The "Arab Spring" or a Winter of Discontent...

The Middle East is an uncertain geopolitical map. Looking at each state's prospects, the near future is sure to be fraught with dangers

The game was indeed over for Mubarak; but is it over for democracy too?
Shmuel Bar
On 7 December 2011 11:47

The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen were the result of developments within the countries themselves; deep economic and social malaise and the perception of the loss of domestic deterrence by ossified regimes led by aging leaders.

However, despite these common factors, the prospects for each of these countries and their neighbouring states to develop fully fledged democracy vary according to their underlying social and political features: educational levels, participation of women in the work force and politics, strength of Islamic movements, economic conditions and tribal as opposed to national identification.  Looking at these features, we can assess the prospects for many of these countries. In this regard:

Tunisia is almost sui generis. Its exposure to France and to the ideas of democracy, its GDP per capita (in contrast to its neighbours), its level of literacy, the weakness of the Islamic movement and the role of women are all without comparison in the region. Its proximity to its large diaspora in Europe also plays a positive role. 

Libya and Yemen, on the other hand, are cases of tribal societies in which the fabric of the state was held together by a military regime. In Libya – whose opposition were, only a few months ago, members of the oppressive regime - the chances of the present uprising deteriorating into endemic civil war are great. Such a situation may open the door to infiltration of Jihadi elements as we have seen in the past in other non-governed areas. In Yemen, this process has already taken place. Tribal areas of influence are not limited to the artificial national borders and extend deep into neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Egypt is a society with a strong centralist tradition. However the liberal forces in the country are in retreat. The only political force in Egypt which can mobilize itself on short notice to take advantage of free elections is the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. It will be part of any coalition and perhaps likely the ruling party after the forthcoming or next elections. Its position will therefore almost certainly have an impact on the policy of any new regime. 

Pundits argue that the Egyptian military will not allow the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power or will restrain their more provocative policies (such as annulment of the Peace Agreement with Israel). However, the "grand deal" with the Egyptian military is already unravelling. The military elite are first and foremost interested in maintaining their own particular interests. Hence, keeping the mobs from destroying the peace agreement with Israel, preventing Hamas from smuggling sophisticated arms from Iran into Gaza or Iran from sending warships through the Suez Canal to threaten Israeli gas drilling in the Mediterranean, are all secondary.

The military regime has shown its willingness to step back to allow the mob to vent its rage as in the case of the Israeli Embassy. But this is not an issue of Israel alone. What will happen tomorrow when a Danish or Swedish newspaper publishes cartoons of Muhammad? Or there is a terrorist attack on the US and subsequent American retaliation? Will the regime stop the mob then?  

Furthermore, the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will be a force multiplier for its sister movements in other countries including the ‘Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is more radical than its Egyptian counterpart; its constituency tends to come from the Palestinian camps and it has demonstrated a high level of support for the Jihadi-Salafi movement in Iraq.

It may be expected that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will act both on its own ideological platform of spreading its own ideology and spreading Egypt's influence in the region - as did the former Nassserist regime in the 1950s and 1960s. If the Hashemite regime weakens, the rivalry between East Jordanians and Palestinians will erupt with all its fury. This is already evident in warnings by the tribal leaders to the King that he must protect their interests and not give in.

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