Which Summer for the Arab Spring?


This is a guest note by Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, visiting professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Associate Fellow at the Geneva Center for Security Policy. He was also formerly the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Mahmoud.jpgWhich Summer for the Arab Spring?
Six months will have passed since a destitute Tunisian countryside street vendor set himself on fire in an absolute gesture of desperation triggering a wave of uprisings in the Arab world. In that relatively short lapse of time, the Middle East and North Africa experienced arguably its most intense period of social and political change in the contemporary era.
In a region where the executive branch holds all the keys to its nation’s future, no less than four presidents have seen their reign cut short. In Tunisia, Zein Al Abidine Ben Ali fled. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was compelled to resign. In Libya, Mouammar Kaddafi is on the run from his people and from international justice. And in Yemen, Ali Abdallah Saleh, who had already agreed to step down at the end of the year, has been injured and forced to leave his country.
The magnitude of these changes was matched only by their swiftness. Yet the events are still playing out and the coming phase will be as crucial as the first romantic period now coming to an end. In that context, three key questions are poised to dominate the next stage: (i) the likely degeneration of events in Syria, (ii) the difficult but conceivable progress of the transitions in Tunisia and Egypt, and (iii) the remaking of the Arab world’s medium-term strategic dynamics in favor of Saudi Arabia.
First, in Syria, the authorities’ misreading of the historical nature of the transformations was a surprise to many as, given the events in Tunis and Cairo, Bashar al-Assad’s March 30th speech could arguably have embraced constructively the legitimate demands for opening in his country. In irresponsibly dismissing the movement, indulging time-honored conspiracy theories, and brutally unleashing police and military against the protestors, Assad has in effect emulated both Kaddafi’s maximalist strategy and Mubarak’s delaying tactics.
The very nature of these revolutions is, however, that they are nationwide revolts, and in Syria the opposition to Assad has now been sacralized as no less than a second national independence. With the mukhabarat going on the offense and the military wavering, the country can increasingly descend into large-scale violence. International concerns about instability in the Levant and Israel’s ambivalence about losing its predictable nemesis will render this equation more complex. But, as in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen that may not ultimately be enough to keep an infuriated nation at bay.
Secondly, the coming months will see the plots thickening in Tunis and Cairo but one can cautiously expect an overall continuation in the direction of the initial January and February uprisings. Revolutions are elusive whereas transitions are long, arduous and necessitating building skills rather than merely liberating energies. The power game is currently wide open and the coming elections in October will be moments of truth the aftermath of which equally sensitive.
Both Tunisia and Egypt have, however, what has historically been required for successful transitions, namely educated middle classes and active civil societies. Moreover, the military and the Islamists have so far played by the rules. Though the political contest will be fierce and Tahrir Square likely to be reoccupied now and then by unwavering youth, the two countries may well in the end reach a democratic stability in the coming years on the strength of the legitimate bases being put in place.
Finally, as the region continues to be embroiled in these momentous transformations, the international community is still not clear about how to engage. In the 1970s we had d


4 comments on “Which Summer for the Arab Spring?

  1. Paul Norheim says:

    Speaking of strategy, leadership and democracy:
    “The Future of Non-War


  2. Paul Norheim says:

    A good overview on the development so far – I agree with most of what Mohammad Mohamedou said here.
    “Finally, as the region continues to be embroiled in these momentous transformations, the international community is still
    not clear about how to engage.”
    Perhaps not. There was initial surprise, confusion, reluctance and disagreement, also within the Obama administration. Since
    the “international community” comprise not only the US, UK, and France, but also, say countries like China and Turkey, it’s
    difficult to talk about it as a single entity. Speaking of the US, however, I think there are plenty of signs that a more or less
    clear pattern has emerged after the initial confusion. Broadly speaking:
    1) America encourages the revolt against the Presidents-For-Life in the rotten republics, and wants to see them replaced by
    democratically elected leaders and to strengthen the institutions necessary for democratic government (while hoping that
    entities like the Muslim Brotherhood will not be too dominant in countries like Egypt).
    2) America wants to save the monarchs in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and elsewhere.
    Ignoring for a moment the deep irony in this (The United States supporting monarchs more absolutist and reactionary than
    the British Monarchy the Americans once fought), the motives seem pretty clear:
    a) Oil.
    b) The fear that the monarchs will be replaced by Islamist regimes more hostile to the West.
    c) The hope that the monarchs may be more stable, since they in some cases can sack their ministers or local governors and
    still remain in power (or agree to elected cabinet, as King Abdullah of Jordan apparently did last Sunday).
    d) Strengthening the monarchs is also resulting in a weakening of America’s arch enemy Iran.
    Three months ago Steve Clemons stated: “


  3. JohnH says:

    Perhaps the most dramatic outcome is that the United States and Israel no longer have absolute freedom of action with local tin-pot tyrants guaranteed to cover their backs against whatever outrage gets committed. Another attack on Gaza or Lebanon might result in the immediate demise of yet another tyrannical Arab regime, perhaps one of strategic significance like Saudi Arabia. In the short term the Saudi despots are extending their reach. But given that they are sitting on a powder keg, such projection of power may quickly result on over-reach.
    The United States could take advantage of the situation by changing its attitude to one of cooperation rather than dominance. The tacit acceptance of the new government in Lebanon–with Hezbollah as part of it–is a positive sign that Washington may finally be starting to understand that representative, inclusive governments are important to peaceful political processes in the Middle East.


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