’s self-identity narrative as a secular power. This self-identity is, however, subject to politicization and framing contestation through the case of Freedom of Religion or Belief and the protection of Christian minorities in the Arab world. Overall, this article finds that EU religious engagement is conducive to selective engagement with some religious actors, which could potentially lead to more insecurities and polarization in the region.