Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Arab World Faces Fragility And Flux

No one can predict which leader will fall and who will take charge as the uprisings unfold
By Linda S. Heard
The regional deckchairs are being rearranged. No one can predict which leaderships will remain and which will have gone by this time next year. Never before has the Arab world experienced such a long state of flux or been faced with such a lengthy laundry list of unknowns.
In Tunisia where it all started there is a spring in people's step, but tourism is down by 50 per cent and unemployment has doubled since the revolution which is causing angst on the street.
Elections are set to take place on October 23 amid fears that the old political elites are regrouping or the country could fall to the formerly exiled leader of an Islamist party, Rashid Gannouchi, who says efforts to limit the role of Islamist movements in post-revolutionary Arab countries will prove futile.
That certainly may be the case in Egypt if the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces sticks to its plan to hold parliamentary elections in September followed by a presidential election before the year's end. In that case, according to one of the presidential front runners Amr Mousa, the Muslim Brotherhood could take 35 per cent of parliamentary seats as new parties won't have enough time to get their message.
On the economic front, Egypt can go either way depending how the economy is handled. So far, the bourse and the Egyptian pound have weathered the storm. Tourism has rebounded and revenues from the Suez Canal are up. The caretaker government has spurned loans from the IMF and the World Bank, preferring to accept help from various Gulf States. Neighbouring Libya is in a real mess. Muammar Gaddafi is stubborn and unshakeable.
In spite of international representations bearing compromise solutions and exit plans for the leader and his family, he's sworn to hang on until the bitter end. Using bombs to oust a dictator is no magic formula. Iraq's Saddam Hussain and Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic are prime examples.
 Vocal critic
Nato has exceeded its UN mandate by attempting to assassinate Gaddafi, as confirmed by Nato's Joint Operations Chief US Admiral Samuel Locklear, and with the unintended killing of civilians has lost the moral high ground.
Democrats joined Republicans in the House of Representatives to reject a resolution authorising military intervention and the UK is experiencing financial pain at a time of belt-tightening. Italy has called for a ceasefire and the Arab League, despite initially backing the campaign, is now a vocal critic. The question is which side will blink first?
The Algerian government is the only one in North Africa that has managed to keep a lid on dissent; the Moroccan King has been less successful. King Mohammad VI has tried to avert a crisis with constitutional reforms and moves towards a constitutional monarchy but pro-democracy activists are still not satisfied.
As for Yemen, there is currently a leadership vacuum. Five months of massive protests against close US ally President Ali Abdullah Saleh turned to joyous celebrations when he flew to Saudi Arabia to receive treatment for injuries, including a collapsed lung and burns, incurred during an attack on his palace. Protesters were subdued by news that he intends to return — potentially within days — which could result in all-out civil war for this country beset with insurgents, secessionist groups and terrorist organisations.
Discontent in Saudi Arabia and Oman is simmering among some sectors of the population but is not so overt as in Bahrain.
Refugee exodus
Topping the news is, of course, Syria which is being gripped by violent clashes between government security forces and protesters from north to south. The state has barred some funerals for slain demonstrators and the military has occupied at least two villages.
By some accounts 1,400 have lost their lives, 10,000 have been imprisoned and 11,000 have fled across the border into Turkey seeking refuge; hundreds have made it into Lebanon.
The uprising and President Bashar Al Assad's uncompromising response could have wide implications. While Damascus has been massing troops and tanks on its border with Turkey, perhaps to prevent a refugee exodus and the stories they have to tell from being documented by the International Criminal Court, Ankara has resumed intelligence-sharing with Israel.
The Erdogan government has also blocked the Mavi Marmara, owned by a humanitarian relief foundation, the IHH, from joining an upcoming flotilla set on breaking the siege on Gaza under the pretext of ‘technical problems'.
Turkey has put its military on alert and is coordinating its air and naval defences with the US and Israel. Should the Al Assad regime be toppled, there would be serious repercussions for Hezbollah that gets its weapons via Syria when Israel would be strategically emboldened.
How the region will look in a year's time cannot be foreseen. But there is one certainty. At the Arab League Summit scheduled to be held in March 2012 there will not only be a new Secretary- General, "May I introduce myself" and "pleased to meet you" will resound through the halls.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 28/06/2011
-Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs

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