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Friday, November 2, 2012

Chaos and Oppression Reign After The Arab Spring

BLUF: Looking across the Arab Spring nations anyone can see that these nations have leaped into chaos and more war. Terrorist groups and terror affiliated groups are taking power across North Africa. As a result the atmospherics for regional security has just plummeted. The United States must carefully evaluate the terrain, the people, and all of the related risks in the region. What have Clinton and Obama bought for the American people and the next president?
 
A woman in Tunis sculpted three busts to display in an art show in Tunis. Her art was attacked, she fled with two of her pieces. She is being investigated.
 
Islamist extremists have since posted photos of Jelassi and several other Tunisian artists on their websites, calling for their death. Then the courts waded into the controversy. Today, she is under investigation for "disturbing public order and morals." If found guilty, she could face prison.

Jelassi's is not an isolated case. Increasingly, critics say, free expression -- a cornerstone of Tunisia's 2011 revolution that kicked off the Arab Spring -- is now under attack. A string of incidents have fueled an intense debate about the role of religion, artistic expression and women's rights in this once staunchly secular North African country.
 
Not surprisingly, hard-liners are taking over in Tunisia after the Arab Spring led quickly to the fall of what meager freedoms the people in those affected nations had. Unlike the American Revolution, religion had not been discussed in these revolts. Now it has to be dealt with by so many millions more as Salafist jihadists are now running the political regimes. This Spring touted as so good by Obama has turned into Terrorist States, not simply terrorist supporting states.
 
Across the Middle East being anything but muslim has been growing increasingly difficult in the years prior to the Spring. Coptic Christians in Egypt, Hindus in Pakistan, it seems that everywhere Christians are on the defense.
 
[I]n an important essay Citizens or Martyrs? The Uncertain Fate of Christians in the Arab Spring, RFP scholar Dan Philpott investigates the recent and dramatic decline in minority Christians populations throughout the Middle East and encourages Christians around the world to speak out in favor of religious liberty for all.
 
In my opinion, Christians need to begin using their voices at home, in their own communities. Across the Middle East people are being killed for not being muslim enough or of the wrong sect of islam. It reminds me of the Lilliputians’s over which end to open the egg. Tunisia’s Rachid Gannouchi was touted as a moderate voice and a moderate muslim. Take a look at Tunisia now. Bloggers and news writers are being arrested for voicing opinions that are contrary to the State. It is very clear that, not just in Tunisia, but throughout the Middle East there is a concerted effort to remove other religions; as it is written within the Koran and the hadith. The US was founded on the acceptance that one could believe as one chose to, today, in the Arabian Fall, people are required to conform or die. It sounds too much like Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Oh, wait, Hitler conferred with a mufti often. The jackboots are deafening in the streets now.
 
The State Department has acknowledged this in its annual survey.
 
The annual survey of religious liberties around the world also warns against deteriorating religious freedom in China and Iran, the increased use of anti-blasphemy laws to restrict the rights of religious minorities and a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe
 
"In times of transition, the situation of religious minorities in these societies comes to the forefront," says the State Department's first report since the Arab Spring uprisings. "Some members of society who have long been oppressed seek greater freedom and respect for their rights while others fear change. Those differing aspirations can exacerbate existing tension."

While the report notes Egypt's interim military leaders had made gestures towards greater inclusiveness, it points to an uptick in sectarian tensions and violence in Egypt, particularly against Coptic Christians.
 
Hillary knows it, but she will not say, much less do anything against it. The Spring States received, according to CNN, $17,174,900(yes, 17 BILLION) US Tax dollars in 2011. Some of that went directly to Libya, a nation that had its assets frozen by the US and was not to be getting aid of any sort from the US. Clinton and Obama bought the chaos and oppression of the new Middle East.
 
There were many analysts, me included, who were afraid that the outcome would be like we saw in Iran after the killing of the Shah. Look at Iran now. Our fears of Iran getting outside of its immediate area have just been realized through the Arabian Fall. Libya had nuclear facilities. I do not think that they would be so difficult to rebuild with Iranian, Pakistani, and North Korean input. All this chaos draws muslim extremists like flies to … a light. Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are now governed by known terrorist groups.
 
The only magnet more alluring to Islamic extremists than weak central governments and security forces is outright conflict and organized violence, especially conflicts that break down along the region’s ethnic fault lines, whether between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, or Muslims and religious minorities. For instance, unrest coupled with the sectarian divide in Syria, between Sunni Muslims and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite clan that runs the country, has given al-Qaida and other groups that share its ideology a “golden opportunity,”according to Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. The Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, suspected of links to al-Qaida, is gaining prominence as it brings more-experienced foreign fighters to the front lines, making it “far more active in recent months and far more consequential," Hoffman said.
 
Yes, the threat to Western cultures has, indeed, gone from thousands to millions. The West continues to pay for it. Not just in governmental, financial, and military iad but also through continuing to purchase oil from these regimes.
 
The memory of civil war and its substantial oil revenues, which the regime has spread around as handouts to critical segments of society, has bought a reprieve for the military-backed Algerian government. But this is likely to be temporary and Algeria may be in a "calm before the storm" phase.

The Persian Gulf
 
American has a moral obligation to its own people and to those nations which uphold and defend the basic inalienable rights to open up its own oil reserves and update refineries so as to stem the enabling flow of cash to those states and bodies which stand in direct opposition to what we hold true.
 
 In spite of the absolutely horrid results, which even the State Department has acknowledge, the US Tax Payer is facing larger amounts of our money goin to the East. Makes me wonder if we should also add Clinton and Obama to the State Department's list of terrorism supporting entities?(http://www.washdiplomat.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8239:short-on-money-us-digs-deeper-to-find-ways-to-support-arab-spring&catid=1484:march-2012&Itemid=497)
 
 
Tunisians Worry About Loss Of Freedoms Gained Under The Arab Spring
TUNIS, Tunisia (RNS) Three women got Nadia Jelassi into trouble.
Veiled and surrounded by stones, the busts of three women were attacked by Salafists last June for being religiously offensive. The Tunis-area exhibition that displayed them was hastily shuttered.
 
"I wanted people to interpret my art for themselves," Jelassi said at her studio, where sunlight bathed two of the figures she managed to salvage. "But the most obvious interpretation is of lapidation."
 
Islamist extremists have since posted photos of Jelassi and several other Tunisian artists on their websites, calling for their death. Then the courts waded into the controversy. Today, she is under investigation for "disturbing public order and morals." If found guilty, she could face prison.
Jelassi's is not an isolated case. Increasingly, critics say, free expression -- a cornerstone of Tunisia's 2011 revolution that kicked off the Arab Spring -- is now under attack. A string of incidents have fueled an intense debate about the role of religion, artistic expression and women's rights in this once staunchly secular North African country.
 
"The question of what is religiously sacred was never discussed during the revolution," Jelassi said. "People were calling for liberty, dignity, not sacredness."
 
The matter of "sacredness" is being championed by hard-line Islamists, who are taking their message to the streets. Like elsewhere in the Muslim world, Tunisia was rocked recently by protests over an amateur U.S. movie that mocked Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
 
Religious hard-liners have also attacked other films and plays here, along with a tourist hotel serving alcohol.
 
"Certain groups and political parties are trying to take away what we fought for," said Mokhtar Trifi, a senior member of the Tunisian League for Human Rights. "Especially jihadist Salafists movements. They want to impose a form of rigorous Islam that our society has never experienced."
 
Equally worrying, rights advocates and artists say, is the reaction by the government.
In May, the owner of Tunisia's private Nessma TV channel was fined for broadcasting a movie that ostensibly offended Islam; earlier in the year two bloggers received prison sentences on the same grounds. The courts have also imposed fines for drinking in public and other behavior considered morally lax.
 
Critics complain the government does little to rein in religious extremists. And more broadly, they fear the ruling Islamist Ennahda party will capitalize on the religious divisions -- and elections expected next year -- to pass a law to criminalize blasphemy.
 
"They want to show they're the defenders of Islam, but I say it's for electoral gains," Trifi said. "The aim is to limit liberties in the name of what is'sacred.' But nobody can define this in a way that is precise and clear."
 
Ennahda's leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, staunchly denies the ruling party is trying to curb free expression, suggesting that political opponents have misinterpreted the draft legislation.
"We are for free expression and creativity -- but also respect of others' beliefs within society," he said in a recent interview.
 
"There are thousands of artistic works critical of Islam that aren't attacked because they are by serious academics," Ghannouchi added. By contrast, he said, works by Jelassi and other artists at the June exhibition amounted to "a deliberate provocation."
 
For some in this fledgling democracy, Ghannouchi's position has struck a chord. Tunisia's last two strongman leaders -- who together ruled the country for more than half a century -- cracked down on human rights, even as they sealed strong ties with the West.
 
They banned Ennahda's brand of moderate political Islam, jailing many party members and sending others into exile. Under the old regime, devout Tunisians, like university student Hajer Ben Jemaa, faced daily harassment for adopting religiously conservative dress.
 
"Ennahda has helped give us liberty," Ben Jemaa said, touching her pink hijab as she strolled down Tunis' tree-lined Habib Bourguiba Avenue. "Today, I am free to wear this hijab. I don't have problems with the police or at school."
 
But critics claim Islamists are pressing many other women to conform to their views. On the streets of the capital, hijabs and the face-covering niqab are more common than just a year ago.
"I have no figures, I have no scientific studies," said Khadija Cherif, Tunis-based secretary-general of the International Federation of Human Rights. "But the assessment I make daily is that the vast majority of women are veiling because of pressure from their family or neighborhood or political manipulation."
 
In a separate campaign, rights advocates are pushing to scrap a clause in Tunisia's draft constitution that describes women as "complementary" but not equal to men. Jelassi views the two pieces of draft legislation, on blasphemy and on women's rights, as twin fronts in the same battle.
 
"There's a deliberate effort to roll back our gains," Jelassi said. "It's very worrying."
"I'm obliged to become politically active and defend free expression. If not, what we have achieved from the revolution will disappear."
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2012/10/06/tunisians-arab-spring-loss-of-freedom_n_1944218.html

 

Religious Freedom in the Wake of the Arab Spring
Despite the solidarity Egyptians displayed in the Tahrir Square protests that sparked the Arab Spring, subsequent months have witnessed a dangerous increase in violence against religious minorities, especially the Coptic Christian community. As Egypt, Tunisia, and now Libya seek to construct new democratic governments, their respective approaches to religion-state issues will be critical to their success. Can these and other democratic aspirants in the region hope for stability without granting religious freedom to all their citizens? Or is the notion of religious freedom a Western concept, inapplicable to countries with different histories and cultures?
The Religious Freedom Project invites you to explore these and other related questions through the following resources. First, in an important essay Citizens or Martyrs? The Uncertain Fate of Christians in the Arab Spring, RFP scholar Dan Philpott investigates the recent and dramatic decline in minority Christians populations throughout the Middle East and encourages Christians around the world to speak out in favor of religious liberty for all.

Second, the RFP launched its first public symposium at Georgetown University on Thursday, November 17, 2011, What's So Special about Religious Freedom? At the center of the symposium was a keynote lunch-time debate between Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman and Stanford Law professor Michael McConnell. How the religion-state relationship is grounded and understood will have profound consequences for the democratic development of Egypt as it did for the history of the United States.

Finally, to further reflect on the developing situation in the countries of the Arab Spring, RFP scholars have authored essays that probe the possible relationships between religious freedom and a peaceful, democratic society.
http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/subprojects/religious-freedom-in-the-wake-of-the-arab-spring

 

State Department warns of poor religious freedoms in Egypt, China, Europe
By Elise Labott
Efforts to transition from dictatorship to democracy after the Arab Spring have endangered religious minorities, the State Department says in its annual report of religious freedom.
 
The annual survey of religious liberties around the world also warns against deteriorating religious freedom in China and Iran, the increased use of anti-blasphemy laws to restrict the rights of religious minorities and a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe
 
"In times of transition, the situation of religious minorities in these societies comes to the forefront," says the State Department's first report since the Arab Spring uprisings. "Some members of society who have long been oppressed seek greater freedom and respect for their rights while others fear change. Those differing aspirations can exacerbate existing tension."
While the report notes Egypt's interim military leaders had made gestures towards greater inclusiveness, it points to an uptick in sectarian tensions and violence in Egypt, particularly against Coptic Christians.

It denounces the interim Egyptian government's "failure to curb rising violence against Coptic Christians and its involvement in violent attacks," including one instance in which Egyptian security forces attacked demonstrators, killing 25 people injuring 350, most of whom were Coptic Christians.

 
"On other occasions, through inaction, the government failed to prevent violence against Christians or stop the destruction of churches and religious minority-owned property," the report says. "Authorities also failed to investigate effectively and prosecute crimes against Christians."
In a speech extolling the virtues of protecting religious freedom, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the country's new president, Mohamed Morsy, to make good on his promises to respect the rights of all Egyptians. The secretary visited Egypt earlier this month, meeting with Morsy as well as with Christian leaders worried about life under Egypt's new Islamic leadership.
"I am concerned that respect for religious freedom is quite tenuous" in Egypt, Clinton said. "I don't know that this is going to be quickly resolved."
 
Clinton warned an inconsistent effort by the government to investigate the perpetrators of sectarian violence sends a dangerous message that there are no consequences for such crimes.
"That's the kind of recipe that can quickly get out of control ... and undermine the new democracy," Clinton said.
 
In an address to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Clinton said religious freedom is "not just about religion," but also "about the right of people to think what they want, and say what they think, and come together in fellowship, without the state looking over their shoulder.
"These rights give our lives meaning and dignity, whatever religion we belong to - or if we belong to no religion at all," Clinton said. "Like all human rights, they are our birthright. They not granted to us by any government. Rather, it is the responsibility of governments to protect them."
 
In its report, the State Department once again criticizes Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, North Korea and Iran as chronic violators of particular concern. The report says North Korea permitted no religious freedom at all and warns that religious freedom in Iran "deteriorated further from an already egregious situation." It cites the restoration of 20-year sentences in Iran for seven Bahais charged with spying for and collaborating with Israel as well as the imprisonment of Yousof Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy
 
Blasphemy and religious defamation laws are also highlighted in the report, which cites Pakistan for issuing death sentences for blasphemy and Afghan courts for interpreting Islamic law to punish non-Muslims for exercising their faith.
 
In China, the report says, there was "a marked deterioration during 2011 in the government's respect for and protection of religious freedom," citing greater restrictions on religious practice, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries.
 
"Official interference in the practice of these religious traditions exacerbated grievances and contributed to at least 12 self-immolations by Tibetans in 2011," the report says. It also criticizes China's "severe" repression of Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang.
 
Myanmar's reformist government took steps to overcome intense religious oppression, easing restrictions on church construction and allowing registered groups to worship, but the report says authorities continued monitoring religious activities.
 
The report also warns of alarming trends in Europe, where nations undergoing major demographic changes are witnessing "growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and intolerance toward people considered 'the other.'"
 
It points to a "rising number of European countries, including Belgium and France, whose laws restricting dress adversely affected Muslims and others," referring to bans on veils worn by Mulish women.
 
It also warns of a global rise in anti-Semitism, citing the desecration of Jewish synagogues in France and Ukraine, anti-Semitic statements in Venezuela and the Netherlands, and the rise of an anti-Semitic party in Hungary.
 
Government efforts against "violent extremists" also come under scrutiny. The report criticizes Russia, Iraq and Nigeria for cracking down on peaceful religious practice under the guise of fighting terrorism.
 
In Bahrain, where government forces crushed mass protests calling for political reform, the report says there was "deterioration in the respect for and protection of religious freedom, including mass arrests and detentions of members of the Shia community and the destruction of Shia religious sites and gathering places."
 
The government blamed the uprising on Shia extremists.
 
The report cites "documented cases of arbitrary arrest, excessive use of force, and detainee torture and mistreatment" while a state of "national safety law" was implemented by royal decree under constitutional authority. It adds that government demolished a number of Shia religious sites and structures during the year.
 
The report finds some actions to commend as well. Turkey issued a decree facilitating the return of property confiscated from religious groups in the past. In Libya, the Supreme Court overturned a law that criminalized insults against Islam, and the new government chose not to enforce some old laws that limit religious freedom, the report says
http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/30/state-department-warns-of-poor-religious-freedoms-in-egypt-china-europe/
 
Post-Arab Spring States: Magnets for Extremism

When the Arab awakening swept through the Middle East last year, with waves of democratic protesters swallowing tyrants in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, no one could confidently predict what kind of political order would emerge from the ruins. Certainly the stability of the old order of autocracies was shattered, hopefully along with their characteristic corruption and stagnation. In the long term, there is still reason to hope for a democratic transformation similar to the one that eventually emerged in Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War.

 
The danger that most concerned many U.S. policy analysts at the time, however, was a repeat of the Iranian revolution of 1979, which was hijacked by Islamic theocrats. The anti-American protests that targeted U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East last week suggest that at least in the near term, the greater peril may come from the model of Lebanon: a weak democracy with inadequate institutions and security forces that are unable or unwilling to confront the Islamic extremists in their midst. In the case of Lebanese Hezbollah, the extremists exploited that weakness to form a shadow state that has become too powerful to uproot.

 
Of course, the common thread that runs through the anti-American protests in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen is an anti-Islamic film made in California that went viral on the Internet. Events of the Arab Spring have also driven home the point that each of these countries is distinct, with different cultures and ethnic tapestries.

 
Yet there are similarities that have emerged in the past year in the fledgling democracies of the Arab Spring. In Libya, for instance, the newly-elected government has been unable to enforce its authority over as many as 200 private, well-armed militias. These bands, which have no shortage of weapons looted from Muammar el-Qaddafi’s arsenals, range from ordinary Libyans to virulently anti-Western Salafists to hard-core supporters of al-Qaida (such as the shadowy Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, which some experts suspect in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans).

 
“This [attack] didn’t come out of the blue,” said Barak Barfi, a research fellow at the New America Foundation who spent six months in Libya during the revolution. There were earlier attacks in the country this summer, he noted, including a rocket-propelled grenade fired at the British ambassador’s convoy and a bomb attack at the gates of the U.S. consulate. If Libya doesn’t move to integrate its militias and create national security services that can deal with these fomenting threats, Barfi said in a phone call from Turkey, “there are going to be long-term problems with these Islamist groups because they’re going to be able to grow, create an infrastructure, draft more people. Then we’re not going to be looking at a couple hundred people ... but thousands.”

 
While the assault on the American Embassy in Cairo appears to have been spontaneous in reaction to the anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube, the attacks there also highlight the security void that has developed since last year’s revolution. Egypt’s security services, deeply unpopular after violently suppressing protesters, have been largely marginalized—and jihadists have responded by ramping up their presence in the Sinai and carrying out attacks like last August’s deadly cross-border assault on southern Israel.

 
The U.S. Embassy was also overrun in Yemen, another Arab Spring country and home to al-Qaida’s most active branch. Because security forces have been focused on unrest in the capital for much of the past year, al-Qaida has been able to seize significant territory in the south. Until the new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, directed a successful offensive there, militants actually governed several major cities. Since the government’s offensive, the group is suspected of a string of attacks, including a recent assassination attempt that nearly killed the country’s defense minister in his convoy.

 
The only magnet more alluring to Islamic extremists than weak central governments and security forces is outright conflict and organized violence, especially conflicts that break down along the region’s ethnic fault lines, whether between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, or Muslims and religious minorities. For instance, unrest coupled with the sectarian divide in Syria, between Sunni Muslims and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawite clan that runs the country, has given al-Qaida and other groups that share its ideology a “golden opportunity,”according to Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. The Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, suspected of links to al-Qaida, is gaining prominence as it brings more-experienced foreign fighters to the front lines, making it “far more active in recent months and far more consequential," Hoffman said.

 
The fight against Assad affords jihadists a rallying point against what they consider an Alawite infidel, according to a recent op-edby Ed Husain, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “In the event of Assad’s falling, al-Qaeda will probably gain de facto control of parts of Syria to serve as a new strategic base for jihadis in the Middle East, or at least enjoy tribal protection in the broader regions with Iraq and Jordan,”Husain wrote in National Review. “A new government in Syria not only will be indebted to these fighters, but also will be in need of their cooperation to minimize the potential of militias fighting each other.”

Of course, the first Arab tyranny to recently attempt the transition to democracy is Iraq, where political paralysis in the Shiite-led government has breathed new life into Sunni Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has launched a string of devastating bombings this year responsible for hundreds of Iraqi deaths. As if any more evidence was needed, Iraq’s experience suggests that the transition to democracy in the Arab world will continue to be contested violently by Islamic extremists who sense opportunity in weakness.
http://www.nationaljournal.com/nationalsecurity/post-arab-spring-states-magnets-for-extremism-20120917
 
Assessing the Arab Spring in its second year
The "Arab Spring" is now over one year old. In much of the popular analysis over the past year the term "Arab Spring" has become the defining characteristic of the "new" Middle East emerging from decades of authoritarian and repressive rule. However, one should be cautious about inflating the importance of the democratic uprisings in several Arab countries in shaping the future contours of the Middle East. This caution applies especially to exaggerating both the prospects of democracy --particularly the unhindered linear transition to representative rule -- in the Arab world and the role of major Arab powers in determining political outcomes in the Middle East in the short and medium-term future.
 
The major reason for this caution is the fact that the transition to democracy in the Arab world is very much a work in progress that, after initial successes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, seems to have ground to a halt. The counter-revolution has succeed in Bahrain thanks to the military might of next door Saudi Arabia, which is firmly opposed to any political opening in its backyard and is not averse to sending in its storm troopers to crush democratic stirrings in the Arab sheikhdoms and emirates of the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, Syria has descended into civil war with Saudi Arabia, paradoxically, leading the "democratic" charge against the Assad regime.
 
As if to establish the fact that nothing in the Middle East is what it appears to be, Iran, which did not engineer but certainly supported the uprising in Bahrain, has stood solidly behind the authoritarian Assad regime in Syria. The geopolitical rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, that has dictated the actions of both countries toward democratic uprisings in the Arab world far more than normative concerns or ideological affinity, has for the moment contributed substantially to quashing the democratic aspirations of the Arab populations both in the Gulf and the Fertile Crescent. Even where the ancient regimes have been overthrown the success of the democratic movements cannot be taken for granted and the democratic wave is far from irreversible. Tunisia may still prove to be the exception to this rule, but both Egypt and Libya betray characteristics that make one "cautiously pessimistic" to put it in the mildest of terms. The overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypt has not led to a smooth transition to democratic rule. Despite the parliamentary elections and the plurality gained by the Muslim Brotherhood in these elections, the military brass is still well ensconced in power -- an outcome that was predicted by some observers of the Egyptian scene at the time of Mubarak's fall.
 
It is far from certain that the tussle between Egypt's elected representatives and the military will be resolved in favor of the former. It is more than likely that a compromise will be reached providing a transfer of power to civilian rule in some spheres while the military will continue to control the more important arenas of governance -- internal and external security, foreign policy -- and also preserve a great deal of its corporate interests. This will be akin to the situation today in Pakistan and to the condition that prevailed in Turkey not so long ago.
 
Libya and Syria: Disintegration and Civil War?
The situation in Libya is even more precarious than in Egypt with the very unity of the state in jeopardy. Unlike Egypt, which is a relatively homogeneous society, regional and tribal rivalries exacerbated by the chaos accompanying the fall of the Qaddafi regime threaten to tear Libya apart. The writ of what passes for the central government does not run too far and already voices have been raised in the eastern part of the country demanding autonomy, a possible code word for independence. The fact that foreign intervention played a critical role in regime change in Libya also detracts from the legitimacy of the successor government and makes it more susceptible to domestic challenges.
 
The lack of an overarching political formation with roots in all or most of the country a la the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could easily turn into the Achilles heel of the Libyan polity. The Libyan Brotherhood, which launched its own Freedom and Justice Party in March 2012 modeled after its Egyptian counterpart, is but a pale shadow of the Egyptian Brotherhood. The saga of Libya's democratic transition has become entangled with issues of national unity and the very integrity of the state. The jury is still out as to whether the new political dispensation will take root in Libya and, even if it does, whether it would be able to sustain its democratic character as well as preserve the territorial integrity of the Libyan state.
 
Syria, it is becoming increasingly clear, is headed toward a long-drawn out civil war for four reasons. First, there is no sign of the Alawite-dominated military officer corps abandoning Assad's cause, which is their cause as well. Second, the opposition -- above all the Syrian National Council (SNC) -- is divided between different bickering groups. One of the underlying disagreements hobbling the work of the SNCis the divide between elements representing the Muslim Brotherhood and those opposed to it. Probably even more important is the divide between the internal and external elements of the Syrian opposition that prevents the emergence of a united front that could act as an alternative and successor to the Assad regime. Third, Syria has become an integral part of the regional cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which had already been accentuated by the Saudi intervention in Bahrain. As a consequence, it has become impossible to disentangle the Syrian conflict from broader regional balance of power issues, thus making the situation conducive for a continuing stalemate. Fourth, external powers - the United States and its NATO allies - for a variety of geostrategic reasons are unwilling to launch a military campaign such as the one they did against Qaddafi to bring down Assad. It is also doubtful, even if they did launch such a campaign, whether it would topple the regime and could end up causing larger civilian casualties and huge damage to the country's infrastructure without achieving its goal of regime change. Current efforts by Kofi Annan, the U.N. and Arab League envoy, to bring about a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict may be laudable but are unlikely to succeed -- especially given the Assad regime's view of the situation as an existential struggle.
 
The remaining North African front
After regime change in Tunisia, largely absent from this discussion because it remains the most optimistic case, Egypt, and Libya, the Arab states of North Africa, especially Algeria and Morocco, seem to be in a state of high alert. The Moroccan monarchy, adept at playing the game of electoral authoritarianism, has adopted a twin-pronged strategy. The first prong consists of accommodating the moderate Islamist party, the PJD, within the power structure by allowing it to emerge with a plurality in the elections of November 2011 and by appointing its head as the country's Prime Minister without diluting the reserve executive powers of the monarchy.
The second prong consists of making common cause with the Gulf monarchies led by Saudi Arabia, culminating in the GCC invitation to Morocco, as well as Jordan, to join the exclusive club of Arab monarchies (although neither of them qualifies geographically for this honor). Membership of the GCC must have appealed to the Moroccan king as a policy of reinsurance against popular revolt. The Saudi-led GCC intervention in Bahrain was above all intended to carry the message, which must have been pleasing to the ears of King Mohammed VI, that the organization is committed to, and capable of defending, the monarchical regimes of member states under threat from forces unleashed by the Arab Spring. While Morocco's geographic distance from Saudi Arabia considerably dilutes the effectiveness of this message, the prospect of economic aid from Gulf monarchies flush with petrodollars that can be used to buy off dissent adds to the attraction for Morocco of membership in the GCC.
 
Algeria had experienced a brutal civil war in the 1990s between the military-dominated regime and Islamist extremists frustrated by the army's decision to abort Algeria's electoral experiment when it became clear that the Islamist FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) would win a majority in parliament. The shadow of that war which left 150,000 people dead still hangs over the Algerian society and polity. According to one observer: "This episode has taught Algerians the dangers of contestation. The ‘black decade' remains an open wound within the society, preventing it from reproducing the next-door revolutionary model. In the collective mind, revolution involves considerable risks that the current generation of Algerians are (sic) not willing to take." This does not mean that Algeria is immune to the democratic contagion. The memory of civil war and its substantial oil revenues, which the regime has spread around as handouts to critical segments of society, has bought a reprieve for the military-backed Algerian government. But this is likely to be temporary and Algeria may be in a "calm before the storm" phase.
The Persian Gulf
 
The Arab states of the Gulf seem to fall in a category of their own because of their oil and gas wealth and rentier economies that have turned the adage "no taxation without representation" on its head. However, their capacity to buy social peace differs greatly from one to another. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (especially Abu Dhabi) lie at one extreme with their enormous wealth per capita from energy sources, providing them with more than enough resources to buy off their relatively miniscule populations. Yemen, which is poor, and Bahrain, which lacks oil wealth, lie at the other extreme. Yemen has been in the midst of political strife for several years with multiple secessionist movements and contenders of power slugging it out with each other. President Ali Abdullah Saleh's recent departure is unlikely to make too much of a difference to this chronically unstable country.
 
Bahrain, with a politically aware population and little oil wealth, has become the spearhead of the democratic uprising in the Gulf. The fact that it has a Sunni monarchy ruling over a 70 percent Shia majority has allowed its rulers to portray the democracy movement in sectarian terms. This was not true at the beginning of the movement but is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy as the regime's repressive policy persists. Nonetheless, Bahrain continues to be the weakest link in the chain of Gulf autocracies and, therefore, of extreme concern to the GCC's leading power, Saudi Arabia. While the regime seems to have temporarily suppressed the democracy movement, Bahrain's revolutionaries are unlikely to give up the fight anytime soon.
It is Saudi Arabia, the largest and the richest of the kingdoms, that is the key Arab country to watch in the Gulf in the context of the profound changes affecting the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, with its enormous reserves of oil, a respectable demographic base, and a huge inventory of sophisticated weaponry bought from the West, principally the United States, is located at the center of the Arab Gulf system and is the predominant power in the GCC. Its geostrategic competition with Iran and its self-proclaimed role as the protector of Sunni interests against Shia Iran make it the logical pillar of American policy in the Persian Gulf. However, Saudi Arabia is potentially a colossus with feet of clay. Bolstering Saudi capabilities, principally by the transfer of sophisticated weaponry by the United States, is unlikely to change the balance of power in the Persian Gulf given the vulnerabilities of the Saudi state, including its octogenarian leadership and lack of genuine political institutions, as well as its lack of soft power (other than cash) to influence events in the long term.
 
Despite much vulnerability the Saudi regime has so far been able to buy time with its hefty financial resources to purchase the loyalty of its subjects. Furthermore, it has cleverly played the anti-Shia card by pointing to Iran as the primary cause of Shia unrest in its oil-rich eastern province. It has also persuaded the Wahhabi religious establishment to denounce any form of protest against the House of Saud as anti-Islamic, thereby portraying supporters of democracy as enemies of Islam. Above all, as an astute analyst of Saudi Arabia points out: "Saudi Arabia's experience of the Arab Spring demonstrates that it lacks the structural conditions for mobilization, organization, and protest, let alone revolution...Saudi Arabia does not have trade unions-the majority of its working population is foreign, which has stunted the growth of organized labor-a women's movement, or an active student population, three factors that helped to make protests in Tunis and Cairo successful." The only avenue left for any opposition, therefore, is violence that is likely to be met with much greater counter-violence by the state. With Saudi Arabia's close strategic links with the United States and its huge petroleum reserves, the regime is likely to overcome such opposition at least in the short to medium term as the preeminent status quo power.
 
What is clear in all cases is that the initial optimism regarding the prospect of a region wide "Arab Spring" quickly taking hold was clearly misplaced. In fact, given the current situation in Libya and prospects of similar outcomes if democratic uprisings take place in countries with brutally repressive military regimes such as Algeria, the Arab world maybe heading for more turmoil, death, and destruction -- at least in the near term.
 
The Regional Influentials
Furthermore, the speculation about Arab countries such as Egypt playing a larger role in the international politics of the Middle East in the wake of democratic transformations now appear to be more a product of wishful thinking than of objective analysis. Most of the energies of Arab governments, whether authoritarian or democratic or in between, will be concentrated in tackling issues of domestic order and legitimacy for the next few years, if not decades. This would leave them with little inclination to pursue proactive foreign policies except for tiny Qatar that is flush with gas wealth and sees a high international profile as a strategy to enhance the legitimacy of its regime among its tiny native population. However, given its limited capabilities, the Qatari attempt to play a larger than life size role may eventually turn out to be counterproductive and lead to unforeseen negative consequences for the ruling house.
 
The only major Arab country likely to engage in active diplomacy is Saudi Arabia, both because of its enormous oil wealth and because its regime feels threatened by a nexus of external and internal forces that require an active foreign policy especially to curb the growth of Iranian influence in the region. However, as discussed above, Saudi Arabia's inherent vulnerabilities and built-in contradictions in its foreign policy are likely to limit its regional appeal and hobble its diplomacy to a considerable extent.
 
Egypt, the traditional leader of the Arab world, will remain politically introverted for a long time to come, thus detracting from its capacity to influence regional events. Despite more political openness and a public face of civilian rule, it is unlikely that the fundamental power structure in Egypt or its foreign-policy orientation will undergo radical transformation except in the very long run, if and when civilian forces are able to chip away at the military's domination of the country's political and economic life. It is worth noting in this context that it took six decades for Turkey to assert a reasonable amount of civilian control over its military, and that the process is still far from complete. Therefore, it is unlikely that the Egyptian revolution will have a major impact on the political and strategic landscape in the Middle East in the short and medium terms.
The other traditional major center of Arab power, Iraq, is located centrally in the Middle East connecting the Fertile Crescent to the Persian Gulf. However, Iraq's power was drastically depleted and its influence dramatically curtailed beginning with the Gulf War of 1991. Iraq's decline became a full-blown reality following the invasion by the United States in 2003. Since then it has been mired in the domestic mess created by the invasion and the attendant destruction of its state institutions and governing capacity. Furthermore, the invasion has decimated it militarily as well as drastically reduced its capacity to influence regional events diplomatically. In fact, it has become more an object of influence -- by Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United States -- rather than an autonomous center of power with the capacity to influence regional events.
 
The basic lesson that one draws from this account as far as the international relations of the Middle East is concerned is that the Arab world in general, and major Arab powers in particular, with the possible and partial exception of Saudi Arabia, will not be in a position to greatly affect regional outcomes for the next couple of decades. This leaves the non-Arab powers, especially Turkey, Iran, and Israel, as major regional players whose actions and relationships with each other are likely to determine the future of the Middle East for quite some time to come. It appears that despite the initial promise of the "Arab Spring", Ankara, Tehran, and Tel Aviv will continue to dominate the regional political landscape far more than any of their Arab counterparts.
Mohammed Ayoob is the university distinguished professor of international relations at Michigan State University and adjunct scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

 

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