In All or in Part: A Look at the Unique States in the Arab Spring and Their Collective Future

By Ben-Meir, Alon | Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

In All or in Part: A Look at the Unique States in the Arab Spring and Their Collective Future


Ben-Meir, Alon, Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations


The term "Arab Spring" was coined to suggest the advent of a new era of awakening that would engulf the Arab world and serve as a harbinger of a new socio-economic and political order. A few lessons can be learned from what has emerged since the first uprising was sparked in Tunisia in December of 2010. However, the only certainty that can be deduced from the uprisings that have occurred throughout the Middle East and North Africa is that the Arab world will never be the same again.

This essay proceeds in nine sections. The first two sections analyze the Arab uprising as an integral part of global transformation, ushering in a new era in which no ruler can deprive his citizens of their basic rights. The next three sections explain how common denominators and unique characteristics of each country, as well as determinants of Western intervention, will shape the development of each nation's respective uprising and future. This part will demonstrate why the Arab "Spring" could turn into a cruel "winter" of new challenges and political uncertainty. Many of these difficulties will stem from weak foundations of political and economic development. Such an environment will present conditions that are conducive to an Islamist takeover and, whether or not that does occur, Islamic principles will certainly be incorporated into each country in various degrees as the emerging political order takes shape.

The following sections discuss the regional implications of the Arab Spring - both its potential expansion into the Gulf countries and the openings it offers for regional powers to exploit the current uncertainties to their advantage. The article concludes by suggesting that political reforms must be accompanied by economic development programs to guide the transitions and avoid violent protests in the Arab countries that have been spared upheavals.

THE ARAB UPRISING SUGGESTS THE ADVENT OF A NEW ERA

Some scholars, such as George Friedman, have suggested fallacious notions about the 'Arab Spring:' that it is a kind of mass delusion that amounts to no more than "some demonstrations accompanied by slaughter and extraordinarily vacuous observers."1 When university graduate turned street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government building in Sid Bouzid, Tunisia, he unleashed a torrent of long repressed political expression in the Middle East. Through his brave self-immolation, he sent a clear message to his generation: die with dignity rather than continue to live and suffer the daily indignities that amount to an unfulfilled life. It is that message that incited Egyptians, Yemenis, Libyans, Syrians, and others to protest and die in the hope that their sacrifices would bring an end to the daily injustices they had to endure.

The ethos of protest began growing in the Arab world several years ago. In their 2007 National Interest article entitled "Arab Spring Fever," Nathan J. Brown and Amr Hamzawy aptly observed that the unusual protests in the streets of the Middle East from 2005-2007 indicated that "dreams of democratic openings, competitive elections, the rule of law and wider political freedoms have captured the imagination of clear majorities in the Arab world."2

The 201 1 uprisings were neither instigated by outside powers or criminal gangs, as some Arab leaders have suggested, nor did the revolutionaries need to blame outside entities for their problems The demonstrators did not even ask for foreign intervention unless faced with a regime willing to massacre its people to remain in power, such as Qaddafi's Libya.

Typically, the regimes of Mubarak, Assad, Qaddafi, and Saleh have attempted to portray the uprising as a foreign-instigated conspiracy.3 This has been done in vain, as the revolutionary-minded youth refuse to be swayed by the empty slogans and contrived excuses of those in power, who suggest that chaos will dominate in their absence. Gone are the days when Arab leaders could ride the wave of public discontent by blaming Israel, the United States, or former colonial powers for their trying existence. …

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