Whenever they get together these days, Arab intellectuals debate on what went wrong following the Arab Spring. They are still trying to figure out the factors — real and deep — that contributed to the uprisings.
One thing stands out among a number of factors, including economic and social, and that is the foreign connection! What was the role of Big Brother — big world powers — which was brought into play and is still shaping the Arab political landscape? A number of observers and a sizeable portion of the Arab elite have already observed that these powers are directly or indirectly involved in shaping events in the region.
The involvement is obvious in Syria’s theatre of violence. Thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands are missing, jailed and tortured and millions have been made refugees. The foregone conclusion is that the solution to the bloody conflict in Syria will not be found in Damascus or any Arab capital, but will come through in the combined action of Moscow and Washington, probably through the UN Security Council. This is the clearest indication of foreign involvement in the Arab Spring. Blood will continue to spill until the Big Brother(s) reach an agreement.
In other Arab movements witnessed in the last three years, the foreign connection is less clear, but it is there. If we look at what has happened in Yemen, we can see the role of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which had a direct and deep involvement in the political events, albeit not without some help from outside, mainly from the US and the UN in the later stage. What is happening in Yemen today as part of the political process is the brainchild of the GCC.
Elsewhere, say in Egypt, the dominant factor was the use of information technology by protesters.
In a recent interview, Ahmad Shafiq, the last prime minister in the Hosni Mubarak regime, stated that the American administration’s firm stance enhanced the political demands of the demonstrators. In fact, the US decision to support the Tahrir Square protesters and not its long-time ally Mubarak, played a major role in convincing Mubarak to resign.
Washington then continued to play a behind-the-scenes role in the country. That was clear during the conflict that erupted between Israel and Hamas in November last year. The Egyptian response was influenced by the presence of former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
In Tunisia too, the French government was at first supportive of president Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali’s regime, but changed its stance when it realised the impact that the Tunisian revolution was making. When Bin Ali realised that his long-time western allies had abandoned him, he fled the country.
In Libya, western military forces aided by intelligence organisations rallied behind the Libyan rebels and prevented Muammar Gaddafi from steamrolling Benghazi; all in the full glare of the global media. Without western support, the Libyan rebels would have been crushed by Gaddafi’s mercenaries.
Wherever you look you will see some trace of foreign involvement, but how you view it depends on your perception; you may regard it as a positive or a negative development. But the fact remains that in the days after the uprisings, both the West and East lacked any plans to give direction to the post-Arab Spring states.
I recently visited the European Parliament in Brussels and engaged in discussions on that specific subject. I heard very vague words and saw the absence of any real plans. The predicament is that some Arabs continue to look to the West for guidance. Some private institutions, like Amnesty International and other western groups promoting the ideals of democracy, are trying their best to help. But western governments lack the means and probably the will to take positive steps.
The idea of implementing some sort of democracy in the Arab Spring countries seems to be fading away and the hope of the Arab masses has evaporated. Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya are heading towards a road called ‘political Islam’, which is mostly a cluster of conflicting ideas trying to imitate the ideals of a democratic system, as the terms have different meanings altogether.
The Libyans are continuing to fight amongst themselves despite having held general elections. The Tunisian public is annoyed by the delay in putting together a new constitution. Yemen is facing serious economic challenges and instability. To complicate matters, the Iraqis are on a dangerous course.
As for the forthcoming election in Iran, without the real participation of any political parties, it is the Supreme Leader who will decide on who will run for the presidency. There does not seem to be any way for democracy to consolidate its hold in Arab Spring countries as there is no such thing as a force-fed democracy!
Can the West help? I doubt that very much since they have only helped destroy old regimes, but they don’t seem to have an idea about how to rebuild.
It seems that we are back to square one and will witness real conflict in many countries. New form of despotism may arise, if we all stand to watch the events with no real substitute plans.
Mohammed Alrumaihi is a professor of political sociology at Kuwait University.