The Arab/Middle East world in 2011

Written by  //  November 29, 2011  //  Middle East & Arab World  //  2 Comments

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The Economics of the Arab Spring — Conference Summary
Chatham House, September 2011
Key recommendations:
Western governments need to re-evaluate their past practices and rethink their approach to the region, resisting the temptation to shape the emerging Arab world in their own image and respecting the rights of the countries in the region to disagree or forge a different path. Both regional and global powers will find there are new limits on their leverage.
All parties need to improve accountability and financial transparency. In most countries, economic problems have stemmed not so much from a lack of resources as from a misallocation of resources. Corruption, a central grievance in the protests in many countries, needs to be addressed as a key issue in improving the legitimacy of governments in the region.
Economic problems could still endanger political progress. There may be further revolts to come in North Africa if progress on creating jobs and improving living standards is not sufficient.
The GCC should spearhead the establishment of an Arab Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to coordinate Arab economic support, ensure there is a coherent plan, and avoid waste and duplication.
NATO vs Shias: A geopolitical miscalculation
By M.D. Nalapat
(Gateway House) The Wahhabis, who now merit NATO backing, continue on their global mission of converting the Muslim Ummah to its relatively harsh and antediluvian ways of thinking and living. For NATO, this is a geopolitical miscalculation that will have tragic security consequences for the alliance within a decade.


21 November
Syria, Iran and the Balance of Power in the Middle East
(Stratfor) U.S. troops are in the process of completing their withdrawal from Iraq by the end-of-2011 deadline. We are now moving toward a reckoning with the consequences. The reckoning concerns the potential for a massive shift in the balance of power in the region, with Iran moving from a fairly marginal power to potentially a dominant power. As the process unfolds, the United States and Israel are making countermoves. We have discussed all of this extensively. Questions remain whether these countermoves will stabilize the region and whether or how far Iran will go in its response.
8 November
Rethinking the Arab “Spring”: Stability and Security in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and the Rest of the MENA Region
(CSIS) There is a serious danger, however, in focusing on short term needs and failing to focus on the depth of the problems that Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and virtually every other Middle Eastern and North African state now face.
Experts can debate just how much the structural problems in each state led to the current round of political unrest and upheavals, but there is no debate over the fact that only a few oil-rich states with tiny native populations are free from massive problems in dealing with population growth, youth unemployment, failed or weak governance, and security structures that do as much to repress as to protect. Download Report
7 November
Charles Cogan: With a Little Help From Our (Arab) Friends
This paraphrase from a song by the Beatles characterizes the important role played by the tiny Gulf sheikdom of Qatar (pop. 1.6 million) in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s late and unlamented dictator.
4 November
The Transitioning Saudi Leadership
(HuffPost) Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdel Aziz was appointed crown prince after last week’s burial of Sultan bin Abdel Aziz, defense minister since 1962 and former heir to the throne. Sultan’s death has led to a reshuffling of the regime’s top posts, and placed new scrutiny on the country’s system of succession.
1 November
Alon Ben-Meir: The Arab Spring: Political Reforms Must Be Accompanied by Economic Developments
(HuffPost)Whereas political reforms are needed and necessary, no Arab country is ready for rapid and comprehensive democratic reforms without an orderly and purposeful transitional period that would be accompanied (if not preceded) by economic development programs. Indeed, instead of producing the desired outcome of a free and vibrant new social and political order, rapid political reforms without economic development could usher in a period of continued instability. Potentially, this would pave the way for the re-emergence of totalitarian regimes that will assume power under the pretext of maintaining order and stability.
29 October
Charles Cogan: Arab Spring, Islamic Harvest: Tunisia Goes to the Polls
(HuffPost) As elsewhere in the countries of the Arab Spring, the Islamist parties had no connection with the former authoritarian military regimes: with the extreme longevity of the dictators in power, producing a feeling of lassitude among the people; with the repression of the people by the police and security services of these regimes; and with the rampant corruption among the ruling families. The feeling toward Ennahda among many Tunisians, as is the case elsewhere with Islamist parties in the Arab world is, in a nutshell, “They’re clean. Let’s give them a try.”
24 October
Islamists claim win in Tunisia’s Arab Spring vote
(Reuters) – Moderate Islamists claimed victory on Monday in Tunisia’s first democratic election, sending a message to other states in the region that long-sidelined Islamists are challenging for power after the “Arab Spring.”
PBS NewsHour: Arab Spring Update: Tunisia, Libya and Syria
Part 1: Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab spring, held its first truly democratic vote this weekend. Their Libyan neighbors continued to celebrate the death of Moammar Gadhafi, though more questions about his death continue. Meanwhile, there was no end in sight to the uprising in Syria against President Bashar al Assad.
Part 2: Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya News, Michele Dunne, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for Middle East Peace at the Atlantic Council, and Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace speak with Gwen Ifill about the next steps for the Arab spring in Libya, Tunisia and Syria.
27 September
Christopher Hill: The Arab Spring’s Unintended Consequences
(Project Syndicate) Yemen’s renewed violence is just the latest sign that the Arab Spring may be joining the list of those historical contagions that, in the fullness of time, did not turn out well. Indeed, its effect may be reaching countries in ways that we did not expect.
26 September
Bahrain Protests Gain New Momentum
Hand signals are passed from the rooftop spotters to the street protesters below: Another group of riot police are moving in their direction. … scenes like this have defined Bahrain’s Arab Spring unrest: mobs demanding equal rights for Shiites waging hit-and-run battles against security forces defending the Sunni rulers in the tiny Gulf kingdom. In size and fury, the confrontations might seem like little more than a Middle East sideshow in comparison with the far bloodier upheavals in Syria or Yemen.
But in compact Bahrain – with protest hotbeds and loyalist bastions almost within shouting distance – everything is amplified. On an island no bigger in area than New York City, majority Shiites and Sunnis backing the ruling dynasty are increasingly unable to find common ground or even agree on a general path toward dialogue.
17 August
Lebanon indictment: Rafiq Hariri tracked for three months with elaborate phone network
(The Telegraph) Operatives of Hizbollah tracked former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri for three months before blowing him up, mobile phone records detailed by a UN tribunal investigating his death have shown
16 August
Bernard Haykel: Saudi Arabia vs. the Arab Spring
(Project Syndicate) Saudi Arabia is widely perceived as leading the counter-revolution against the Arab Spring uprisings. In reality, the Kingdom’s response is centered, as its foreign and domestic policy has long been, on “stability.” The Saudis don’t want anti-Saudi forces, including such enemies as Iran and Al Qaeda, to increase their influence in the Middle East.
Some of the older Saudi leaders have seen this movie before. The nationalist revolutions of the 1950’s and 1960’s, inspired and galvanized by Gamel Nasser’s Egypt, nearly toppled the House of Saud. Nonetheless, today’s Saudi princes appear to recognize that something has genuinely changed in the Middle East: The younger generation of Arabs is no longer prepared to accept unaccountable, corrupt, and brutal governments.
20 June
Ben Ali sentenced to 35 years in jail
(The Guardian) Former Tunisian president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, found guilty of theft and possession of large sums of foreign currency
The case was brought in absentia after Ben Ali fled Tunisia on 14 January following mass protests across the country. Ben Ali, who has since said he was deceived into leaving Tunisia, has accumulated vast wealth from his involvement in some of the country’s biggest businesses during his 23-year reign.
.Demystifying the Arab Spring
(Foreign Affairs May|June 20)
In Tunisia, protesters escalated calls for the restoration of the country’s suspended constitution. Meanwhile, Egyptians rose in revolt as strikes across the country brought daily life to a halt and toppled the government. In Libya, provincial leaders worked feverishly to strengthen their newly independent republic.
It was 1919.
… The important story about the 2011 Arab revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya is not how the globalization of the norms of civic engagement shaped the protesters’ aspirations. Nor is it about how activists used technology to share ideas and tactics. Instead, the critical issue is how and why these ambitions and techniques resonated in their various local contexts. The patterns and demographics of the protests varied widely. The demonstrations in Tunisia spiraled toward the capital from the neglected rural areas, finding common cause with a once powerful but much repressed labor movement. In Egypt, by contrast, urbane and cosmopolitan young people in the major cities organized the uprisings. Meanwhile, in Libya, ragtag bands of armed rebels in the eastern provinces ignited the protests, revealing the tribal and regional cleavages that have beset the country for decades. Although they shared a common call for personal dignity and responsive government, the revolutions across these three countries reflected divergent economic grievances and social dynamics — legacies of their diverse encounters with modern Europe and decades under unique regimes.
26 May
Arab Spring Boosts Dream of Desert Power
(Spiegel) Desertec is a multi-billion-dollar energy initiative that hopes to meet Europe’s energy needs with solar power from the Sahara. The recent upheavals in North Africa have put the project in question. But many experts argue that the Arab Spring will actually help Desertec’s grand vision become reality. The Desertec project first got energy experts and the public buzzing back in 2009, when the plans were announced. The grand — some would say grandiose — idea is to construct a network of concentrating solar-thermal power systems in North African deserts to produce green electricity that can be used at the local level — and ultimately exported to European countries.
18 May
From the Arab Spring comes a cultural awakening
(The National/AE) It wasn’t sticks and stones that scared them. It wasn’t even bullets. It was words: the books, poems and songs of a generation. Words were what put the fear of God into oppressive regimes and those who carried out their dirty work.
There may be no more despised word in the Arabic language than “mukhabarat”, or secret police. The mere mention of this shadowy force sends shivers down the spine. Across the Middle East, in the days before the Arab Spring, the sword was significantly mightier than the pen. Censorship ensured that the Middle East was, in effect, an intellectual and cultural wasteland.
But now, the shackles are off. A new era of hope has been ushered in across the region, one that could inspire an intellectual and cultural renaissance to match the political and social awakening.
28 March
Libya, Yemen, and Syria: The Arab Spring Turns Ugly?
Even as Western forces intervene in Libya, violence is also escalating in Syria and Yemen. Syrian security forces have killed at least 61 people last week. Defecting generals and tribal leaders in Yemen raise a real possibility of civil war in a country long divided between north and south and lately troubled by al-Qaida. Meanwhile, repression on a less dramatic scale continues in Bahrain, with the regime backed by the intervention of Saudi troops. Even Saudi Arabia itself now faces protests, for good or ill. After the largely peaceful overthrow of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, the pro-democratic tide in the Arab world seems to be crashing up against breakwaters made of stone.
25 March
Heavy security quells Bahraini protests
(Al Jazeera) One man dies from suffocation as security forces in Bahrain use tear gas to keep a lid on anti-government protests.
24 March
Charles Cogan: Exponentially Yours: How Facebook Has Destabilized Arab Potentates
(HuffPost) If there is one leitmotif behind all the street effervescence in North Africa and the Middle East that has become known as the “Arab Spring,” it is the widespread perception of corrupt practices by Arab rulers, spread exponentially through social networks. It is the propagation of these stories that has become too much. Also, it is not just a sense of personal humiliation felt by those, many of whom have degrees, who cannot get jobs, but a sense of national humiliation, felt particularly in Egypt, a country of more than 80 million people that has not played much of a role internationally for 30 years under the autocratic rule of the man who was sometimes referred to as “la vache qui rit.”
Even Morocco, protected to a degree by the aura of a monarchy that claims descent from the Prophet, has not been spared. There is, in fact, an incipient protest movement that has arisen, stimulated in reaction to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The movement, called the “Movement of 20 February for democracy and liberty now,” has not come out for the removal of the King but rather that the King give up some of his powers and become more of a constitutional monarch.
26 January
How Tunisia’s revolution began
(Al Jazeera) From day one, the people of Sidi Bouzid broke through the media blackout to spread word of their uprising.
24 January
Sarkozy admits France made mistakes over Tunisia
French president says his ministers underestimated ‘sense of suffocation’ among Tunisians under Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali
(the Guardian) Nicolas Sarkozytoday admitted he had underestimated the anger of the Tunisian people and the protest movement that ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
France’s support for the dictator right up to the moment he fled has caused outrage in Tunisia and weakened the former colonial power’s diplomatic standing in the region.
14 January
Tunisia: President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali forced out
(BBC) Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has stepped down after 23 years in power as protests over economic issues snowballed into rallies against him.
Dozens of people have died in recent weeks as unrest has swept the country and security forces have cracked down on demonstrations over unemployment, food price rises and corruption.
The protests started after an unemployed graduate set himself on fire when police tried to prevent him from selling vegetables without a permit. He died a few weeks later.
Demonstrations came to a head on Friday as thousands of people gathered outside the interior ministry, a symbol of the regime, and many climbed onto its roof. Police responded with volleys of tear-gas grenades.
President Ben Ali, who had already promised to step down in 2014, dissolved his government and the country’s parliament, and declared a state of emergency.
19 December 2010
The forerunner, who knew? Witnesses report rioting in Tunisian town
(Reuters) – Police in a provincial city in Tunisia used tear gas late on Saturday to disperse hundreds of youths who smashed shop windows and damaged cars, witnesses told Reuters.
There was no immediate comment from officials on the disturbances. Riots are extremely rare for Tunisia, a north African country of about 10 million people which is one of the most prosperous and stable in the region.
Witnesses said several hundred youths gathered in the city of Sidi Bouzid, about 200 km (125 miles) south-west of the capital Tunis, late on Saturday.
They were angered by an incident where a young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, had set fire to himself in protest after police confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling from a street stall, the witnesses said.

2 Comments on "The Arab/Middle East world in 2011"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson January 31, 2011 at 11:44 am ·

    The analysis below comes from a European friend and seasoned observer, who sums up what he has gleaned from a number of knowledgeable sources.

    There three scenarios for Egypt after Mubarak:
    1) The old elite will continue to rule with slightly different leadership. Some social improvements will be implemented but nothing really changes. The attitude towards Israel will harden a bit. The Army does not want a war anyway. It hurts business.
    2) ElBaradei will head a transition to a new leadership dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood which is the only organised opposition in the country. ElBaradei is not known well enough to appeal to the masses. Some social and religious changes will happen, but the same problems face the new regime as did the old. However, rampant corruption might be scaled down for a while. Attitude towards Israel will harden and Israel will be in serious difficulties with her present policies.
    3) A clique of young officers will take power after which a new strong-man will emerge. The old order will continue under a new label. Israel will get more time.
    As to the “Tsunami”, Jordan is relatively safe as the King has the support of the tribes. Morocco is probably the next to face the crowds. It is difficult to say anything about the Saudis as we know so little. Maybe the House of Saud is monolithic and strong, maybe it is just a house of cards. Syria might also face some problems. The difficulties facing the various emirates and sultanates are different and are related to their problems with foreign labor.

    Conclusion: Israel has to learn to abide by the rules and laws of the world if she is to survive. The corrupt Arab regimes are on the way out, but do not expect anything very much better to replace them.

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson August 21, 2011 at 11:05 am ·

    Prompted by comments from Amr Moussa on recent events (see Amr Moussa condemns deaths in Israeli border raid), a Wednesday Nighter who closely observes events in the Middle East writes:
    That is some rather strong language from Amr Moussa. Any legitimate democratically elected leader would need to express such a sentiment, as it is likely the sentiment of the so-called Arab Street. Which brings up the question as to whether western countries such as the US and Canada intend to support legitimate democratic reform, or whether they simply see an opportunity to replace uncooperative regimes with ones willing to further their strategic interests in the ME. It was interesting to see Canada and the US express their support for Mubarak up until the end when it became apparent he could not continue to hold on to power. Mubarak served their strategic interests. Despite human rights violations similar to those of Asaad’s regime, there were no calls for a war crimes inquiry for Mubarak from the US or Canada. In Libya, NATO is effectively choosing sides in a civil war, more intent on liberating Libya from its oil than from its authoritarian leadership. Even Mr. Baird joked that we shouldn’t expect Thomas Jefferson when referring to the questionable Libyan rebel leadership waiting in the wings. Amr Moussa is a seasoned politician with years of international experience. It is said Mubarak wanted him out of Egypt as he perceived Moussa a threat to succeed him. The potential leaders in Libya and Syria are unknown commodities at best. I have my doubts that Amr Moussa or any other legitimately popular leader in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Yemen or elsewhere in the ME will be given a legitimate shot at running for leadership, let alone standing for election, given that popular sentiment in the ME runs contrary to US strategic interests.

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