This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 09/05/2011
The killing of Bin Laden will not reflect on the course of the "revolutions" in some Arab countries, but it might have a negative impact on Islamist movements in them. No matter how firm the media's stand is on terrorism in those countries, not a single statement has been officially issued by any movement condemning "Bin Laden". In any case, many Arab observers refuse to term what is going on in the Arab world "revolutions". They say they are "rebellions", with no driving force behind them or proper leadership to guide them. These rebellions began with pressing general demands calling for the overthrow of the regime, but what happened afterwards in Egypt and Tunisia? Absolute anarchy; a state of rebellion brought on by various reasons.
If we look back on similar cases throughout the history of nations, whenever security is jeopardized, the military advances to the front. We cannot rule out the possibility of coups being orchestrated in Egypt and Tunisia, even if temporarily, along the lines of Mauritania. In this fashion, a group of officers steps in, adopts what the masses are demanding, stops the protests, and pledges that within a year or two they will pave the way for democracy. Subsequently, what happened in Turkey could also occur in Egypt. There could be a civil government and parliament with the military always behind them, just as the case is now in Algeria.
Concerning the current situation in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party is trying to control the regime in a clever and subtle way, but seculars constitute a substantial power in the country, and it is anticipated that surprises will take place in the coming elections. It is safe to say the military there has grown weaker than it was in the past, but officers from the new generation are bound to rise.
In Egypt, the Supreme Military Council is currently governing, with members closely associated to the group of former President Mubarak. They were his comrades and together served as brothers in arms, yet they will start interrogating him soon, as many expect. Afterwards, a new group of officers will rise up, wash their hands of all that, and promise heaven on earth, as has been the custom.
Observers believe that the situation in Egypt might descend into a civil war. The case of Qena's new governor sets a dangerous precedent. There are many Nubians in Egypt and their separatist movement has existed for more than 30 years. The recent events in the Arab World seem to have whetted the appetite for ethnic secession. An Arab official informed me that he once told President Mubarak: "There is a surge of erosion sweeping over Egypt from the south." The President regarded this presumption as highly unlikely, but the Arab official carried on saying: "After South Sudan, the surge will hit Nubia." Moreover, the Copts in Egypt range from 10 to 12 million people and might also demand autonomous rule. After all, Egypt is a populous and sizeable country.
Libya too is a problem currently in formation. During the reign of King Idris as-Senussi, there was the Benghazi province, the Tripoli province and the Fazan province. Now the country is open to all possibilities. There is an international, Arab and regional consensus that Colonel Gaddafi must relinquish power. This might happen through a staged coup, but would members of the Transitional Council, which includes figures from the old regime, come to terms afterwards? How would those figures manage the country's affairs, if they work alongside the newcomers?
In Tunisia, the Renaissance party (Hizb al-Nahda) is speaking another language and positioning itself a powerful posture to gain power, but the military won't allow the Renaissance Party to consume the largest slice of cheese.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is doing the same thing, having named a new political party which they have recently established. Yet we may be approaching a military era once the dust settles, and likewise the next generation might wake up to a new Middle East in terms of geography. There is a lot of talk going about the ultimate division of Yemen into three States: The State of Aden, the State of Sana'a, and a state for the Houthis as well.
In Syria, there are the Kurds, the Baath party, and the intelligence apparatus, but the controlling power lies with Turkey and Iran. Besides, if a civil war breaks out in Lebanon, there is a considerable possibility that matters could extend to Syria, which would be far worse, for Syria shares borders with Lebanon, Turkey and Israel, and its ruling elite descends from a minority with ties to Turkey. The situation in Syria is highly complicated and not limited to the existence of the Baath party. If the current regime in Syria is overthrown, Hezbollah will become an orphan. We have seen how Hamas rushed to effect a Palestinian reconciliation whilst being part of the wider belt created by Iran.
Turkey won't permit the Kurds to entertain the idea of establishing a State. There is a consensus on keeping a tight rein on the Kurdish issue, which Turkey and Iran clearly agree on. The most that the Kurds can hope for is a kind of local autonomy.
As for Iran, it is a different story. Signs of a looming military conflict with the Gulf, which Iran might be bracing for, have started to cause fear. The latter has spent the last ten years creating a belt around the region: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen, in addition to enclaves of Shia in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. All of those are loyal to Iran, and right now, there is pressure after President Ahmedinejad initially thought that the "Arab Revolutions" had broken out in imitation of the Islamic Revolution of Iran.
With the eruption of the Arab revolutions, Iran hoped to establish a foothold in the Gulf via Bahrain. Had it not been for the intervention of the Joint Peninsula Shield Force, the regime in Bahrain would have been overthrown. People had started talking about an Islamic republic in the country. Last Saturday, a very serious statement was made by Iran's Chief of Staff General Hassan Fayrouz Abadi.
The dominant belief was that there was a problem between the US administration and the Iranian regime. But it appears that a problem also existed between the Obama administration and almost all Arab regimes. There is now renewed concern amongst many Arab political observers about the possibility of a new regional axis that could emerge over the coming decade: Iran, Turkey and Israel. This is a trio with one common enemy, namely the Arabs. All three countries are in dire need of water resources, and the prediction that the next war in the Middle East will revolve around water might come true. Let us not forget the Arab oil wealth.
Amidst the travail and pains of the labor in progress in the Arab street, it seems that monarchies, unlike republics, have been spared the trouble. Monarchies enjoy legitimacy and with very few exceptions, possess greater financial capabilities. However, what is happening in Arab republics could prove contagious and inspire further minorities aspiring for power. The absence of a political framework and a multi-party system opens the way for minorities or religious groups to seize the political vacuum.
I asked an Arab diplomat for his opinion on what the Arabs should do in the face of a future menacing Iranian - Turkish - Israeli pact. The diplomat answered: "I am an advocate of the establishment of a United Gulf States: One army, one currency and one passport, with each country keeping its national flag." The diplomat added: "Creating this bloc is essential provided that we do not disregard opening up to another broader pact in Africa." He went on to explain: "The Arab Maghreb has all the necessary qualifications to form a powerful force. It contains a population of 100 million people, or 200 million including Egypt. The southern bank of the Mediterranean would form the basis of this pact. Let us not forget that the bulk of the Arab World lies in Africa and not Asia. The population momentum spreads all the way from Nouakchott to Port Sudan. This axis alone encompasses about 250 million people."
The diplomat added: "Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti, these Afro-Arab countries are influenced by and influence neighboring countries across the whole of the African coast, all the way from Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso to West Africa. The populations of the abovementioned countries are almost entirely Muslim, and here is where Pan-nationalism gets confused with religion. The Africans are not Arab, however, religious identification does exist."
Israel has reached into Africa and so has Iran. What role should the Gulf States play now? My source says: "The Gulf has to unite together; Iran's role in the region depends on its interests. The incumbent Iranian regime might venture towards a direct military strike. It is under pressure. Perhaps under a more moderate regime, Iran might ally with the West against the Arabs." My source ended by quoting the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: "There is no such thing as principles, only interests and nothing else."
The world is planning for a new future and in the Arab world; the show goes on at a relentless pace. Any regime that comes to power in the near future shall depend on the same police apparatus, the same judges, and the same employees. Even if an incredible leader rises to power, he will have to deal with what he has got. The West encourages democracy, which is a long process, whereas the Arabs have forgotten Omar Ibn al-Khattab's famous quote: "Justice is the basis of the Kingdom." When people are fed and minds are cultured, demands for democracy begin. Democracy does not grow amid poverty and illiteracy.