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

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

In Syria, the regime is on its way out. It has lost its legitimacy even in the eyes of the lenient American administration and more importantly, its populace has passed the “fear barrier”. There are already signs of disintegration of the military. We are nearing the point of popular protest turning into civil war and the strategic question will be what happens with the Iranian and Turkish involvement and whether the regime may decide on the "Samson Option" of attacking Israel. 

If the regime were to fall, serious questions may arise regarding the ability of a new regime to control the northern and border regions of the country. Syria suffers from a great social, religious and political disparity; even the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria represents different streams – a Jihadi-Salafi trend in the North and a more moderate stream which is wooing the merchant and business communities of Damascus. Decades of Alawite domination combined with a strong Jihadi-Salafi presence in Northern Syria may result in a settling of accounts which will destabilise the country.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah has consolidated its control over the country, which is rapidly becoming an Iranian satrap. Many of the requirements of democracy exist in Lebanon, but they are overshadowed by the rule of the gun. 

There is little hope that the Arab Awakening will bring about a movement to push Hezbollah out of its positions of power and dismantle its militia. It is more likely that Hezbollah itself may initiate a controlled uprising for change of the Lebanese arrangement dating back to the foundation of the state.

Iraq is certainly as disparate as any other country in the region. The current government is showing its pro-Iranian and undemocratic colours more and more, alienating both Sunni Arabs and Kurds. After the final American withdrawal Iraq will come deeper under the Iranian sphere of influence with repercussions for Iraqi regional policy.

While the Sunnis do not have the strength to challenge this process, the Kurds are already showing unrest. Thousands of Iraqi Kurds demonstrated in Khanqin to demand the right to raise the Kurdish region's flag over government buildings. Under the impression of growing Shiite and Iranian predominance, the Kurds may revert to their old demands for autonomy or even independence. The Sunnis will probably reach out to allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, reviving their alliance with the Jihadi movements, which are dedicated to fighting the Shiites.

In the Gulf, the seeds of instability are already apparent. Bahrain is still at the early stages of revolution. If the Shiites achieve full enfranchisement – a demand that the West will find difficult to reject – the Iranian influence in the country will be immediate.Of course, Arab Shiites are not eager to be dominated by Persians either in Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. However, the dynamics of representation of Iranian proxies in the country will have an enormous psychological effect on the other Gulf Countries.

This is seen from Saudi Arabia as a manifestation of Iran's agenda to pursue its hegemonic goals and  exacerbates the age-old Sunni-Shiite conflict. The Wahhabi clerical establishment sees the increasing Shiite predominance in Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain and possibly in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia as cataclysmic.

Meanwhile, the system of succession of the sons of 'Abd al-'Aziz ibn Sa'ud creates an accelerating rate of change. Whether the wave of revolution hits the Kingdom or not, within ten to fifteen years, the regime will change. Given the ages of Abdallah and Sultan we may expect that they will be off the stage - physically or politically - by 2015. But by then the youngest of the remaining sons of Abdul Aziz will be 70 years old and there is no way of knowing what the physical and mental health of the successor candidates will be. 

This uncertainty will give rise to jockeying among the next line of successors. While in each case there will be a clear understanding regarding the identity of the King, the question of who will be third in line will be increasingly important.

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