Суббота, 04 Октябрь 2014 18:50

Thinking Over the Arab Spring (Global University Summit-2014 speech)

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This April in the framework of Global University Summit 2014 that took place in MGIMO-University in a friendly and effective partnership with MGIMO and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences IMESClub held its round-table "Global Efforts to Settle the Situation in the Middle East. Capabilities of the Deauville Partnership".

And today we're publishing the text of the brilliant speech delivered by one of three key speakers of that meeting – Mansouria Mokhefi.

Introduction

Since 2011 and the fall of Arab dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, scholars and policymakers have sought to assess the importance of the popular protests for democratization, political stability, and geo-strategy across the Arab world. Three years later, the hopes that the uprisings would bring freedom and equality while producing stable democracies have largely gone unrealized. The post Arab spring environment, marked by political, economical and social dysfunctions as well as by internal conflicts and regional wars is more fragile, complex, volatile and dangerous than it has ever been. 

Not only are an unprecedented number of Arab countries in the midst of one kind or another of large-scale armed conflicts, but new types of armed non-state actors are also waging war with local terrorist groups rising in many parts of the region. The rise of militant forces, as the result of a total failure of governance as well as a consequence of the culmination of decades of Arab resentment towards Western domination, has already shifted regional and international alliances and is about to redraw the map of the Middle East.

When assessing the so-called Arab Spring revolutions, one should not forget that the uprisings overthrew dictators but they did not overturn the prevailing political and social order: the political structures have remained unchanged despite the adopted democratic elections process and, aggravated by economic and social frustrations, and reinforced by local and regional insecurity threats, authoritarian ruling is still the norm.

One can only assess that faltering economies (1) and the rise of violence (2) are defining the new environment in an unprecedented fashion and continue to pose serious security threats (3) that are affecting the regional balance of powers (4).

 

1. Faltering economies

Economic liberalization taking place in Arab countries over the last three decades has resulted in greater poverty, rising income inequality and alarming rates of youth unemployment. Moreover, the region’s already stagnant economic situation has dramatically worsened in the countries that have weathered the Arab uprisings: new governments not only failed to appreciate the economic roots of the revolutions but have also been incapable of addressing the major problems of rife corruption and rooted cronyism that plague their countries. None of them has put forward the much-needed economic reforms likely to address the popular grievances or reduce the societal pressures, and a viable alternative agenda has yet to be put forward. Thus, the faltering economies, aggravated by rising prices, low wages, widespread labor strikes and a structural unemployment crisis, are still the source of growing frustrations and social unrests. Loss in revenue from oil and a substantial decrease in tourism, as well as lack of foreign investments, have turned sluggish growth to a non-existent one while paralyzing the economies and ruining the countries. The Arab spring revolutions have also revealed and widened large and increasing inequalities. The lack of opportunities for the growing number of youth is a difficult handicap to which none of the concerned countries has a solution. Therefore, post revolution Tunisian governments have been confronted by a sharp economic downturn that has been feeding political tensions and uncertainties, while Egypt is on the path to social disaster with fundamental economic problems that the large Gulf States’ assistance cannot solve. Post Arab Spring leaders are doomed to ultimately confront the same demands - “bread, dignity, and social justice” - that deposed their predecessors.

 

2. The rise of violence

Arab nationalism, the powerful ideological discourse of the post independence period, has showed its limits and has given way to variants of Islamism resulting in numerous sectarian factions that are fighting each other. The post Arab Spring context has demonstrated how Arab nationalism had in fact been the product and domain of Arab elites and national intelligentsias, whereas Radical Islam and different forms of Salafism have been taking hold among the massive and poor under-classes, highlighting the major division between these societies.

Tensions between radical Islam on the one hand and mainstream moderate Islam on the other have polarized many countries; they have reached alarming levels in Tunisia, culminating in the assassination of two political leaders in 2013, and precipitating the retreat of Ennahda from the government without solving the issue of coexistence between the two streams.

Ravaged by gun violence and political chaos, Libya is in the midst of a civil war. In Yemen, no real political transition has been accomplished while the North Shiite rebellion continues and the US drone war against al-Qaeda has polarized the country in a dangerous fashion.

In Syria, the death toll has reached 200,000, with roughly a quarter of the country's population displaced and despite calls from countries such as Russia, Iran and Algeria to engage in a political solution based on dialogue and reconciliation, Western countries have been opposed and Assad is still in power. Meanwhile, Djihadist radicalization and foreign militarization have aggravated a conflict that has spilled over to Lebanese soil and empowered radical Sunni jihadists like those of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda offshoot with greater means and ambitions than Bin Laden’s organization.

Tensions over the place and role of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt have divided the country, put an end to the democratic transition, and brought back the military dictatorship. Since the military takeover, violence against Egyptian police, security and military forces has sky rocketed.

Confrontations over the Syrian war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, each backing a different side, along with their ongoing competition for the Moslem leadership, have aggravated the Shia -Sunni sectarian tensions and continue to feed violent divisions throughout the region.

Violence has been on the rise against all minorities: Christians are on the verge of total exclusion from the Middle East. And violence against women has also been recorded everywhere: while the revolutions were expected to bring equality and freedom, not only have women’s rights not been acknowledged but they have deteriorated everywhere, with an unprecedented number of rapes and alarming physical attacks reported in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

 

3. Destabilization and security threats

The chaotic situation following Moubarak’s fall, the return to a military regime and the subsequent violent crackdown on the Moslem Brotherhood, the most intense since the 1950s, have expanded a cycle of political violence that has increased many security challenges facing Egypt. In addition to the growing domestic instability, the country is facing a growing insurgent activity in the Sinai where terrorist groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis  have been regularly attacking Egyptian security forces and threatening gas pipelines. The fight against these groups and their attacks has compelled the Egyptian Army into a new cooperation with Israel, but the attacks unabated.

The conflict in Syria has drawn Djihadists from all over the world. Their actions rare destabilizing the entire region with increasing threats on Jordan and Lebanon, the latter of which has already been drawn (through Hizbollah since the beginning of the uprising) into waging war in Syria. The region’s risks of destabilization are also emphasized by the fact that many countries are facing the specter of partition: Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Fed by extremist violence, poor governance, and social tumult, the Maghreb countries, already in varying states of crisis, are facing rising insecurity challenges as well. Terror activities have been recorded across the region, even in Algeria (attack on In Amenas in January 2013), which has managed to avoid the Arab Spring’s contagious revolutions, and in Tunisia (south of the country), which has never experienced terror attacks from Al-Qaeda. Simply put, since 2011, the chaos that succeeded Gadhafi’s fall, with Libya becoming a sanctuary for Djihadists, has been seriously threatening every neighbor’s security and stability. The porous borders have facilitated massive circulation of weapons and the uncontrolled movement of Djihadists who have been expanding their territories and broadening their targets. Libya’s uncontrolled borders have become proliferating free-trade zones for the trafficking of weapons into neighboring areas, posing serious threats to all neighbors. This situation has propelled Algeria to increase its control over the region and to intervene beyond the country’s borders, in Malian, Tunisian, and Libyan territories. Moreover, the growing instabilities in and around North Africa, along with the difficulties in controlling trans-border terrorism, have also raised concerns regarding the possibility of the situation in the Western Sahara breeding new terrorism with militant groups operating in the camps. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned about the Sahrawis’ vulnerability in the Polisario-controlled refugee camps in southwest Algeria to recruitment by criminal and terrorist networks.

 

4. New environment, shifting alliances

The new geopolitical landscape born out the Arab Spring is the result of the major events that took place over the past three years and the challenging outcomes that the revolutions have imposed on the region. First, it is important to recall that, due to many different events and developments that took place over the previous decades, the most important and traditional Arab players have seen their voice and influence considerably reduced and even destroyed: Egypt after the peace treaty with Israel and its alignment with the US; Iraq after the US invasion and destruction of the country built by Saddam Hussein; Syria since its international isolation and the Arab spring. 

As a result of the Arab uprisings and their consequences, the region has never been so divided. Divisions created and exacerbated by the Egyptian situation and the Syrian war have left an Arab League more divided and useless than ever. The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has never been so fierce and it has been fueling growing divisions within the Moslem world. Rifts within the GCC, whose members (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait) have been trying to isolate Qatar, are another aspect of the many divisions that characterize today’s Arab world. Backing Islamists in various countries, Qatar has seen the political vacuums in the Arab Spring states as an opportunity to spread its clout, but the Islamists’ failures in Egypt and Tunisia have toned down the Qataris efforts to become an influential regional player and Qatar’s determination to deploy an independent foreign policy has been reduced and marginalized by Saudi Arabia’ s political strategy and financial influence.

In the Maghreb, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its affiliates, whose activities have spread inside Algeria and in the Sahel region, continue to pose considerable threats. The French intervention in Mali, Operation Serval, in January 2013 was a consequence of these attempts at destabilization and takeover. In addition, the dispute over the Western Sahara continues to simmer, hindering all cooperation between Algeria and Morocco, the two major stable countries in a region that has already experienced the increased expansion of Islamic extremism and Djihadist terrorism.

In this new context, it is noteworthy that, after having controlled the dynamics of the region’s politics for most of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, the Western world has seen its influence challenged and diminished. The Arab Spring accentuated the relative decline of Western influence throughout the region:  after being the absolute arbiters of the political balance in the Arab world, and though they remain the most important players because of the military security they provide, Europe has lost its economic and financial power and the US has lost its moral authority. Following the wars in Iraq et Afghanistan, Western interventionism in the Libyan crisis and the ambiguous and ambivalent  policy regarding the Syrian war have facilitated Russia’s prominent return to the region, where, as an unavoidable player in Syria and a crucial partner in Egypt, it has been challenging Western decisions and orientations. In addition to Russia, new players are entering the field, with Arab countries turning towards new partnerships with China, India, Brazil and Turkey. While inter-Arab cooperation remains insignificant and will remain so in such a divided context, the multiplication of new players constitutes another challenge to the traditional Western influence in a region that has not finished with major shifts and repositionings.

 

Conclusion

While it has been widely reported that the Arab Spring revolutions will bring democratic reforms and advancements, democracy has actually regressed everywhere and the region has experienced the resilience or return of autocratic regimes.

Besides Tunisia, which might be the only country to emerge as a democracy, though still a very fragile one, for everyone else, instead of democratic transitions, a diverse range of political systems is the most likely prospect. All hopes related to the Arab Spring ended in fact with the Syrian conflict and its disastrous consequences on the region. Everywhere, fragility, discord, and a lack of security have caused the multiplication of ungoverned spaces and the proliferation and reorganization of terrorists groups that appear to be more dangerous than Al Qaeda. For Western powers, the Arab Spring also marked the end of a total and exclusive influence. The United States and the EU have always been far more focused on economic cooperation and/or support, and far less on building democratic institutions or defending basic freedoms. Now that they are engaged in different wars aiming at suppressing or reducing the threats posed by Djihadism, they still need to focus on addressing the real issues of the support and financing (by other Sunni states) of the terrorists groups that have spread all over the region.

The United States and the EU are also, despite various other problems, compelled to cooperate with Moscow in the global war against Islamism.  However, even though Western powers remain the most important players in the region, the growing disappointment of Arab public opinion toward the West and the persisting resentment about the West’s policies toward the Arab world are still omnipresent. 

On another front, the rise of immigration stemming from the Arab Spring countries towards Europe, is not only feeding European public opinion’s growing fatigue, it is also reviving racist discourse and behavior.

Last, but not least, the specter of a Djihadist return to European countries that they left to join the Djihad in Syria or Iraq is a major concern for governments that still don’t know how to deal with this issue. 

Прочитано 4861 раз Последнее изменение Пятница, 24 Март 2017 19:06
Mansouria Mokhefi

Mansouria Mokhefi  is the special advisor for  the Middle East and the Maghreb at Ifri  (French Institute for International Relations).

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