Thursday, 13 September 2018 20:45

Ideological Struggle in the Middle East

Article by Shehab and Maria Al Makahleh

The thick smoke and chaos in the Middle East is a camouflage for the real ideological conflicts, which are not religious but rather political and economic interests.

Using pious and holy frameworks in political rivalries, deployment of armies and abusing media have become outstanding since 1970s, amplifying a convoluted deliberation on conceptualisation and enactment of the said loci in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The core issue lies in finding a common ground between politics and dogmatic religion. Emphasised by imprecise and erroneous media coverage and primeval analytical tools, ideological conflicts started to be ignited by ideologies due to media coverage and to politicising such differences for the sake of rulers who promote themselves as saviours against the unreal enemy or the Yeti that does not exist except in the rulers’ imagination to keep everything under their control. This does not only apply to the Middle East but rather it can be a trajectory to the whole world regardless of Sunni-Shiite dispute, there are other conflicts worldwide such as capitalist versus socialist, secular versus conservative, orthodox Christian versus Catholic/ Protestant and other Christian dogmas.

The thick smoke and chaos in the Middle East is a camouflage for the real ideological conflicts, which are not religious but rather political and economic interests. The rise of political axes and alliances are not attributed to ideological conflicts but rather to political and economic in reality, the scapegoat is of course ideologies, which turn into vehicle to meet the needs of rulers and leaders in the world and in the Middle East.

The true follower or believer does not know whether such ideological conflicts fundamentally are the real reason behind ongoing wars or not, whether such conflicts are real necessities whose results are the yield of objective circumstances of a well-rehearsed plot, driving people to resort to their strongest heritage and ideological reserves to defend themselves in the war of shifting maps and bloodshed supervised and monitored by world masters, who delegated other regional powers. The so-called “Arab Spring” and the outbreak of creative chaos in Arab and Muslim countries, has been part of this game.

Nationalism dream failure 

The ideological vacuum experienced by the (MENA) region, the state of the “political quagmire” and the evasion of national cultural and ideological projects, with brilliant slogans, have appeared in the past because of the Soviet Union support. However, this has shortly disappeared after the disintegration of the USSR in the early nineties of the 20th century, causing a blow to all nationalist parties in the region.

The historical failure of the nationalist parties in the absence of a unity between Syria and Iraq in the early 1980s, after having the appropriate and ideal conditions in two neighbouring countries under the Baath Party, has marred the region, as Arabs cannot be unified again by all means. This is of course true due to external interventions in Arab affairs and due to the interests of some Arab leaders who prefer disunity. The idea of Arab nationalism failed and it has gone with the wind. The Arabs did not seize Arab unity opportunities that time; at present, they cannot have a one say in the age of open spaces where the world has become one village.

The apparent rule of political opportunism and Machiavellian favouritism, which was launched by Islamist populist parties whether Sunni or Shiite has been intended to internally destroy people’s trust in both sects about the true Islam. This has succeeded somehow to widen the gap between both sects which would lead to future wars for many years to come. The wedge between Muslims was pre-planned by intelligence agencies and they allotted huge budgets for the project. As the collapse of communism in Russia tacitly means a vacuum has been created and this vacuum should be filled by an illusionary enemy: Islamists. This enemy serves two goals. First countering the remnants of communism and second destroying the true image of Islam by demonising acts of Muslims which include jihad.

Most of the Islamic movements turned against their traditional supporters and financiers, seeking power. The conflicts now taking place in the region are chaotic, and not systematic. Such Nationalistic Parties and Islamist Sects are struggling to pave the way for political and dogmatic instrumentalisation of their identity: Nationalist Arab or Islamist. Such matters are more prospective to create new network-like realisations on the periphery and interstitial to endorsed power systems depending on religion’s superiority and perfection and socio-spatial all-encompassing society.

Power seizure or distribution of power would prompt the formulae of relations and linkages. Any of the two: Nationalist or Islamist seek power to rule and this is a taboo for leaders of Middle Eastern countries. When the Muslim Brotherhood win seats in any country in the MENA, that is deemed a source of threat to the regime and when nationalist parties win seats in the parliament. This is another danger that the regimes take into consideration. The absence of identity of Arab communities is used by some rulers and leaders for their interest to gain more power and allegiance.

It is no longer the poor condition of the Arab world today is the subject of the need, the ordinary citizen and the educated and the political elite – who belong to the authority or the opposition – with all their political and ideological tendencies. Everyone recognises the tragic situation we live as an Arab nation which was once a civilisation and had intellectual, educational, cultural, scientific and human achievements.

The deterioration of the Arab nations is a by-product of colonialism; yet, most of what Arabs are undergoing is due to policy failures resulting from external conditions and influences such as domination, colonisation and conspiracies.

Since cognition is a reflection of reality; thus, a dialectical relationship between thoughts and realities do exist. Arab thought is imbued with reality of plots and conspiracies. Therefore, it is impossible to understand the problems of the Arab world without taking into consideration their strong beliefs about Arabs being victims or targets of other nations’ wars.

Article published in Valdai Club:

Photo credit: Khalil Hamra/AP

Published in Tribune

Article by Sheab Al Makahleh and Maria Al Makahleh (Dubovikova).

Peace and stability in Yemen is likely to succeed only when all major players and the five permanent United Nations Security Council members take honest and true measures to end the bloodshed in this poor country, which pays the bill of other countries’ rifts and disputes and has been transformed in a battlefield of their interests.

The roots of Middle East armed conflicts are as multifarious and effervescent as the region’s social fabric. Modern challenges mirror heirloom of imperial dominance and ruthless despotism. They also echo changes in political perceptions and in relationships with political communities. Fierce non-state actors exploit legitimate complaints to fan the sparks of violence.

Since the inception of the Arab Spring in 2011, Yemen has been under the focus of global players and media. The conflict has been developing in a dramatic scenario, turning into the complicated civil war, tearing the country in all dimensions, following new and old lines of schism. Yemeni humanitarian situation was already acknowledged by the international community as a true humanitarian catastrophe, to stop which international community needs at least ceasefire agreements and start of political process. But the attempts to reach any agreement between main belligerent parties, until now have been collapsing. And it seems that the chances to reach any are totally vain.

With the killing of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after more than 40 years of political life, 33 years of ruling the country, it is slated that the war between the Houthis and the General People’s Congress Party will open a new chapter in the Yemeni tragedy. The true war is just about to start. The reasons for the Houthi distrust of the former Yemeni president was his “contradictory” alliances: once with Saudi Arabia and later with the Houthis and then back to the Arab Coalition. Thus, the military conflict will be multifaceted in Yemen: The Houthi-Saleh, the Houthi Muslim Brotherhood (the Yemeni Reform Party), the Saleh-Muslim Brotherhood.

Amidst this shift in Yemen politically and militarily, the scene looks gloomy as the Houthis will be openly backed by Iran and other key players in the region while the legitimate government of Hadi will be backed by the Coalition and Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party. The U-turn in Saleh’s position towards the Houthis was based on an advice from the UAE to rehabilitate the forces of the Congress Party to reach a result in order to put an end to war at any cost.

With the solution of the Syrian conflict in the offing, two dynamics will define political change in Yemen for years to come. The first is identity, faith and race. The second is the young generations of Yemenis who are more than 75 percent of the population, living in poor conditions that would aggravate their future dreams and would make them victims for other countries’ political agendas and Islamist ideologies.

Peace and stability in Yemen is likely to succeed only when all major players and the five permanent United National Security Council members take honest and true measures to end the bloodshed in this poor country, which pays the bill of other countries’ rifts and disputes and has been transformed in a battlefield of their interests. The Saudi-led coalition has to reconsider its approach to the Yemeni conflict, as the continuation of the current policies or even intensification of the military actions will only aggravate the situation, enhance the Houthi resistance, strengthen the Iranian involvement without bringing the conflict to an end.

The coming few months are heating up in Yemen because there is no comprehension of the difficulties of reforms due to rival identities which derailed the political approach stemming from suspicious interference from regional countries which try to export their domestic rifts and issues to other states, turning the hotspots into proxy wars destabilizing the region and having far-going consequences. Since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the same scenarios recur in various forms because of major players exporting their internal difficulties to their neighbors to avoid any domestic repercussions.

The picture is vibrant. Yemen is riddled with turmoil, gushes of violence and autocratic governments amidst intervention of some regional powers. Thus, it is blatant that Yemenis have an uphill battle to fight and to reach settlement themselves without listening to external factors and other countries’ demands, all of which have agendas to dictate and achieve in Yemen at the expense of Yemenis. Dialogue is the only way to stabilize the region, stop the deepening Shia-Sunni divide and stop the spread of proxy wars, as the Saudi-Iranian confrontation is getting moved into other countries, like Syria and Lebanon.

Article published in Valdai Club:

Photo credit: Hani Mohammed/AP

Published in Tribune


The 2011 revolution in Egypt unleashed a revolutionary storm throughout the region. It was the changes in this, the largest and most influential country socially and culturally, that aroused the neighbours who were intrigued, but not really inspired by the earlier experience of tiny Tunisia. Inspired by the example of Egyptians who toppled the seemingly eternal regime of Hosni Mubarak, people took to the streets in the hope of a better life. However, for the Land of Pyramids itself the revolution’s consequences were mixed in the political and socio-economic sense.

No real change of elite took place, as witnessed by the outcome of the autumn 2015 parliamentary elections which were boycotted by practically all the opposition parties. The turnout was particularly low among young people who had been the driving force of the “revolution on the Nile,” as initially the demonstrators on Tahrir Square were young people who had lost faith in their future and who had nothing to lose. Today there is a tangible sense of disappointment among the young generation in the new regime. This is an alarming signal considering that in 2015 young people accounted for 23.6% of Egypt’s population (about 20.7 million). What is more, a quarter of them are unemployed and 51.2% live below the poverty line.

Thus the social base of the protest has not disappeared, which is fraught with fresh outbursts of discontent unless the authorities take urgent and effective measures to improve the situation. At the same time qualitative changes in Egypt call for a restructuring of the entire political and economic mechanism, something that is not happening in practice.

New Power with Old Habits

At the same time qualitative changes in Egypt call for a restructuring of the entire political and economic mechanism, something that is not happening in practice. 

Meanwhile the functionaries of the National Democratic Party which controlled the country’s parliament under Hosni Mubarak are returning to politics. It is notable that there are about 50 former army and police officers among the new MPs. Observers note the passivity of Egyptian voters (the official turnout figure is a mere 28%) and compare the recent parliamentary elections to the sluggish elections of the Mubarak era.


The new speaker of the lower house of the Egyptian parliament elected in January 2016 was professor Ali Abdel-Al, a veteran of Egyptian politics whose candidacy was highly controversial, with some opposition deputies openly declaring the return of the Mubarak times while the speaker himself hastened to pledge his loyalty to President Sisi calling him “the leader of Egypt's new march”. Critics were quick to note that this was how Mubarak, and before him Sadat and Nasser, were hailed. TV presenter Tawfik Okasha, an independent MP, declared that “the election of Abdel-Al was a ‎big mistake because he is an old guard figure who ‎represents an extension of the autocratic politics of the ‎former NDP.”

After a brief period of the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood power in Egypt is again in the hands of the old elite. The elite has not been renewed by recruiting new leaders who came into prominence during the course of the revolution. Moreover, instead of integration of counter elites they are being alienated.

It would be fair to say that the old regime has been restored, only with new protagonists at the head. As a result, even the Egyptian media point out that Sisi is a younger version of Mubarak.

Terror Becoming a Common Phenomenon

The elite has not been renewed Moreover, instead of integration of counter elites they are being alienated. The old regime has been restored, only with new protagonists at the head. 

However, the continued presence of factors that can fuel a new revolution is only one of Egypt’s problems. The toppling of President Mursi put the country on the brink of a civil war. The Muslim Brothers who stood behind Mursi had ambitious power plans, especially because at first they were the best organised political force in Egypt and felt the support of Qatar, Turkey and even the USA. Now the Muslim Brothers are again underground and at least some of them are leaning towards the idea of armed insurrection.

And corruption dropped very little compared to the pre-revolutionary period. 

Terror is taking hold in Egypt, with terrorist attacks constantly being reported. This is very dangerous considering the chaos in neigbouring Libya and the increased activity of radical Islamists on Sinai because now arms smuggling has become much easier. Observers note the highest level of terrorist threat in Egypt in the last 15 years. In November 2014 the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group active on Sinai Peninsula declared its allegiance to Islamic State. The militants have unleashed a virtual guerilla war in the northern part of Sinai. In June 2015 radical Islamists staged a successful attack on the country’s Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in which foreign tourists also died. Egypt’s main historical landmarks – the Giza pyramids and Karnak temples in Luxor – came under attack.


The main question is who will tackle the backlog of problems. One of the key difficulties is the inefficiency of the civil service which is the main brake on economic development. Businessmen complain that not a single high-ranking bureaucrat can make a significant decision without a say-so from the military. That greatly hampers the conclusion of major deals.

According to Transparency International, corruption in the country is rife. In 2010, ie before the revolution, Egypt’s Corruption Perception Index was 31 points (the higher the figure, the less corrupt a country is). In 2012 and 2013 when the corrupt regime seemed to have been swept away by the new forces, the index rose to 32 points (out of 100), in 2014 to 37, dropping to 36 in 2015. In 2015 Egypt was, on that count, way behind such countries in the region as Qatar (71), the UAE (70) and even Jordan (53). The conclusion suggests itself that the authorities on this issue did not go beyond high-profile token actions and corruption dropped very little compared to the pre-revolutionary period.

Egyptian Pinochet?

In foreign policy Sisi’s most notable step has been the upgrading of relations with Russia. 

In the meantime ordinary Egyptians pin great hopes on the country’s new leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a fact not lost on Sisi himself (or the people around him) who puts the stake on big infrastructure projects and economic liberalisation. However, whether he will become an Egyptian Pinochet is a big question. Today he is seen above all as the man who saved the country from Islamist dictators who, according to many Egyptians, hijacked the revolution” using populist slogans but proved to be unable to govern the country and deliver on their high-sounding promises.

The Egyptian media name the opening of a new line of the Suez Canal as the main achievement of Sisi’s first year as president. However, the economic effect of the project is questionable considering the downturn in world trade.


In foreign policy Sisi’s most notable step has been the upgrading of relations with Russia, which is now promoted in the media as a powerful ally capable of providing Egypt with modern weapons (the cost of the deal is about 3.5 billion dollars) that would guarantee military parity with Israel. Besides, Russia will pay 85% of the cost of building Egypt’s first nuclear power plant that would symbolize a technological breakthrough. Bilateral relations do not seem to have been hampered even by the incident with the Russian airliner over Sinai and the subsequent suspension of flights to Egypt. The two countries continue to demonstrate their interest in cooperation in various areas from joint fight against terrorism to food trade.

Saudi Arabia is thought to be another important partner of Egypt. For Egypt’s foreign policy under Sisi the key issue is reviving the Egyptian-Saudi tandem which was pivotal to Mubarak’s policy. Cairo has he strongest army in the Arab world, but does not have enough financial resources, while el-Riyadh has the money but not enough soldiers. So, mutual interest is there. Back in the 1980s Mubarak positioned Egypt as a guarantor of Saudi Arabia’s security, especially in the face of the Iranian threat. That threat is still considered to be real for al-Riyadh, which means it will remain one of Egypt’s main sponsors. In December 2015 Egypt joined the anti-terrorist coalition created by Saudi Arabia. In exchange it got Saudi promises of financial aid in the amount of 8 billion dollars and oil supplies at cut prices for a period of five years.

In terms of foreign policy Egypt is back on the old track, having given up the ambitions of the brief period under Mursi for greater independence and its flirting with Qatar, Turkey and Iran. 

US military aid has not stopped. In spite of a cooling of relations after the 2013 military coup the Americans have resumed annual financial aid to the Egyptian military to the tune of some 1.3 billion dollars. Supplies of arms, ammunition and spares continue. All this shows that Sisi does not forget the old allies and partners and ideally seeks to benefit from all the countries that show an interest in Egypt. Most importantly, in terms of foreign policy Egypt is back on the old track, having given up the ambitions of the brief period under Mursi for greater independence and its flirting with Qatar, Turkey and Iran.

Economy in Crisis

In October 2015 Masood Ahmed, the IMF Director for the Middle East and Central Asia, put the growth rate of the Egyptian economy at around 4.3%. Growth was registered for a second year in a row (it was 4.2% in 2014). Thus Egypt was back where it was on the eve of the 2011 revolution. It is notable that growth in the region as a whole, including oil exporting countries, was just 2.5% in 2015.

In the coming years Egypt will need substantial foreign financing to implement its development projects and shore up its budget. 

The IMF puts Egyptian progress down to restored investor confidence in the country, the new budget policy of the authorities and massive aid from the Gulf countries. At the same time they note the high unemployment level and stress the need to create new jobs, especially for young people. This requires inclusive economic growth that would boost the well-being not only of the elite, but of other social strata as well. In recent years the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small group in Egypt was higher even than across the Middle East (where the gap is traditionally wide). Data for 2012 showthat six billionaires in Egypt controlled 24% of Egypt’s GDP. Egypt also faces the challenge of strengthening its positions in the international capital markets and reducing budget deficit (which is higher than in other countries in the region).

Masood Ahmed estimates that in the coming years Egypt will need substantial foreign financing to implement its development projects and shore up its budget. The IMF experts who visited the country in September 2015 note the shortage of foreign currency reserves, which, at the current level of imports, would last three months. There is a currency black market in Egypt. The government has to dip into reserves to shore up the Egyptian pound. Against this background, there is an outflow of dollars while local companies are unable to buy raw materials and equipment on time.

Another government headache is the survivals of Nasser’s socialism in the shape of subsidies for fuel, electricity and foodstuffs. This is a very pressing problem considering that more than 40% of Egyptians live below the poverty line. With population growth out of control the subsidies enjoyed by the poor are a serious burden on the budget. The government seeks to cut subsidies for fuel and electricity and is planning to introduce a value added tax.

The only practical result of the revolutionary upheaval has been to demonstrate the inability of moderate Islamists to build a democratic state and tackle the country’s real problems even with current external support. 

Continuing growth of food prices is a serious problem. In early November 2015 Sisi promised to take extra measures, such as organizing food sale at reduced prices.

The situation in the tourist industry gives little cause for rejoicing. Before the revolution it accounted for about 11% of GDP bringing in more than 14% of currency earnings. The number of foreign tourists in Egypt peaked in 2010 at 14.7 million, but has been steadily going down since due to instability in the country. Even so, in 2014 revenues from the tourist sector amounted to a hefty 7.5 billion dollars (compared to 12.5 billion before the revolution). There were signs of tourism reviving in early 2015, with the authorities announcing plans to bring the number of tourists to 20 million by 2020. However, the death of 8 Mexican tourists in September and the crash of the Russian airliner over Sinai caused a new drop. The Egyptian tourist business is losing 280 million dollars a month because of the suspension of flights from Russia and Britain, according to the Tourism Minister Hisham Zazou.

Results of the Revolution


It has to be said that the results of the 2011 revolution in Egypt are largely negative. The situation in the country is increasingly unstable, terrorists are stepping up their activities and there is a veritable guerilla war on Sinai. The social problems that led to the overthrow of Mubarak have merely grown worse because of instability and economic slump (especially in tourism).

The only practical result of the revolutionary upheaval has been to demonstrate the inability of moderate Islamists to build a democratic state and tackle the country’s real problems even with current external support.

The Muslim Brothers who came to power have proved to be usurpers and populists incapable of effectively governing the state. As a result Egypt had no option but to revert to the old model. However, the restoration was confined to giving a facelift to the façade while the chance to rectify the errors was missed. Thus, a new spiral of social tensions in 5-10 years’ time is likely, to be followed by a new revolution (perhaps the explosion can be delayed by tougher repressive measures, but police measures cannot reverse the trend). Only, that revolution would be aimed not against a specific authoritarian ruler, but against military dictatorship in general and would involve various armed groups, which is fraught with further serious destabilistion and even a civil war.


Previously published : 

Published in Tribune

Maria Dubovikova: Tunisia has become the first democracy in the Middle East, first of all due to the fact that its society is far more liberalized than any other country of the Middle East. Tunisia has once more confirmed that policy of “putting the cart before the horse” is useless, that obtrusion of democratic institutions doesn’t lead to the establishment of liberal democracy, and that to establish one, the society itself should be liberalized, which will automatically lead to the establishment of democratic rule. So can we say that Tunisian success becomes possible thanks to its historically strong ties with France? And in this case why didn’t the Arab Spring touch Morocco, which also has strong ties with France and a society that is more liberalized compared to the other countries of the MENA? Or, if Tunisia was and is the most liberalized country of the Middle East, why did the Islamists win the first elections after the fall of Ben Ali?


Mustapha Tlili: Tunisia and Morocco are different in many ways. First, they are different in terms of their size and population. On the one hand, you have about 30 million people in Morocco and approximately 10-11 million in Tunisia. Second, Tunisia is far more urbanized – you could even say far more advanced – than Morocco. Morocco remains a more rural country. Tunisia is up to 85% urban. That’s a big difference. If you look at the map of Tunisia, you’ll see that the concentration of the population is along the coast. And that concentration of the population along the coast orients its outlook towards the north, rather then towards the east or the west. When Tunisians think about their daily lives, of how to improve them, they don’t think east or west. They think north because Sardinia (Italy) is 20 minutes away by plane; Rome is 40 minutes. You can take a morning flight, do whatever you have to do in Rome, and come back in the afternoon. Paris is practically the same distance. The flight takes less then two hours. You can go there in the morning and come back in the afternoon. The whole length of Southern France and Southern Italy is so close – that has a huge impact. Also, the middle class in Tunisia is much stronger than the middle class in Morocco. Tunisia is more successful in terms of GDP, of buying power, of the level of comfort of middle class living. They invest in lasting things – houses and other property – connected with stability. If you are raised with these things, you are not going to burn down your own things or your brother’s – you are rising up because you want to change the structure. In Morocco, the population cannot even rise up because of the overwhelming power of the Monarchy and the tools of oppression the Monarchy has at its disposal. In Tunisia, when the break-down happened, it was a real revolution intended to stop the corrupt regime and the power it exercised through the police. The revolution was also connected with middle class ideology and demographics – hundreds of thousands of youth that were very well educated, with university diplomas, but jobless. If you look at the slogans of the revolution, they are dignity, employment, and freedom of expression. You’ll find them to be almost the same slogans of the Prague Spring – they were calling for freedom, for freedom of expression, for the end of dictatorship, and so on and so forth. In Morocco you didn’t have this. You had only a few demonstrations…


MD:  Shut down by the government.


MT:  Yes. These are differences that are very important and which we have to keep in mind. Also, the Islamists got into the picture later – they were not initially part of the revolution. The dictator fled the country on January 14, 2011. The following day «Project Syndicate» asked me to write a piece on the event. It appeared on January 20. By that time, most of the analysts expected the Islamists to come. But the Islamists were nowhere to be found. I started my piece this way. And this is a fact. Twenty years after The New York Times featured the fall of Bourguiba, the front-page article announced the flight of Ben Ali with a big picture. Look up that photo: it was a photo of a huge demonstration on January 14, the day Ben Ali fled the country. There is a sea of men and women. I looked at the photo trying to find a single woman with a headscarf or hijab, trying to find a single man with a beard. I started my column precisely with this observation. There is no way you can look at this image and find the Islamists present. If you look at the slogans that prevailed during these demonstrations, there was not a single call for the application of sharia. The protesters demands were – without exception – the typical demands of a middle class country for more freedoms. What happened, as history will show, is that Islamists were pushed by some powers to take advantage of the situation and to start making their presence known. And that is what happened in Tunisia. Suddenly, some of them who had been in exile, like Ghanushi, began showing their heads. And they had a lot of money. They were inundating the country with money to show their power. For instance, they bought a huge modern building to serve as their headquarters. Then they stated spreading their network across the country through local offices they established all over the place. They also started doing charity work in the country knowing very well there would be elections in few months. Spending huge amounts of money – and there are many indications that this money came from Qatar – the Islamists started preparing for elections. And given the sympathy that the Islamists had gained when they were in prison and in exile, and given the fact that secular forces (leftists, liberals, etc.) were not united and were fighting each other for power, the results of the elections were disastrous. The Islamists won over 80% of the vote. It had been agreed before the elections that the winning force would form the government. Despite their victory, the fact is, the Islamists were late to the party. The same is true for Egypt. If you go back to the history of that period (which already seems far away), the Islamists were not even thinking about presenting candidates for election. They said they were not thinking of running for the presidency. But then they changed their mind.


MD: Yes, as they could not imagine themselves coming into power after the years of oppression!


MT: Yes! And it should be said that when the Islamists came to power in Tunisia, instead of focusing on the demands of the revolution (jobs, dignity, freedom), they thought they had a mandate to change the identity of the country…. to impose sharia, to roll back the rights of women, to Islamize the country as if the country was not Muslim enough. And when Tunisians realized these objectives, they said no.


MD: I read, if I’m not mistaken, an article on the basis of your interview, given in February of this year to the Tunisian website. There you have said that there is an end of political Islam in Tunisia.


MT: Not only in Tunisia, but all over the Middle East.


MD: But what about ISIS? It’s not just Islamism, it’s extremism, and what’s more, it is an Islamic political extremism. I think it’s a new phenomenon we’ve never faced before in modern history. Are you taking into account the Salafists in Egypt who are much more conservative than the Muslim Brotherhood and still remain popular enough and have their electorate, or taking into account that there are many people who share the Islamist ideas, who even join the ranks of ISIS pushed by their faith? Can we really talk about the end of political Islam? Or maybe this is true for the current moment of history for some countries, and then the Islamists will return to power? Do you think that it is an absolute end with no possibility of recovery?


MT: Well, if we’re going to talk about the Muslim Brotherhood, we should look deep in its history. The movement's ideologue, Saïd al-Qotb, had spent one year in the United States and was overwhelmed by all the expressions of modernity, shocked by the decadence of the lifestyle and so on. And so he came back with a reaffirmed conviction that Muslim societies, which were lagging behind, could not in any way reach the West, nor improve their conditions within the Western model because the Western model was decadent – and therefore there should be an Islamic solution. He came up with the slogan: Islam is the solution. In the minds of al- Qotb and his successors, we should go back to the Islamic tradition, to the past. We have to renew the things that we have lost, we have to revive the ways of the Prophet, the ways of the caliphs, and the ways of those who the caliphs governed to solve today’s problems. Sometimes they got the chance to act openly; sometimes they were oppressed. But the Muslim Brotherhood persisted in Egypt through several different experiments in nation-building: first, the Pan-Arabism of Nasser, which failed, then pan-socialism. (This was also during Nasser’s time; what started as a Pan-Arabism evolved into the propaganda of Arab socialism under the influence of the Soviet Union and following Egypt’s problems with the U.S. due to the Israel issue.) That also failed. Then came Sadat, and a new period of authoritarian nationalism, which continued through Sadat’s rule and most of Mubarak’s rule. In the background, there was always a possibility of an “Islamic solution,” but until the revolution, the Islamists never had the chance to prove that their solution worked. And this is why they were elected by a majority in Egypt: because the people believed that since all the previous solutions had failed, these guys must have the answer. We know the result – in Egypt as well as in Tunisia. The Islamists were given a chance to rule for three years and they were a total failure. This is why I say the movement is over – because they had a chance to make an impact –


MD: But the chance is lost.


MT: It is for today. Take communism! It had its time. The industrial revolution saddled the labor class with numerous problems. Then came Marx with a beautiful theory, Engels to transform this theory into action, then Lenin and so forth. For all of them, communism was a solution. Seventy-five years later, it collapsed. It could not satisfy people’s demands and aspirations. The propaganda claimed, «We are better than the West», but the reality was different. Now having seen and lived in a consumer society, Russians are not going back to communism. Communism had its chance, but it failed.

Similarly, political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood won’t come back. That’s why there is a crisis within the MB. There is a big crisis within Ennahda in Tunisia, too, because they know that they have failed. They have to review and revise their ideology and rid it of ideas like the establishment of sharia. Perhaps they should think of themselves as a Muslim party in the same way Christian democrats in Europe are inspired by Christian principles, but do not try to create a system of governance based in Christian authority. As long as the Islamists continue trying to create a system of governance according to Islam (such as sharia), as long as they stay as they are, they have no chance of being part of the political system and the society.


MD: Ok! But if the Islamist ideas are no longer attractive to these societies – taking into account the dramatic catastrophe that is going in Iraq and Syria – why do they still appear to be attractive for Europeans, who are fleeing the countries they are living in and joining ISIS? Why, as this kind of Islamism loses its influence in the Middle East, is it at the same time gaining supporters and partisans in Western societies?


MT: The reason for this is a failure of European countries in integrating Muslim immigrants. If you look at those who are joining the ranks of ISIS, they are marginalized youth. Many have been in prison or were drugs addicts. This is what I love about sociology – you are going to the roots of social problems. It’s clear if you look at the biographies of those who have joined ISIS that there has been a failure of immigration policy and failure of integration of Muslim immigrants into European societies. The reason why the ideology is attractive is because the youth who are rejected, who are marginalized, find in the preaching of those extremists who approach them something they can identify themselves with while seeking revenge against the West. If you look at the videos they produce and analyze the language of these videos, they are all about revenge. Take another symbol– the robe their prisoners wear. Those orange clothes are meant to remind you of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where the Americans tortured their prisoners.


MD: Lakhdar Brahimi accused the West of contributing to the creation of ISIS. Do you agree with him?


MT: No. The West produced horrors that remained in the imagination of these young people, who saw these images on TV. And when you are living in a marginalized society, or society group, growing up with the images of torture of Muslim co-religionists in Syria and Iraq, then you are growing up with the feeling that you should take revenge. And in that sense, the West has contributed, but not – at least in my perspective – by allowing or helping ISIS to be formed. We have to be very careful. But in the sense of the 2003 Iraq war having influence on the formation of ISIS – yes, he is absolutely right. If you look at the composition of ISIS, at who the soldiers are…


MD: The ex-Saddam soldiers!


MT: Yes! And the U.S.’s big mistake in the early years of the occupation was the disbandment of the Iraqi army, which created an army of unhappy people dreaming of revenge.


Published in Interviews
Sunday, 11 January 2015 03:24

Listening to the Music of the Revolution?

Initially published on Republished following authors' permission. (Authors are IMESClub's members).

Resume: If the international community fails to establish acceptable and understandable rules of international behavior in the context of “revolutionary challenges,” the world may slip into a new round of global confrontation, which will be caused not by systemic contradictions but by vain disregard for real common threats. 

The late 1990s and the early 2000s were marked by profound changes in geopolitics, world economy and finance. The Cold War paradigm of international relations seemed to have gone for good. At the same time no new rules of states’ behavior have emerged that would consort with the new world order.

The Cold War years showed that, for all the ideological, military and political costs, the bipolar system was relatively stable. It helped to maintain the balance as it imposed quite rigid restrictions on weaker countries in regions (allies or partners of great powers). There was a red line, recognized by all, which could not be crossed, that is, provoking of a global clash. Regional forces sought to gain the support of their patron, sometimes not paying due attention to its own concerns, but ultimately the fear of unacceptable risks caused great powers to act together, putting pressure on regional allies and enforcing restraint in international relations.

The collapse of the bipolar system and the impossibility to comply with the prior rules of the game in a polycentric world made international relations more chaotic. Regional state and non-state actors began to behave more actively, often guided by the behavior of the United States which was no longer restrained by the other center of power. Washington often demonstrated irresponsible policies, not even trying to assess possible consequences of its actions. It seemed there had come a period of international autism when global players, lost in their own worlds and ignoring the interests of others, started reshaping the Yalta system.

Such notions as sovereignty and territorial integrity, on the one hand, and national self-determination, on the other, which have long been conflicting with each other, are being eroded de facto and turning into legal fictions. But these notions should not be viewed as mutually exclusive, either. The right to self-determination can be realized in various forms, for example within a federal state or as autonomy granted to an ethnic group, which does not violate the territorial integrity of a given state. In practice, however, the growth of ethnic nationalism and the activity of new elites seeking access to power and property have equated the concept of self-determination to secession.

Under the new circumstances, powerful states increasingly often resort to the principles of territorial integrity and national self-determination to justify their “sovereign” decisions, proceeding from considerations of political expediency, the way they see it. In other words, they act depending on a specific situation or impulsively react to what they see as unlawful actions of another actor.

The world is witnessing a clash of two different tendencies: the chaotization of world politics, with selective use of military force, and the objective need for humankind to preserve the hard-built integration ties which suggest a certain degree of financial, economic and, in some matters, political interdependence.



The crisis over Ukraine has become the most dangerous episode in a series of conflicts that have taken place in the world over the last quarter century, although the Arab Spring has already sent enough signals to major actors to shun ideology in reevaluating objective trends and analyze their miscalculations and mistakes. Whereas no one took local conflicts of the recent decades in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and even Syria as serious threats to international security (the United States’ bellicose rhetoric in the UN Security Council in response to Russian vetoes was aimed at enhancing Washington’s image at home and abroad), the confrontation on Ukrainian soil has prompted the question of whether the world is sliding into the abyss of a Cold War again. This time it is a worst-case-scenario Cold War when the conflicting parties are losing the degree of mutual trust and ability to heed each other, which in the years of systemic confrontation allowed U.S. and Soviet leaders to undo the most intricate knots of tension.

Why have tensions in Russia-West relations come to a head? The sliding from “strategic partnership” to a new round of confrontation led to the accumulation of the explosive mass of irritating factors as well as mutual misunderstanding and misinterpretation of each other’s motives. The events that led to the conflict over Ukraine had been developing slowly but consistently and spilling over more and more eastward towards Russia’s border and its centuries-old cultural and national habitat.

Whereas tensions over NATO’s enlargement into Eastern Europe in the late 1990s, which caused a strong reaction from Russia, subsided over time, the situation began to change rapidly as Western ambitions went as far as the borders of the former Soviet Union. While Russia’s ties with Central and Eastern European countries in the last decade were marked by positive dynamics, the European Union tried hard to draw former Soviet republics into its orbit under the political cover of the so-called Eastern Partnership. Considering the experience of the three previous waves of enlargement, Russia could not consider these developments other than preparations for a subsequent admission of these countries to the Euro-Atlantic alliance (there is an unwritten rule that NATO membership cannot be given to a country that has not gone through the difficult procedure of entry into the European Union).

Ukraine was placed on this waiting list, just like Georgia and Moldova before. The West resumed its policy of containing Russia long before the current Ukrainian crisis, disguising it with talk of partnership and inadmissibility of returning to the struggle for spheres of influence. Among its instruments, it used the strategy of regime change, earlier tested in the Balkans, Georgia and some other transition countries. In Ukraine, however, the West failed to observe democratic decencies. When the regime in Ukraine was replaced by force, with blatant interference of the West, Russia, which until then had held defensive positions, decided it could no longer leave this challenge unanswered. In Russia’s public opinion and official strategy, Ukraine means not only national security and cooperative ties, vital to the economies of both countries, but also centuries of spiritual kinship, and cultural and language commonality.

Considerations of defense played an important role in the Russian reaction. Recent years were marked by a large-scale anti-Russian campaign in the West under various pretenses. The West toughened its criticism of the social and political systems in Russia, which in turn increased conservative sentiment in Russia as a reaction to abortive rapprochement with the West.

There must be some key link in the entire causal chain of actions and counter-actions between Russia and the West. One of these links is the fundamental differences in their perception of modern revolutions and new local or regional threats caused by them.

After the end of the era of bipolar confrontation, Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East were swept over by three waves of revolutions, with different balances of pros and cons, and gains and losses. At the turn of the 1980s-1990s, Russia was also involved in the renewal process, full of internal contradictions, achievements and setbacks. The new challenges, such as international terrorism, upsurges of ethnic nationalism, drug trafficking, cross-border crime and immigration activity, coupled with the global financial crisis, revealed vulnerabilities in the functioning of political systems and market economy mechanisms even in developed countries.

While the communist ideology has failed around the world and the evolutionary model of post-Soviet Russia has not yet produced an attractive alternative, serious defects and dysfunctions have been revealed in liberal democracies, as well. Many Western experts point to a decline in the quality of democracy in the United States and Great Britain, to increasing institutional failures, and the growing number of “defective democracies.” The institution of elections, the main element of democratic government, is losing its former value in the eyes of voters, especially young people (only two out of five Britons aged under 30 voted in the 2010 parliamentary elections in the UK).

It took a quarter of a century to see that “the end of history” predicted by Francis Fukuyama was not going to happen. Later, analyzing “dramatic changes” in the post-industrial era in his book The Great Disruption, he showed convincingly that “history,” meaning the victory of liberalism as a perfect model of state system, is far from over. The period since the end of the 20th century has been marked by a craving for freedom of choice in everything and decreasing trust in social/political institutions. The democracy established in the West has revealed its internal contradictions, making the messianic ambitions of the larger part of the American establishment a naive exaggeration, to say the least.

The United States, whose foreign policy is constrained by ideological clichés, has more than once had to pay for its “interventionism” or idealization of revolutionary change of political regimes with chaotic moves in the Middle East. Washington made obvious blunders in assessing such a social/political phenomenon as the Arab Spring. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were automatically taken as a universal phenomenon in the victorious march of democracy. They were even compared to the “velvet revolutions” in Eastern and Central European countries. However, soon it became clear to everyone that Arab revolutions cannot be “velvet.”

Whereas European countries had the experience of bourgeois/democratic development and built their identities on the rejection of communism and viewing the European Union as the center of attraction, there were no such reference points in the Middle East – or for that matter, in the majority of post-Soviet states, and Ukraine is no exception.

The national development of the territories where the present Ukrainian state was established by a historical confluence of circumstances has always been influenced by two tendencies – search for independence and desire for political and cultural community with Russia, with the latter trend obviously prevailing. Ukraine, which was artificially cobbled together from two different parts after the Soviet Union’s military advance in the West in the late 1930s, has remained culturally and politically fragmented to this day. Different historical narratives and national heroes, different mentality, different patterns of employment, and alienation from Russia characteristic of people in Western Ukraine – all these factors surfaced after Ukraine became independent. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian political elite has proven unable to achieve national unity: it has exploited the Ukrainian division and traded service to the nation for money and self-interest. The European Union’s self-confident policy of pressure had forced Ukraine into a dilemma, which it was unable to resolve by definition.



Speaking of nation-building, which has much in common in all countries regardless of regional specificities, one should mention the disastrous experience of the first attempts of bourgeois reforms in the Middle East in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The political systems of Egypt, Syria and Iraq, patterned after the Western model, failed to take root on Arab-Muslim soil and were swept away in the military coups of the 1950s-60s. The dramatic changes of the 21st century have also destroyed the myth that the world is developing along the main track from “authoritarianism” to “democracy,” which the majority of the U.S. political elite views as a purely American product, a kind of “Protestant fundamentalism.”

Young people in Arab countries, like the Ukrainian youth, shocked the world with mass calls for a renovation of social foundations, for respect for human dignity and civil liberties, and for social justice. Soon, however, the revolutionary transformation of the Middle East ceased to fit into the democratic context. As the developments went more and more out of control, the Middle East policies of the United States and the European Union were increasingly often faced with serious difficulties, in many cases becoming hostage to traditional thinking.

The powerful popular unrest in Arab countries was caused by a mix of social and economic reasons. External factors did play a role, but initially an indirect one. At the same time, as the domino effect spread, the West a priori supported opposition forces, the way it used to do in other regional conflicts, ignoring their diversity and contradictions in their political attitudes. Since then, external interference in favor of one of the conflicting parties only increased, while the hope to gain political capital by showing solidarity with the Arab “democratic revolutions” was more and more at odds with the real transformation processes in the region.

The fate of Iraq, which has found itself on the verge of losing its statehood and involved in a religious war, has now caused the West to rethink the harmful effects of the American invasion in 2003. As Richard Haass, a leading Middle East expert, wrote, the U.S. policy in Iraq “reinforced sectarian rather than national identities.” In the same way as the Suez Crisis of 1956 caused a surge of pan-Arab nationalism, the Western coalition’s war against a Muslim country triggered an unprecedented escalation of violence by radical Islamists and created fertile ground for the rise of al-Qaeda. The delicate balance between the ruling Sunni minority and the Shiite majority, maintained by Saddam Hussein’s iron hand, was upset in no time in favor of the Shiites. The attempt to impose Western-style parliamentarianism on Iraq resulted in the emergence of a Shiite regime. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki conducted a narrow confessional policy which prevented inclusive participation of other religious and ethnic groups in the government. Kurds began to actively build their own autonomy, while Sunnis and Christians found themselves left without any political representation. The dissolution of the army and the Ba’ath Party, which had been the core of Iraq’s political system, gave rise to a powerful internal protest.

Just as much harm was done by the United States’ active but erratic participation in the complicated transitional processes in Egypt. After a momentary hesitation Washington used all its political and information resources to support the Egyptian revolution, forcing Hosni Mubarak to resign. Later, when Islamists had succeeded in riding on the revolutionary wave, the U.S. assigned the key role to the moderate wing of the Muslim Brotherhood which used the new situation to quickly become an influential political party and win parliamentary and presidential elections. Just like during the rise of Islamism in Algeria in the 1990s that evolved into a decade-long civil war, the Americans exerted constant pressure on the Egyptian army, which led the transition process, forcing it to hand over power to a civilian government, essentially to Islamists. Therefore, the “second coming” of the army to power in July 2013 and the removal of democratically elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in what cannot be described other than a military coup put the White House in a difficult situation again.

The army’s actions, even if they were a response to the demands of millions of people who took to the streets again, did not fit into the antithesis of coup vs democracy; nor did they look like a movement to defend democracy against “Islamic dictatorship” simply because democracy had never existed in Egypt.

In the Muslim world, which had divided over the attitude towards political Islam, the changes in the U.S. policy alienated both adherents of the new military regime and its opponents who supported the Muslim Brotherhood.

Washington also made mistakes in handling the Syrian conflict. Its unconditional support for the motley opposition movement in Syria, in which jihadi organizations linked to al-Qaeda were gaining strength, and the declaration of the Assad regime as a priori illegitimate made American diplomacy weaker rather than stronger and deprived it of the freedom of maneuver. This made Washington hostage to exorbitantly ambitious demands of Syrian émigré politicians and their regional sponsors, and complicated preparations for the Geneva Conference. Ultimately, the U.S. policy obviously began to play into the hands of terrorism, on which the United States had declared war. This became particularly manifest in the summer of 2014, when military successes achieved in Iraq by the terrorist organization Islamic State of Syria and the Levant put the Obama administration in a still more delicate situation.

In the short-term historical perspective, the balance of pros and cons in the regime change in the Middle East has not been in favor of revolutions. The main reason for the overthrow of governments was their inability to meet the basic social, economic and political needs of society and fulfill their promises, although the Arab region in the past decade was developing along the path of modernization and integration into the world economic system. Yet this evolution was much slower than the development of other regions, such as Southeast Asia and Latin America. Secondly, it failed to solve key growth problems. Economic reforms in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria created a middle class but did not narrow the chasm of wealth inequality. Only a small group of people close to power benefited from the results of the reforms. Representative political institutions underwent only token changes. The democratic facade hid authoritarian rule which grew increasingly nepotic. The laws of revolutionary chaos came into play when the authorities proved to be totally unable to regenerate the political system to broaden citizens’ participation in decision-making that affects their vital interests.



The transformation of the Arab Orient is proceeding unevenly, with ups and downs, and with progress and regression. Nevertheless, we can try to summarize some of the lessons learned from these developments, and draw some parallels with crises in other regions.

Revolutions come not only when outdated forms of state and political system have to be removed. Whereas in Syria, for example, the Ba’ath party’s monopoly on power has long become an anachronism and its slogan “Unity, Freedom, Socialism” has lost its former appeal, the ten-year civil war in Algeria was largely the result of ill-prepared reforms and hasty democratization launched in the late 1980s through the early 1990s under the influence of changes in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.

The crisis of the unitary state model in Ukraine, coupled with corruption and moral decay among the elites, is another evidence of the need for timely reform. Instead of reform there followed the revolutionary chaos, the armed conflict in southeast Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis.

What the West took for democracy in the Arab-Muslim countries was purely formal features, such as the electoral process. At the same time, equally or even more important issues were not given due consideration: Can the political force that has won national elections build a society that will meet the hopes of the revolutionary masses? And can democracy be promoted using non-democratic means? Of course, elections are an important tool of democracy, but in the absence of developed institutions they cannot guarantee a transition to democratic rule. In societies that do not share common democratic values, those forces win which can offer the simplest recipes for the nation’s transformation that would be understandable and acceptable to the most conservative and larger part of the electorate. In Palestine, believed to be the most secular Arab society, the 2005 elections were won by the Islamic Hamas movement; and in Egypt, a leading Arab country with a “hybrid regime,” power went to the Muslim Brotherhood. The first thing they did was to amend the Constitution in order to stay in power indefinitely.

Does this experience mean that elections are useless in politically immature societies where the majority of people do not realize their own social interest? Obviously, the question should be put differently. Not just elections but a guaranteed handover of power (as a result of elections) can gradually make the authorities more responsible and nationally oriented.

The developments in Egypt, where two “revolutions” took place over three years, make one think of whether a military coup can be a catalyst for a return to stable evolutionary development. Both Islamists who resort to terror to restore “constitutional law” and secularists who invited the military to power are grossly mistaken in hoping to build a new Egypt without achieving a national consensus.

Not all winds of change can be explained by foreign interference, yet the way internal conflicts are settled – by force or through a peaceful division of power – plays an important role as it predetermines whether the transitional post-revolutionary period is smooth or not. The conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Libya have shown that violence and civil wars, especially if they are supported from abroad or if there is foreign intervention, cause enormous damage to creative efforts.

The experience of the majority of revolutions in the world shows that power is taken not by the forces that stage them but by those who “have caught the wave” with foreign support or by chance. The regime change in the Arab World, which took place under democratic slogans, once again confirmed the relevance of this historical trend. When mass protests began in Arab countries, there were no Islamic slogans in the streets, but eventually Tunisian and Egyptian Islamists came to lead these revolutionary-democratic protests, using their experience of organizational work among the masses, sermons in mosques, and disunity in the secular opposition. In fact, the Egyptian revolution went through two “Tahrirs,” just as the revolution in Ukraine did with two “Maidans.” One Maidan was moderate, pro-European and directed against the corrupt regime; the other one, radical and nationalistic, transformed the change of power into an armed mutiny, with a hostile attitude to Russia and the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine.

As the transition period has slowed down in Arab countries shaken by revolutions, actually in all of them democratic illusions are giving way to the local, including Islamic, reality. Many Arab political analysts wonder whether their countries are ready for democracy and what development model will take root in the Middle East where the foundations of the social contract between the state and society have been undermined. All known variants – Egyptian, Turkish, Saudi and Iranian – have been discredited or are losing their attractiveness. “Political Islam” at the present stage has failed. Further progress towards a Western-type parliamentary system is unlikely.

In contrast to the Western political process which developed in societies with a structuring nature of private ownership relations, the domination of commodity production, and the absence of a centralized government, in Eastern societies the political process always was the result of domination of state and communal ownership. In these countries power was the equivalent of ownership, and society occupied a subordinate position towards the state. Absolutization of the state meant, in particular, that its power did not transform into the welfare of citizens, who remained subjects subordinate to the communal interest merged with the state interest.

Disappointed hopes for a fast improvement of life after the overthrow of old regimes transform into a desire for a strong hand and order. This phenomenon can be seen in Egypt where Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who won the latest presidential election, is viewed by most Egyptians as “the savior of the nation.” A strong personality has emerged also in Libya. General Khalifa Haftar, who returned to his country from exile after the revolution began, united part of the army, tribes and local militias to challenge the transitional government under the banner of fighting Islamists.

The formation of new governments may take long efforts to achieve national consensus under the aegis of a personified political force that has taken the upper hand in political in-fighting, which means preservation of authoritarianism, and not necessarily in an enlightened form.


*  *  *

Today revolutions have become major factors influencing the system of international relations. Obviously, leading world powers may have different attitudes to them, yet they should be balanced and responsible. Russia and the West can and should avoid a recurrence of crisis situations in their mutual relations. This, in fact, is their historical responsibility. If they agree on common principles to settle intrastate conflicts that give rise to ethnic, religious or purely political extremism, this would play a positive role.

The nature of modern revolutions has long been a subject of heated discussions. When do internal affairs cease to be internal? Does this happen when there is suppression of civil liberties, a disproportionate use of force against mass opposition protests, acts of violence or other violations of human rights and international humanitarian law? Without questioning the basic principle of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, one should admit that many of these issues have already acquired global dimension.

If the international community fails to establish acceptable and understandable rules of international behavior in the context of “revolutionary challenges,” the world may slip into a new round of global confrontation, which will be caused not by systemic contradictions of the Cold War times but by vain disregard for real common threats.

Published in Tribune

17 December 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi, Tunisian tradesman, has committed an act of self-immolation in protest against the confiscation of his goods and against lawlessness of the authorities. This has become a starting point for the Jasmine revolution that led to the overthrow of Ben Ali’s regime and to the series of harsh disturbance in several Middle Eastern countries, called the Arab Spring thanks to the journalists’ good graces. Four years have passed since then. In November 2014 Tunisia saw the second parliamentary elections after the Jasmine revolution, where a secular party Nidaa Tunès has won, the first round of presidential elections was also held. The second one is planned for the 21st of December. Compared to the other survivors of the Arab spring, the Tunisian case distinguishes itself by the positive development. Four years after the Jasmine revolution the Tunisian phenomenon is commented by Nikolai Sukhov.

Self-immolation of Bouazizi was a “programmed” event. It was artificially bloated by those social powers, which have already been accumulating the discontent with Ben Ali’s regime that did not allow the youth use the means of social mobility, did not let the country develop. He has not fulfilled the promises that brought him to power more than twenty years ago: to build a prospering society based on justice and tolerance in Tunisia. But a new generation with completely different thinking in the changing world has grown. Most importantly, this youth has lost fear, though it was generally accepted that Tunisian special services are numerous and powerful. This idea was of course supported by the facts of imprisonment, torture and beatings of the protesting youth or young people showing their civic stand by different means. But after the banishment or, more correctly, the scuttle of President it turned out that the manpower of the special services was much lower and they were not so powerful and omnipresent, a exactly this has determined their failure to deal with the protest movement. The protest movement has finally prevailed.

Bouazizi self-immolation was artificially bloated, as I have said, and his modest personality was surrounded by legends and myth, that did not correspond to the reality at all. The most important thing is a demand for such legends, the resentment it symbolized. There was a social resentment for negligence for the interest of youth, despair felt by young educated people – and these qualities were later attributed to Bouazizi, though he was never a university graduate. This myth has showed a social request.

Then during 2011-2012 the country has, of course, survived different stages of its post-crisis development. But it is important that the Tunisian society was capable to overcome all the problems typical of other societies in Arab countries. They were able to settle their differences and achieve the national dialogue by peaceful means. The existing contradictions between different powers in other Arab countries and mainly in Egypt, have led to clashes, even to the armed ones. Tunisia has not faced this. The situation in Tunisia has shaped the way we see it, that the sincere desire to create their own country, to make it nice to live in, has allowed the leaders of social movements to arrive to the agreement between each other. And already in the end of 2013 a road map determining the means to create a technocratic government was signed. And it was able to stabilize the situation and allowed the economy and social life get into more or less natural course. There was ongoing political – and it is important! – struggle between Islamists and secular parties on the basis of this stabilization. And we have seen the result in the end of this year – Nidaa Tunès, oligarchic from one hand and with absolutely secular slogans and program, has won the parliamentary elections in November. We can be happy for the Tunisians here.

Egypt has arrived to nearly the same results in economy, social sphere and relative stabilization, but it had to suffer a coup d’état. Tunisia has shown the ability of its society for peaceful coexistence of different social powers and that they are building their society on the basis of democracy and consensus. Of course much depends on the leaders of the parties, on their charisma, power and external as well as the internal support. According to the estimations of experts, Ghannouchi, for example, already does not have ambitions to become a national leader, to bring his party Ennahda to victory. He has expressed his will to enter the international structure of Muslim Brotherhood - the International Union for Muslim Scolars (based in Doha). Ennahda does not have a proper leader anymore and this weakens the party. Meanwhile the secular forces are lead by the rich Tunisians who are interested in creating a dynamic economy, to recreate it. They are people who could not influence the country’s life during Ben Ali’s rule even despite their wealth.

Published in Commentaries

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.


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.



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. 

Published in Tribune



The fact that Geneva-II took place is indeed a success itself, as initially there was a lot of skepticism about the possibility of holding a conference on Syria, taking into account the deep divide between the Syrian authorities on the one hand and the opposition on the other, including the Coalition.

But it must be said that this conference has not yielded any tangible results, and in this very sense it is still a failure. The only tiny breakthrough was achieved not right away but a few days later concerns humanitarian aspects and the possibility of providing humanitarian aid to the besieged people of Homs. But the fulfilment  of this decision faces serious implementation difficulties.

Why did this failure of the Geneva-II take place? In fact the conference was some sort of a shadow theater. There was essentially a reaffirmation of the already known positions. Concerning Bashar al- Assad, we are manifestly not willing to negotiate seriously for many reasons : it is due to the fact that the regime feels strong in both militarily and diplomatic terms .

On the military terms, he managed to avoid falling of the major cities into the hands of the rebels and he is gradually regaining control of the cities of Hama, Homs , Aleppo and Damascus. He is also in a strong political position, while the Coalition that unites the "democratic" opponents is more divided than ever, even though it could seem united at a first sight. The Syrian representative, Mr Walid Moallem took the opportunity to develop in Geneva an extremely aggressive and uncompromising rhetoric.

However, despite its weaknesses, the opposition has apparently demonstrated, that it is holding a solid position. It looks good and perhaps has even acquired a new legitimacy. A sign of this is a meeting of its president Ahmad Jarba with Russian authorities in Moscow. But does this opposition truly represent all the fighters? It is probably less representative, as the majority of fighters on the ground belong to rather Salafi or jihadi groups.

In fact the current issue exceeds the Syrian territory. The promotion of democracy is not a common goal for all the combatants. The situation in Syria is becoming a concern for several reasons. First of all, Syria becomes a seat of international jihadism, with groups that claim methods and ideology of Al Qaeda. This can worry the international community, particularly the United States, Europe and Russia.

What is happening in Syria more and more appears to be a clash between Sunnis and Shiites and beyond this religious conflict there is a clash between two rival powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. It became a sort of proxy battlefield between the two great powers of the Middle East that are competing for influence not only in the Persian Gulf but also in the Muslim world.

Given this situation how will the events develop? Several factors must be taken into consideration. On the one hand, even if the regime of Bashar Al -Assad is now in a rather strong position, it has a number of weaknesses. He had to resort to the help from Iran, that has sent units of the Al-Quds Brigade and many "advisors" who came to give him effective support, particularly in the field of intelligence and urban combat. Hezbollah has sent many seasoned battle-hardened soldiers, but Hezbollah is a shady ally. Finally, the regime did not hesitate to mobilize poorly organized Alawite militia, over which it is loosing control, to defend itself and fight the opposition.

In fact one may wonder if the regime itself has any interest to negotiate.

It is clear that Europe, the United States and Russia have a number of mainly mutual interests to take care of in the context of this conflict: the Western countries and Russia are very concerned by the development of jihadism that may threaten their long-term security. In fact, among the jihadist combatants there are many citizens of these countries. Taking France alone, 700 French citizens left for jihad in Syria. 

There is also a mutual interest as our countries are very concerned about the prospects of the Syria's fragmentation, remembering the example of Iraq that would make the Middle East a zone of uncontrolled turbulence. 

There is only a political solution: military solution is unacceptable in present circumstances. This solution requires the absence of prerequisite conditions for the negotiations and more discreet negotiations than those currently taking place within the framework of the Geneva to make them more efficient. They should include all the concerned parties, all the concerned countries: the presence of Iran as well as of Saudi Arabia is essential to arrive to a solution. A political solution should not only provide a transitional government, but also a guaranteed plan to protect minorities. 

These negotiations can only be difficult and long. Russia, the United States and Europe are interested in putting pressure on both Iran and Saudi Arabia on the one hand but also on the Damascus authorities as well as the Coalition on the other hand to reach a compromise solution.

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Published in Commentaries

IMESClub: Comment pourriez-vous caractériser la décennie passée pour le Moyen Orient?

Mansouria Mokhefi: La décennie de l’impasse du soi-disant processus de paix.

La décennie de la croissance lente mais déterminée de colère et de désespoir parmi la jeunesse arabe.

Une décennie où les femmes ont connu une émancipation et une augmentation de leur rôle considérables à la suite de la croissance de l'éducation des femmes.

La décennie de polarisation entre les islamistes et non-islamistes, les extrémistes et les modérés..

La décennie qui vient de s’écouler a vu l’idée de démocratie faire son chemin même si elle n’a pas réussi à trouver sa voie. La démocratisation de l’enseignement, l’accès aux nouvelles technologies, la chute de la natalité et le recul de l’âge du mariage ont favorisé l’émancipation des femmes et leur accès à des professions qui se sont d’ailleurs largement féminisées.

Sur le plan politique, la désaffection à l’égard des chefs d’Etat accrochés au pouvoir, l’ampleur de la corruption et l’installation du népotisme ont accentué la manque de confiance des populations à l’égard de leurs  dirigeants et institutions créant ce qui fut considéré comme un véritable divorce entre le peuple et le Pouvoir.

L’absence de perspectives, la médiocrité de la formation ainsi que le chômage  ont  acculé la plus grande partie de la population de ces pays, notamment la jeunesse, à un désespoir qui a pris différentes formes. Il s`agit de laradicalisation et de l`extrémisme, de la survie dans l’illégalité (l’économie informelle a connu un énorme développement ces dernières années) et de l`émigration, quel qu’en soit le moyen.

La décennie qui vient de s’écouler a confirmé l’échec politique et économique des pays du Moyen Orient, un échec qui ne pouvait déboucher que sur l’explosion.


IMESCLub: Quelles fautes ont été commises par acteurs intérieurs, ainsi que par les acteurs extérieursq au niveau régional?

Mansouria Mokhefi: Le déficit démocratique, la recherche de la croissance sans le développement, aussi bien que la montée des radicalismes religieux sont les produits de la mauvaise gouvernance qui a trop longtemps régné dans ces pays. Les alignements sur les politiques occidentales (économie, énergies, immigrations, luttes contre le terrorisme) n’ont pas eu raison du profond anti américanisme  qui parcourt ces sociétés et qui s’est considérablement étendu ces dernières années, suite aux guerres menées par les Etats-Unis dans la région. La recherche de la paix avec Israël ou du maintien du statu quo n’ont pas été accompagnés par la lutte contre des sentiments et contre des discours antisémites. Pourtant, il s`agit des sentiments et des discours antisémites dans des sociétés qui, même si elles sont de plus en plus concernées prioritairement par leurs conditions sociales et leurs problèmes intérieurs, continuent néanmoins de considérer Israël comme étant á l’origine de tous les malheurs du monde arabe.

Par leur politique pro-israélienne (soutien militaire, économique et financier ; acceptation de l’expansion des  colonies) , par les guerres qui ont été menées en Irak et en Afghanistan, ainsi que par  leurs promesses non tenues ( démocratie, liberté, état palestinien),  les Etats-Unis ont fini par être perçus comme les ennemis des Arabes et des Musulmans.  Ce n’est pas une erreur, mais une suite d’erreurs tragiques de la part des Etats-Unis qui explique la faiblesse de leur voix, de leur crédibilité etde leur influence aujourd’hui.

Au niveau de la résolution du conflit israélo-palestinien, l’intransigeance d’Israël d’un coté et l’impuissance des Palestiniens ( divisés, manquant de soutien populaire) de l’autre  ont gelé toutes les discussions/ négociations possibles sans toutefois geler la poursuite des colonisations .


Quel est le rôle des pays du Golfe dans la stabilisation et dans le développement de la région après le Printemps arabe et après les bouleversements ? Est-ce ce rôle positif ou négatif?

Mansouria Mokhefi : Les pays du Golfe, l`Arabie Saoudite y compris, sont obsédés par leur sécurité et la stabilité dans la région du Golfe d’abord. Toute leur politique régionale est dictée par ce besoin de sécurité et de stabilité, que ce soit en s’opposant á l’Iran perçu comme une très grave menace, en facilitant l’arrivée au pouvoir de mouvements islamistes susceptibles de favoriser la mise en place du plus grand espace sunnite et de les préserver de toute contestation á l’intérieur, en offrant l`accueil et l`hébergement aux bases militaires américaines, la protection américaine demeurant l’ultime garantie de cette stabilité. 

Mais aucune stabilisation de la région ne sera garantie ni par les Américains, ni par toute autre puissance occidentale (la France a signé des accords de défense avec le Qatar)  tant que le rôle de l’Iran comme puissance régionale ne sera pas admis et reconnu de tous.

Le printemps arabe a divisé dans un premier temps les pays du Golfe (le Qatar et l`Arabie Saoudite notamment) mais ils se sont tous retrouvés unis pour soutenir Bahreïn dans la répression du soulèvement de la majorité chiite du royaume, stabilité oblige, suprématie du sunnisme dans la région oblige !  Les pays du Golfe n’ont peut-être pas introduit la division entre shiites et sunnites  mais ils ont créé et ont nourri une guerre entre le chiisme et le sunnisme n’a pas fini de ravager la région

 L’Arabie saoudite  qui s’est toujours montrée hostile aux mouvements du Printemps arabe a finalement été en mesure de siffler la fin de la partie en Egypte en ouvrant á la chute de Morsi et au retour de « l’état profond ».Cela est cependant loin d ‘assurer le retour au calme et á la stabilité dans la région surtout quand, par ailleurs et dans le même temps, dans le cadre de son opposition á  l’Iran, elle soutient en armes et finances l’opposition au régime de Damas - une opposition qui, aggraverait le chaos de la région, si elle parvenait au pouvoir.

En bref, le rôle des pays du Golf,  loin de constituer une garantie de la stabilité de la région, risque de prolonger et aggraver les risques d`instabilité dans toute la région.


IMESClub: Les révoltes arabes: Qui sont les perdants et les gagnants à l'Est et à l'Ouest?

Mansouria Mokhefi: D’abord  à l’intérieur des sociétés qui ont connu le Printemps arabe, les perdants sont incontestablement et en premier lieu les jeunes. Cette jeunesse qui est descendue dans les rues pour réclamer une meilleure gouvernance et plus de droits, s’est retrouvée, dans le cadre d’économies qui se sont effondrées,  avec un chômage accru, et des problèmes d’éducation et de formation non résolus. Représentant la plus grande partie de la population, elle est néanmoins exclue des nouvelles institutions, des instances du pouvoir qui sont encore entre les mains de « vieux ». Les Jeunes sont donc les premiers perdants de ces révolutions.

Ensuite viennent les femmes : elles sont descendues dans les rues  pour exiger une meilleure reconnaissance de leurs droits et  un plus grand accès a la liberté.  Aujourd’hui non seulement le degré de représentativité n’a guère évolué, mais les femmes, du fait de la préséance de l’islamisme, ont toutes les raisons de penser que leurs droits ne constituent guère une priorité pour les nouveaux gouvernements, que les islamistes ne leur reconnaissent aucune autre place dans la société que celle qui les confine à la maison.

De plus la violence qui s’exprime de diverses façons  (politique avec l’assassinat en Tunisie de deux leaders de gauche ; confessionnelle avec les attentats contre des chrétiens et les incendies d’églises, religieuse et sectaire avec la destruction de mausolées et autres marabouts- Tunisie, Mauritanie, Mali-  et la lapidation de Chiites – Egypte) s’est aussi exprimée contre les femmes : depuis l’exigence de porter le voile, jusqu'à la recrudescence des viols .

A l’extérieur des pays concernés, les gagnants du Printemps arabe  sont pour le moment la Turquie qui a su profiter de son aura (le modèle turc) et de sa politique étrangère pro arabe ( soutien palestinien) pour se positionner en faveur du printemps arabe.  Même si les dérives autoritaires sont dénoncées en occident, elles ne remettent pas en cause le statut de la Turquie qui continue d’apparaître aux pays arabes comme le seul pays musulman ayant pu concilier développement économique, éducation, et démocratie et libertés.   Apres la Turquie, on peut dire que l’autre pays gagnant c`est la Russie : retour sur la scène moyen orientale, affirmation d une posture solide et intraitable, retour au tête á tête avec les Etats-Unis etc….’

L’autre gagnant  est Israël : d’abord complètement surpris puis débordé par les changements dans la région , Israël ne peut que se féliciter de voir la situation en Egypte revenir aux mains de l’armée. Israël peut aussi d’ores et déjà se féliciter de l’isolement du Hamas (le grand perdant dans cette nouvelles configuration régionale) et espère dans  la chute du régime de Assad, l’affaiblissement de l`Iran et la fin du Hizbollah. 

Outre le Hamas, les grands perdants sont incontestablement les pays européens qui n’ont eu ni compréhension de la situation, ni vison ou stratégie commune en réponse aux divers bouleversements.


IMESCLub: Quelles sont les perspectives de l'intensification des interdépendances entre le continent africain et le Moyen-Orient (l'Afrique du Nord, en particulier) à travers les filets et les réseaux islamiques? Quelles conséquences apporte-t-elle, cette intensification, au système régional et à la sécurité mondiale.

Mansouria Mokhefi: Il n’y a pas de système régional efficace et performant, capable de lutter contre les risques de déstabilisation qui demeurent très élevés malgré l’intervention de la France au Mali.

 Aujourd’hui, face à la recrudescence des trafics, de la violence et des extrémismes, une réponse maghrébine commune (tous les pays maghrébins sont concernés, même le Maroc qui a longtemps cru constituer une exception) s’impose plus que jamais  même si les moyens des uns et des autres diffèrent grandement.

Au cœur d`une réponse maghrébine, la stratégie et les moyens de l’Algérie seront déterminants car seule l’Algérie a une armée puissante et  l’expérience de la lutte anti- terroriste. L’Algérie qui, avant le chaos, engendré par l’effondrement de la Libye avait contribué au développement des groupes terroristes dans la région en repoussant vers le Sud (en facilitant les « couloirs ») les terroristes qui se trouvaient sur le territoire algérien. Si elle a pu fermer les yeux sur ce qui se passait au delà de ses frontières, le Sahel étant devenu une région poreuse et dangereuse, l’attaque contre le site gazier en janvier prouvant que  les frontières n’avaient pas le même sens pour les uns et les autres, l’Algérie ne peut plus ignorer ce qui se passe au delà de ses frontières. Sa coopération (soutien, encadrement) avec l armée tunisienne dans l’incapacité de rétablir et garantir l’ordre à la frontière algéro-tunisienne montre que le rôle de l’Algérie est incontournable au niveau régional et fondamental dans la lutte contre tous ces fléaux. Les deux régions Afrique et Maghreb qui se sont longtemps ignorés sont plus que jamais liés aujourd’hui  face á des menaces identiques. 

Published in Interviews


Question #1: How could you characterize the past decade for the Middle East? Which mistakes were committed by intra-regional and outer-regional players?  

Tatiana NOSENKO: From the beginning, I would like to precise that my discourse is based on the assumption that that the mass manifestation in the Arab countries which had various political consequences are caused strictly by the internal social-economic, political reasons, but not by some external plot.

The Arab countries are now in the period of the political rearrangement. The political systems created during the postcolonial era are facing a crisis. The new generations influenced by the processes of globalization, IT revolution are coming to the arena and voicing their demands on the transformation of political and social life. It is also important that on the wave of  Anti-Western sentiments and rejection of the foreign ideologies (socialism, communism) the traditionalist masses return to Islam as a single universal ideology to solve political and social problems in the Arab world. 

However, it was erroneous, mainly by the USA, to count that the mass manifestation against long living dictatorships would immediately democratize the political systems. The democratic opposition to the authoritarian regimes is not consistent. From the structural point of view the Soviet opposition forces are not to be compared to the Islamic organizations and parties. The Islamists are those who win the dominating positions during the open elections. Thus, they legitimize their right to rebuild social and political life according to the religious canons while the secular principles suffer.

The secular opposition turned out to be helpless in such conditions in Egypt even though it had its representatives in the Parliament. But hopes that the problems could be solved by the return of an authoritarian junta are also untenable.

It seems that the societies with strong traditionalist values and religious principles on the one hand, and with already shaped social layers, based mainly on the secular benchmarks borrowed from the West, have to live through a long way to find the modes of coexistence and dialogue of these inconsistent forces. According to this point of view the repressions and persecutions against the Islamist leaders, e.g. in Egypt, as well as against opposition represented by the military and liberals, like in Turkey, turn out to be erroneous and futile.

As far as the situation in Syria is concerned, it was a big mistake both of the governmental and the opposition forces not to use the possibilities to find a political compromise before the beginning of the full-scale civil war.

The actions of Saudi Arabia, Qatar on the one hand ond of Iran on another who heat the inner conflicts in the Arab countries and use them in the Sunni-Shiah struggle for the regional hegemony are counterproductive and dangerous. The international community actively condemns Iran on this cause, but it is far less determined on which is concerning the Gulf monarchies. 

The stake on the military means to overthrow authoritarian and dictatorship regimes made mainly by the USA seems to have failed. Neither in Iraq, nor in Libya the Western military invasion has not stabilized the situation. However the position “let them fight till the last soldier” is also erroneous. Facing the situation similar to the Syrian with a global humanitarian catastrophe, with one of the key Middle Eastern countries being destroyed causing threat to the peace and stability in the whole region, the international community is unable to act in time and does not have any means to stop the bloodshed. This makes us think anout the efficiency and the effectiveness of the norms of modern international law, about the UN level of adaptation to resolve modern issues.


Question #2: Does the Middle East risk to become a battlefield of interests of the USA and Russia as it was during the Cold War once again?

T.N. The current situation can not be compared to the confrontation during the Cold War. Then, each power claimed the dominance in the Middle East; the countries in the region were divided into the “clients” of the USA or the USSR. The anti-American sentiments are very strong in the Arab countries and this undermines the US positions. The conflict between Russia and the USA emerges now from the different vision on the world order after the Cold War. During the last two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union the US became determined in its exclusive role as a protector of democracy, liberty, human rights all over the world and in its right to use any means to do it, including the military ones. Russia, proceeding from the principles of the international law, regards the intervention into the internal affairs of the states unacceptable and considers the military operations to overthrow any regimes, even authoritarian and antidemocratic, unlawful. Moreover, the West often uses double standards defining such regimes.


Question #3: What are the prospects of the Middle East Peace Process in the current circumstances?

T.N. Unlike, for example the Oslo process, the ongoing Palestine-Israeli negotiations have begun thanks to the strongest US pressure. The US is extremely interested in their effectiveness. In past several years the American image on the Middle East has suffered greatly due to the number of reasons. The Americans are being reproached for not having protected H. Mubarak regime that was its devoted ally during many decades. Obama decreases military presence in Iraq, where the Iranian influence is growing. He has suspended the military variant of response to the Iranian nuclear program so far, which causes big questions for Israel concerning the reliability of their overseas ally, etc. In current situation the consensus between the Israeli and the Palestinians is called upon to compensate the US losses. Moreover, it will remove the Palestinian problem from the agenda, which is a subject of speculation for all kinds of Islamic radicals.

As far as the sides of the negotiations themselves are concerned, their positive conclusion could be important for Israeli Prime Minister B. Netanyahu in his struggle for political survival. His chances to be reelected are decreasing taking into account the drop of his influence within his own Likud party. But if there is a breakthrough during the negotiations, he might get the support of the electorate. For the Palestinians the status quo and the territorial growth of the settlements means the decrease of chances to establish their own viable state. They need the agreements with Israel to avoid total discredit and collapse of Palestinian Administration.

These factors could work to achieve the agreement.


Question #4: The Arab uprisings: who are the winners and losers in the East and in the West?

T.N. I believe that it is early to speak about the losers and the winners in the Arab awakening. They say “You can see the big things from the distance”. It is only possible to say that the destructive forces always profit from chaos and war, so the main aim of both intraregional players and the international community is to 

Published in Interviews