Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dark Clouds Over The "Arab Spring"

Francis Matthew writes: It is critical countries in the region help the various interim governments find a sensible way out of the chaos 
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 09/06/2011 

It is all too easy for the blazing excitement of the Arab Spring to peter out. That glorious season of hope does not automatically have to lead to success. It can easily become a flash in the pan, and fade into Arab folk memory as one of those many things that might have been.

Deep uncertainty over the future is taking hold in many Arab states. The important Libya Contact Group is meeting in Abu Dhabi today, with 30 countries attending, including Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt for the first time, as well as many international organisations.
They will be looking at how to help build a new Libya. This work deserves every chance of success. To be certain of its importance, try to imagine what would happen if it fails, and then go one step further, and imagine if such hopes fail in all the Arab states that are going through a time of change.

Libya could split into two warring regions: the government-controlled west and rebel-controlled east. If the war extends into months and then years, then the army groups and tribes who are defending the Muammar Gaddafi government will see little reason to change allegiance as they will fear vengeance and retribution from their opponents. And the Nato partners will face war fatigue from their populations if their initial commitment drags out into years of action.

Egypt's September election might deliver a strong mandate to the Islamic parties, who may stick to what they have said so far. But they could also take Egypt into a very different future than that hoped for by the secular protesters in Tahrir Square.
The army may then decide that it does not trust the Islamic parties, and take power back into its own hands, and Egypt will revert to government ‘legitimised' by its military character, as it has had since the revolution in 1952.

The Syrian government is not likely to stop its protesters, and they look set to continue for months and months. The power structure around the government is so rigid that it will find it hard to incorporate any change. The clash between an immoveable government and determined protesters will cause a slow but inexorable drift into social and economic chaos.
Yemen is facing its crux this week, as President Ali Abdullah Saleh is out of the country and the warring tribes and government need to find some kind of way forward. If they fail, and if Saudi Arabia (the most likely broker for an immediate answer) fails to succeed in helping find an interim government, then a complete disintegration of the state is all too easy to see, as has already been happening for some years.

Of all the Arab states, Tunisia is likely to come out the best of these scenarios of failure, as its much smaller and more cohesive population is better educated and more consistent across all groups about what it wants, so a consensus is more likely to form. But there again, Islamic groups have the potential to take over (which in itself need not be a problem) but then they might reject the democratic principles that they are espousing at present, leading to trouble and more protests.
Bahrain is where the Gulf Cooperation Council is finding its most challenging moment, and as the government (backed by other GCC states) reinforces the security situation, it may fail to reach an understanding of the hopes of the protesters. The long-term danger is that this split in society becomes more entrenched than it need be, and becomes a future political problem.

The grim possibility of a civil war in Libya, renewed dictatorship in Egypt, civil collapse in Syria, and nation failure in Yemen, never mind what might happen in other countries, will depress any thought of economic revival or investment from those looking at these states at present. All these countries have lost vast amounts of business and economic activity as they have gone through political upheaval.
In addition, the different interim or new governments will not be able to make any decisions. They will be paralysed by political uncertainty, and bureaucrats will refuse to act, further exacerbating the economic collapse and harming the long-term strategic hopes of the populations.

In this doomsday scenario political confusion and economic stasis will lead to multiple failures of nation states, and an underlying tendency for violence will come to the fore and entrench the political collapse as warlords and tribes take over their various regions, across successive nation states.
The most important way to avoid this potential regional tragedy is for countries in the region to help the various interim governments find a sensible way forward to allow the new governments take over, and take a new grip on the countries they will manage.

As the British statesman Edmund Burke said in the 1700s: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
He was talking as revolutions swept over Europe and what became the United States of America. Despite being over 200 years old, his diagnosis still applies today, and in the Arab world more than ever.

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