By Fadi Elhusseini
In a region that has been described for long time as idle, sluggish and even immune towards transformations, revolts sneaked in, toppling some regimes and shaking the thrones of others. However, with the bloody course of events, doubt started to creep and uncertainty began to haunt hope, especially with the explicit and overt foreign scramble in the region after the current transformations.
Analyses began to heap in an attempt to examine this event: THE ARAB SPRING; some choose to factor in this context a new foreign conspiracy, aiming at dividing of what is left from the region. Others suggest that the revolts are a long awaited revolution of dignity and were ignited by plain domestic forces. Nevertheless, a fresh set of events has misrepresented a newly anticipated course of transformation in the region, giving new prospects for hypotheses and theories.
Those who believe the current revolts are just the beginning of a new Sykes–Picot of 1916 and nothing but a new conspiracy target the Arab nation based their views on several events and remarks. For instance, Thomas Friedman has been calling repeatedly for a new Middle East that would reflect the new geopolitical transformations in the region. Other non-Arab intellectuals like Bernard Lewis and Theiry Meyssan published several articles suggesting a new delimitation of the so-called “Middle East”. On 28 September, Robin Wright proffers in his article, How 5 Countries Could Become 14, a new landscape of the Middle East.
On the official level, many terms and projects like “constructive chaos”, the “New Middle East” and the “Greater Middle East”, coined and uttered by “mainly” US officials, have led to further worry and distrust. For instance, in March 2004, the Bush administration adopted what was named “the Greater Middle East Project”. Such a project did not bear any fruit and was a complete fiasco, which led for new projects to follow like “the New Middle East”, introduced by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006. A starker example of this approach was reflected in the new map of the Middle East, presented in the U.S. military’s Armed Forces Journal in 2006 entitled: Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look.
The harmony between U.S. administration and neo-Islamists gave the impression that a new approach has been adopted: “Moderate Islam.” Hitherto, promoting and encouraging Islamic parties and groups widespread struck a chord with public dissatisfaction and aversion to corrupt regimes and have become a priority.
“Moderate” Islamic movements, who were once deprived of their rights, expelled and may be executed by their own regimes, lined up to present their credentials as the new accepted “model” or alternative of the old fashioned and infamous dictatorships, which appeared in the eyes of Arab people as a stooge, too attached to the West and excessively dependent on the US.
According to this viewpoint, the rise of the current Arab revolts demonstrated the solemn declaration of this new American plan, by inserting democratically elected new “moderate” Islamic movements in power. The new Islamic regimes will serve as good as previous regimes, yet they will be more accepted by their people; hence, interests, business and flux of oil will be secured. The warm relations between these Islamic movements, and the US in particular, and being hosted by the West when they were escaping from the oppression of the previous regimes, bolstered such a way of thinking.
On the other hand, many people tend to see in the Arab revolts a definitive outcome of an increasing frustration among Arab Youth. This generation, which constitutes the majority of Arab population, inherited stories of glory and magnificent history of modernity, development, advancement in civilization, arts, science and might.
But these stories hit day after day the wall of a frustrating reality as they (Arab youth) found themselves in fully dependent states (on the West), experiencing successive defeats and living bleak economic and difficult social conditions. This is accompanied by the continuation of the oppression of their regimes and the lack of democracy and freedom of expression. The rulers exaggerated their grip and confidence; this hyperbole made Parliamentary elections a joke and a scene of irony, while the issue of inheritance of power to their sons (in “theoretically” Republican regimes) became a mixed material of comic and bitterness.
More distressingly, Arab youth saw progress, development and success in other countries, and coveted for themselves the good economic and social conditions other nations experienced. With the assistance of internet social networks and the development in communications technology, such facts are not hidden anymore, and the new Arab generation started to share their findings, concerns, fears, ambitions and dreams with each other through such platforms. Meanwhile, aged regimes were still busy with old fashioned techniques, undermining the effect and importance of such technology, which was described by one of their statesmen as “children toys”.
The moment of truth has arrived, catching every expert, analyst and politician off guard, as the eruption of the Arab Spring started from Tunisia the Green “the term Arabs call Tunisia”, which people are well-known for their quiet temper, calmness and gentleness. It was only few days until the spark of revolution spread like fever, and other people followed suit, turning the fantasy world on the Internet to a reality that ushered in a new era, different from the previous distasteful epoch. Thus, the crux of this view is the rejection of any external role in moving or encouraging Arabs to change their regimes.
What supports this view is a number of facts; the first is the close relationship between the West in general and previous autocratic regimes. Another important fact is Western flopping and hesitation on the eve of the eruption of the revolutions. Michele Alliot-Marie, former French Foreign Minister, had to resign after expressing the willingness of France to provide the Tunisian government with expertise in the field of security a few days after the escape of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
U.S. position was also marked by confusion with the first spur of the Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia. BBC correspondent in Washington Kim Ghattas described the first reaction of US State Department officials as those “seemed to be caught unaware”, adding they had not been briefed about Tunisia recently. Ghattas referred to the following reaction of the US administration as focusing mostly on the advisory issued to American citizens in Tunisia.
Personally, I opt to suggest a third opinion: “riding the crest of the wave”. Combining the two opinions where time is ample, despite first-blush confusion, to ensure that foreign powers restore their balance and ride the crest of the wave as they begin to evaluate and reassess their positions based on these new developments; this will be a clear attempt to secure interests and cooperation with new emerging regimes. The US, along with many other powers, could adapt themselves to such changes, and build alliances with nascent regimes. However, the toppling of Egypt’s Morsi was another fiasco, manifested in the US surprise and pique. This unforeseen change ushered unexpected and dramatic variation in newly charted scenarios, which could put their updated plans in serious jeopardy.
Inter alia, one can say that the Arab Spring represented a glimmer of hope for Arabs, despite the longevity, at times failure, and escalation of violence and bloodshed. Unfavourable repercussions permeated the sense of frustration, leading to a loss of zeal and the questioning of purposes, motives and even goals of these revolts.
Fadi Elhusseini is a Political and Media Counselor in Turkey. He is an associate research fellow (ESRC) at the Institute for Middle East Studies-Canada and a doctoral candidate at the University of Sunderland in Britain.