Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Action Of The Residents On The Outskirts Of The “Arab Spring”

By George Semaan
Unless the revolution youth on the squares recognize that change is not as easy as they expected, that there is a major predicament facing the demands and slogans they raised and that the future is not solely determined by them, and unless the regimes that are rejecting change and their remnants who are trying to salvage what could be saved recognize that turning the clock backward is impossible, the spring of the Arab action will last much longer. Unless the revolution youth recognize that the building of new regimes is different than the departure of the old ones, and that the disputes during the stage of the “distribution of the spoils” of the revolution before it is complete is normal, knowing it will not be over as fast as they want for a series of local and foreign reasons related to the powers partaking in the action, their various backgrounds, ideologies and goals - both the near and distant goals, the announced and concealed ones. These reasons are also related to regional and international interferences by residents on the outskirts and the borders who are trying hard to secure their interests in the regional order over the ruins of the current “chaos.”
The revolution youth in Egypt must realize that there is a “price” to be delivered to the military council, and that the latter council will have a final say as long as it played a key and pivotal role in ousting the former regime. They must also realize that their goals and methods are not unified, as long as they do not constitute one body, one organization or one party. They must recognize that some of their partners on the squares have the right to voice different opinions, just as the military council has to realize that its role is not to reproduce a regime similar to the ousted one, and that the policy of “loaning” the youth the required steps one at a time – as it is currently seen – is unfruitful and is extending the action, deepening the gap, increasing the absence of trust and causing the deterioration of the economic situation.
Both sides must realize it would be impossible to go backwards, and that the current situation cannot be upheld. The military – which constitutes the foundation of around one third of Egyptian economy – cannot be defeated, while this is certainly not required. On the other hand, the youth who triggered the revolution cannot be silenced, and this is also neither required nor possible, even if the military council were to ally with the Muslim Brotherhood or any other group, and even if the latter enjoy a strength that is not to be taken lightly and is the most organized and disciplined power.
And what is true in Egypt’s case is also true in Tunisia where the revolution has achieved its major and primary goal, i.e. the ousting of the regime, without there being chaos or domestic infighting. However, it would be true to say that the circumstances which accompanied change in both countries did not generate prominent thorny questions among the regional and international powers over the alternatives and the future, while this is being seen at the level of the Libyan, Yemeni and Syria situations. If the Islamic forces that are strongly present on the arenas must be dealt with, the United States and Europe – prior to the Arab Spring - had opened contact channels with the Muslim Brotherhood among other Islamic parties. What is important is for the relations and strategic interests in the region not to be affected by any strategic flaw.
Those residing on the Arab squares are aware of the fact that the residents on the outskirts and borders of the action have a role to play in drawing up its outcome and endings, regardless of this role and its size. This is what postponed and is still postponing change in many other Arab countries, although this delay will not prevent the arrival of any regime to the point of succumbing to the will of the people. The biggest proof for that are the attempts undertaken by Tripoli, Sana’a and Damascus – although they are late – to engage in artificial dialogues and prevent the looming change.
The international actors tried to hasten Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s exit by use of military force, in the absence of a national and unifying military institution and in light of a community still governed by tribalism and regionalism. The war extended for long but gave the international Contact Group for Libya enough time to arrange a substitute, i.e. the “national transitional council,” thus recognizing it as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people despite its numerous sides, the private goals of some in it, and the pending questions in regard to the role of some among its powers.
These actors were reluctant at first, before learning about the transitional council’s structure, policy or at least its announced program. Haste is not favorable in Libya, which is a state neighboring the southern part of Europe and constitutes a gateway for all sorts of smuggling and illegal immigration from the Dark Continent. Moreover, the country enjoys a massive oil wealth that should not remain a “weapon” in Gaddafi’s hands and a place of pilgrimage for China which is crawling toward Africa. This even raised the concerns of American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who recently expressed her country’s fears over the Chinese giant’s commercial infiltration of Africa.
And while regionalism and tribalism also played a role in postponing change in Yemen, those concerned about this country and its future among the residents on its direct border and those surrounding it with their military bases are playing a similar role in this prolongation. This would explain the criticisms made by the residents on the squares to the American role and the Gulf initiative. And although they called for what they referred to as being the discontinuation of interference in Yemeni affairs, this wish implicated demands and major interests, starting with the American insistence on learning about the side that will come to power, its structure and willingness to continue the “war on terrorism.” Indeed, Yemen is located on the Bab-el-Mandeb, on the threshold of the Canal of Suez, on the shores of the Arabian seas of water and oil and on the other side of the Horn of Africa… and Somalia. It is also composed of groups of tribes enjoying their extensions and intricate relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council states’ communities, and none of the neighbors wishes to see the spread of chaos, the collapse of the state or the crumbling of the military institution despite the divisions affecting it.
The announcement made by the “preparatory committee of the revolution youth” regarding the formation of a “transitional presidential council” marks the beginning of the road toward the definition of a clear headline for the residents on the outskirts and border of the Yemeni action. This would aim at unifying the political rhetoric and providing guarantees to the intertwining interests on the local, regional and international levels, in the hope of hastening the end of the regime.
In this context, the attempt undertaken by the Syrian oppositionists during their last conference in Istanbul does not differ from the goal of their brothers in Yemen. And while Turkey immediately raised the ceiling of its position, rhetoric and action – which caused Damascus’ disgruntlement – the stand of some Arabs seemed neutral, along with that of the Americans and Europeans who settled for condemnation and sanctions, as they are unwilling to see a second Iraq in Syria or take any risks on Israel’s northern border… Still, they want this bridge which Iran is crossing into Lebanon, Palestine and the border of the Mediterranean to fall.
During the last tour of its foreign minister to some capitals in the region, Ankara seemed interested in mobilizing support in favor of its position or in establishing balance between its policy and the policies of others, maybe to accelerate the developments. However, it did not relinquish the hosting of the oppositionists despite the Syrian campaigns against it. If it is able to secure a unified
“headline” for the latter, it could hasten Syrian change and lead the West away from its reluctance and fear over the alternative powers it does not know, namely the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood which features more than one policy or side, unlike the Egyptian MB.
The slowness in achieving the reforms promised by the regime, the violence which only fueled and expanded the protests and the diplomatic confusion that did not hesitate to “eliminate” Europe from the map at times and attack the French and American embassies at others - before apologizing for the incident - might have contributed to the convergence between the Western and Turkish positions.
And while the outcome of change in Libya constitutes a test for Europe, the outcome of change in Yemen is a joint Gulf-American responsibility. As for change in Syria, it remains a test for the muzzled conflict between Iran on one hand, and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the other over Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. It is a conflict over the new regional order and the positions and sizes of the big actors in the region and abroad in this order. The major regional powers might have been more inclined to secure settlements rather than drastic and wide scale change, as it would harm them if the Arab action were to result in the reconsideration of the maps and borders in the “Great Middle East” in particular. It is the action of the residents on the outskirts and borders of the arenas, from Libya to Yemen and Syria, going through Sudan and ending in Iraq.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 18/07/2011

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