Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Year Two

As the 2nd Joyeuex Anniversaire of Arab Spring sprang by - time to look back at Year Two (as opposed to Year One)

In the heady days of (relatively) peaceful mass mobilizations that brought down dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, the mantra from American observers in 2011 was: "Now comes the hard part." In 2012, it came -- with a vengeance.

Transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe after 1989 were pretty quick and pretty successful. Latin American and East Asian transitions in the 1980s and 1990s had long and troubled backgrounds, but once democratic systems were established, most of them turned out to be stable and peaceful. Why should the Arab world be different?

Unlike in those other parts of the world, many of the 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.

A majority, or at least 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. This year has shown just how potent a recipe for conflict this mix of ideological conflict and divided societies can be.

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, though they warn darkly of Iranian meddling in both countries. Needless to say, such proxy wars are Kryptonite for the authority of the central state.

Egypt and Tunisia do not suffer from weak states and divided societies, and thus still have the best chance of all the Arab Spring countries to forge stable democracies. This year's developments, nonetheless, threw a wrench in both countries' plans, as the heady unity of opposition to the old regime gave way to bruising battles over the country's future. Those battles have mostly been political, electoral, and rhetorical -- though there have been troubling episodes of violence in both countries. The ideological battle lines in these states are exceptionally stark: The core question for both is what role Islam will play in the new order -- and so far the Islamists are winning.
And Great Satan's role?
If the keys to stability and democratic development in the Arab world are related to state building and an ideological argument within Islamist movements, then there is not much that the United States can do to help these processes along. Washington demonstrated in Iraq that it is more skillful at destroying states than at building them. Even if we wanted to,has even less to contribute to the intra-Islamist debate among Brotherhood and Salafi trends on the appropriateness of democracy.

Au contraire mon frer!

Great Satan must be the loud, proud voice for advocating periodical transparent elections, egalitarianism, a nat'l treasury under public scrutiny, a free uncensored press, a military under civie control and independent judiciaries under elected gov oversight

Pic - "It's a generational committment bay bee"