The Year the Arab Spring Went Bad

(Foreign Policy) F. Gregory Gause, III - Many countries in the Middle East lack long histories of political unity: Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen are all relatively recent creations; their borders are artificial and their populations are divided along sectarian, ethnic, and regional lines. Furthermore, there is no consensus on core political issues in the Arab world. A plurality of people in these countries now say "Islam is the solution" to their problems - and they are opposed by an equally vehement minority. The consequences of state weakness means the strengthening of tribalism, sectarianism, and other sub-state identities. These sub-state identities in weak states create a vicious circle. New governments, even those freely elected, find their ability to govern severely limited. Between 1949 and 1970, Syria used to be the poster child for Arab political instability, experiencing nine military coups and a brief period of amalgamation with Egypt. After two years of fighting, Syrians look to their own sectarian communities for safety, not the state. With centralized state authority weakened, these countries have become the playing fields of regional rivalry. Local actors invite the foreigners in, looking to them for money, guns and political support. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar are all playing in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Iran both support factions in Lebanon. The Saudis are still the monopoly players in Yemen and Bahrain. The role of Salafis, following an ultra-orthodox version of Islam, will enormously influence the future of political transitions across the Arab world. Historically, they have rejected democratic politics as a Western innovation, though some Salafis are ready to participate in electoral politics. While we in the West worry about whether secularists can influence the course of political transitions in the Arab world, the more important question might be whether the Salafis can ever be brought on board for a democratic future. The writer is professor of political science at the University of Vermont and non-resident fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

2013-01-01 00:00:00

Full Article


Visit the Daily Alert Archive