In the wake of the multiple Arab uprisings since the Bouazizi heroic act of self-immolation with fire, rather than bask in democracy and welfare, the Arab people are enduring insecurity, lack of stability, joblessness, bankruptcy and hard times1. Lots of them are even regretting the good old dictatorships that secured them daily bread, safety and stability. In Meidan Tahrir, during the second Egyptian uprising, initiated by the military and seconded by the secular and nationalist forces against the then President Morsi and his brotherhood, there were lots of placards lamenting Mubarek’s reign alongside with his photos in military garb.
Today, the streets of Cairo are unsafe; Alexandria, that was until yesterday the city where religions coexisted, is peaceful no more, in the countryside at nightfall people bolt their doors and hope for the best. Tourism that was until recently one of the biggest money-earning sectors is practically dead, tourist guides are lamenting their bad luck at the gates of Jizzah pyramids: “prosperity is gone with Mubarek, today we hardly survive from money remittances from family expatriates in the Gulf, if something similar happens there, we die.” Egypt, the most important and powerful country of the MENA region is on the brink of disintegration; unless….2
In Yemen, insecurity is such that nobody dares go outside of Sanaa without a Kalachinkov machine gun to defend themselves. People prefer to travel in convoys escorted by the army since tribal strife is back and is encouraged by the Shia Houthis who thrive in insecurity. The ex-communist south abhors central government and would not mind breaking away, though they know deep down that it is not feasible in these times. The homegrown al Qaida die-hards are back in service recruiting poor rural Yemenis and brainwashing them for future terrorist attacks, not fearing probable US deadly drone strikes. “Dying in Jihad is an honor and a guarantee to have access to Eden,” they profess in a condescending manner. For them, Islam will prevail and America will collapse and take with it its Arab lackeys. Yemen is poised for deep trouble, unless….
In Syria, not happy with shooting his people who disagree with him, Assad is gassing them, as if to say: “If I have to go to hell, then you go first before me.”3 The world is watching this drama unfold without been able to punish Assad because the Russian bear is making frightening groans that scare the hell of the West. In Syria Assad is very bad news for the country, but so is the opposition that is fragmented and might lead consequently to the Libyan scenario, after the fall of the dictator.
Whatever happens democracy will not occur tomorrow in this country, unless…4
In Libya, the situation is so opaque, that nobody knows what is happening inside. One thing is certain, the militias, which the elected government would not or could not disarm, control the country, they are even selling oil to foreign companies without government authorization. The latter even threatened to shoot foreign tankers that engage in such illicit actions, but can they? The answer is no because they have no means to carry out their threat. Today, Libya is many countries in one, waiting for the propitious time to start a new cycle of violence, unless…
In Algeria, Bouteflika is politically dead and the country is holding its breath. The Generals, de facto power behind the throne, are busy looking for a man to replace him, and that is a difficult task. The country, as of now is calm, but anything can occur at any moment. The fact is that the Algerians are not ready to give up their social peace because of the horrors they endured both at the hands of the Islamists and the army during the civil war 1990-1998. The government is bribing the people into submission through subsidizing staple foods, medicine, transportation, habitations, almost everything, but that is not enough, people want democracy and freedom. For now Algeria has escaped unscathed the Arab uprising because of strict policing and bribery, but for how long? It could well be that next time around; the fire will not be put down easily, unless…
Mohammed Ayoob 5 ascribes the Arab failure not to the Arabs themselves, but to foreign intervention in the region, especially the American invasion of Iraq in 2003:6
“It is true that Syria, Iraq, Libya and several other Arab countries suffered from state fragility and lack of unconditional regime legitimacy prior to foreign military intervention. However, the critical variable that pushed them across the line from state fragility to state collapse was foreign military intrusion. Left to their own devices, the peoples in these countries, I believe, would have over time either succeeded in changing their regimes through a process of autonomous revolt or, more likely, come to terms with the semi-authoritarian regimes that, as the history of western Europe teaches us, are essential during the early stages of state formation.”
He goes on to say forcefully in his analysis entitled, “Why Arab States Have Failed”, published in The National Interest:
“To reiterate, neither violent jihadism nor sectarian conflicts in their present form owe their origins, as is commonly assumed by many Western observers, to the doctrinal precepts of Islam or to the historical rifts within Islam going back fourteen hundred years. They have their origins in externally induced state failure in the Arab world. ISIS and other forms of violent extremism, as well as the Sunni-Shia conflict, as currently witnessed in the Middle East, are but epiphenomena. State failure induced by foreign intervention lies at the basis of the mayhem and anarchy we now see in the Arab world. ISIS and the sectarian militia are but secondary forces that have taken advantage of the decimation of state structures in the Arab world, thanks largely to foreign intervention for reasons mostly unrelated to the human rights of the Arab peoples, the reason ostensibly put forward for such interventions by major Western powers.”
The monarchies have so far been spared by the tumultuous uprisings — but not for long, because Act II of this movement will sweep them out of their feet, unless they change their ways.
These monarchies are divide into two groups:
- Traditional monarchies deriving their legitimacy from tribal allegiance like in Jordan and historical and religious legitimacy like in the case of Morocco; and
- Oil monarchies owing their existence and survival to petro-dollars. These are the Gulf states.
Morocco and Jordan have also been swept by uprisings fever but so far they resisted because they prompted changes and reforms, though not too far-fetching, yet important and restarting the incremental political effort leading towards a democratic design, hopefully.
In the full swing of the Arab uprisings in 2011, Mohammed VI, in a nimble and calculated move, proposed a constitution revamp, ceding some of his powers to the Head of the Government but retaining enough power to act as a guarantor of national unity and as an arbiter. The credibility capital of this monarch is twofold:
- Historical legitimacy: the Alawite dynasty is four centuries old and the Moroccan monarchical system itself is 14 centuries; and
- He talks little and listens to the street more .
Even when the uprising winds started blowing in the direction of Morocco, and the Mouvement du 20 février took to the streets to denounce corruption, nepotism, power abuse of the officials in the vicinity of the monarch, they did not call for a regime change but just some sort of devolution: they wanted a parliamentary monarchy instead of an executive one.
In spite of the sympathy capital it enjoys, the Moroccan monarchy has to renew itself for the long run; cut on the absurd protocol, reduce the so-called “shadow cabinet” of advisors and curtail their extensive power, make all corrupt officials stand trial, no matter how close they are to the throne to establish universal accountability in the country once for all.
In Jordan, unlike in Morocco, the monarchy though it adopted a modern profile is, in spite of the tribal allegiance and support, on shaky ground because it lacks historical depth and consequently historical legitimacy. It is true the Jordanians like and respect their monarch but as in the case of Morocco, it has to renew itself at once before it is too late.
Arabian Gulf: Long Trip Ahead In The Desert For Stability
The oil monarchies of the Gulf do seemingly enjoy stability and security but that is all artificial. At the height of the Arab uprisings, the governments fearing any form of backlash literally embarked on distributing cash to the population to buy allegiance and time. In the short run this will work, and it did but in the long run once the money is gone sentiments will change for sure.7
In many Gulf states opposition is not tolerated, criticism is not welcome and feedback is not sought. Women are like furniture, part of the house, they can be moved at will. They are locked in house prisons and when they go out, they are locked in total Hijab prisons. They cannot talk to anyone except their husbands, children and close family. However, it so happens that a lot of women go to the West for education and do get higher degrees to come back and be locked in golden prisons. Some accept this fate others rebel.
In most of these patriarchal and tribal countries, the population in spite of indecent wealth and incredible modernization are light years away from modernity. There is tremendous wealth but no accountability whatsoever. There is stability but no freedom. There is powerful government but no checks and balances. There is law and order but contestation is not allowed. In a word, there is neither freedom of thought, nor freedom of belief, nor freedom of criticism. People have wealth but must lead a regimented life and there is no available alternative.8
The Maghreb: Struggling For Democracy And Social Justice
A very insightful article entitled “The Tragedy of the Arabs,” published in July 5, 2014 in The Economist blames Arab failure on the lack of liberalism in state policies:9
“The absence of a liberal state has been matched by the absence of a liberal economy. After independence, the prevailing orthodoxy was central planning, often Soviet-inspired. Anti-market, anti-trade, pro-subsidy and pro-regulation, Arab governments strangled their economies. The state pulled the levers of economic power—especially where oil was involved. Where the constraints of post-colonial socialism were lifted, capitalism of the crony, rent-seeking kind took hold, as it did in the later years of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Privatisation was for pals of the government. Virtually no markets were free, barely any world-class companies developed, and clever Arabs who wanted to excel in business or scholarship had to go to America or Europe to do so.
Economic stagnation bred dissatisfaction. Monarchs and presidents-for-life defended themselves with secret police and goons. The mosque became a source of public services and one of the few places where people could gather and hear speeches. Islam was radicalised and the angry men who loathed their rulers came to hate the Western states that backed them. Meanwhile a vast number of the young grew restless because of unemployment. Thanks to the electronic media, they were increasingly aware that the prospects of their cohort outside the Middle East were far more hopeful. The wonder is not that they took to the streets in the Arab spring, but that they did not do so sooner.”
Unless the Arab world opts for full democracy sooner than soon, it will have to face a new wave of uprisings led by the youth, the underprivileged, women and ethnic minorities, but unlike Act I of the uprisings, Act II will be destructive because it will usher in a period of instability and chaos that might last for years, if not decades.10
Unless the Arab World empowers women which represent half of the overall population, they will rise and contest the established social order in an unprecedented manner nobody can predict.
Unless the Arab World attends to the immediate needs of the youth, the situation will undoubtedly go bad.11
Unless the Arab World recognizes fully the myriad of ethnic groups in its flanks and their cultural and political demands, there could no social peace.
Unless the Arab world shares national wealth equally between its citizens, strife will increase tremendously and might never end.
Unless the Arab World establishes accountability within its governments, national wealth will be wasted forever and ever.
The Arab World will have to act fast to change things and earn credibility and legitimacy, otherwise it will be alas be damned…
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu
1. Ajami, Fouad. “The Arab Spring at One.” Global. Foreign Affairs, Mar. 2012. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137053/fouad-ajami/the-arab-spring-at-one
2. Green, Duncan. “What Caused the Revolution in Egypt?” Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. <http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/feb/17/what-caused-egyptian-revolution>.
3. Kilo, Michel. “Reasons behind Syria’s Tense Standoff: People Stronger than the Regime.” Al Arabiya News. N.p., 22 Apr. 2013.Web. <http://english.alarabiya.net/views/2012/04/22/209564.html>.
4. Al-Sakkaf, Nadia. “Celebrating Yemen’s Success but Keeping Future Challenges in Mind Yemen Times. Yemen Times. N.p., 30 Jan. 2014. Web. <http://www.yementimes.com/en/1751/viewpoint/3417/Celebrating-Yemen%E2%80%99s-success-but-keeping-future-challenges-in-mind.htm>.
5. Mohammed Ayoob: Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University, and Senior Fellow, Center for Global Policy. His books include The Many Faces of Political Islam (University of Michigan Press, 2008) and, most recently, Will the Middle East Implode(2014) and editor of Assessing the War on Terror(2013).
7. Mekhennet, Souad, and Alexander Smoltczyk. “SPIEGEL Interview with the King of Bahrain: ‘Arab Spring? That’s the Business of Other Countries'” SPIEGEL ONLINE. N.p., 17 Feb. 2012. <http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/spiegel-interview-with-the-king-of-bahrain-arab-spring-that-s- the-business-of-other-countries-a-814915.html>.
8. Anderson, Lisa. “Demystifying the Arab Spring.” Foreign Affairs. Council of Foreign Relations, May-June 2011.
10. Amin, Samir. The People’s Spring: The Future of the Arab Revolution. Nairobi: Pambazuka, 2012. Print.
11. Cf. Alhassen, Maytha, and .Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. Demanding Dignity: Young Voices from the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions. Ashland, OR: White Cloud, 2012. Print
Arab leadership political ability questioned
Ajami, Fouad. “The Arab Spring at One.” Global. Foreign Affairs, Mar. 2012. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137053/fouad-ajami/the-arab-spring- at-one
This source gives a basic outline of the Arab Spring and was written by a Lebanese professor, political scientist, and journalist who focuses on the Middle East.
Alhassen, Maytha, and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. Demanding Dignity: Young Voices from the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions. Ashland, OR: White Cloud, 2012. Print. This book of compiled and edited stories from eye witnesses to the Arab Springs, it gave insight into the minds of protestors everywhere and extra information about Saudi Arabian protests.
Al-Sakkaf, Nadia. “Celebrating Yemen’s Success but Keeping Future Challenges in Mind Yemen Times. Yemen Times. N.p., 30 Jan. 2014. Web. <http://www.yementimes.com/en/1751/viewpoint/3417/Celebrating-Yemen%E2%80%99s-success-but-keeping-future-challenges-in-mind.htm>.
This source gave a synopsis of what Yemen has accomplished and the challenges that it has yet to overcome written by a Yemen native who is editor and chief of the Yemen times.
Amin, Samir. The People’s Spring: The Future of the Arab Revolution. Nairobi: Pambazuka, 2012. Print. This book explained how the history of Egypt led up to their Arab Springs written by an Egyptian native.
Anderson, Lisa. “Demystifying the Arab Spring.” Foreign Affairs. Council of Foreign Relations, May-June 2011. This source gave a deeper understanding of the contrasts between Egypt and Tunisia.