143 GSM 11 E rev. 4 - IMPLICATIONS OF THE UPRISINGS IN THE MENA REGION
DRAFT REPORT BY ANTONELLO CABRAS (ITALY), RAPPORTEUR
II. THE HETEROGENEITY OF THE MIDDLE EAST REAFFIRMED
A. TUNISIA: VANGUARD OF THE ARAB SPRING
III. THE VIEW FROM TURKEY
IV. CONCLUSIONS: WESTERN RESPONSES TO THE UPRISINGS
1. The Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) has long been described as lying at the heart of an arc of crisis. For decades, most of the region’s governments coped with serious political, social and economic tensions by imposing authoritarian rule, a practice which preserved a tenuous degree of stability, while nonetheless allowing profound problems to simmer and languish unaddressed. Stasis rather than change seemed the operative condition of political life, and sometimes this state of affairs was characterised as the best the international system could hope for. Western governments tended to side with the status quo rather than align with the agents of genuine political change, largely because opposition forces were so marginalised, fragmented and of such unknown quality that they were seen as either irrelevant or very risky partners. Western energy interests, concerns about radicalism, the potential for WMD proliferation and hair-trigger relations between Israel and the Arab world inspired Western caution. Rather than pushing hard for democratisation, the West aligned itself with the region’s more “reasonable” autocrats, while seeking to contain the influence of so-called troublemakers - Syria, Libya and Iran in particular. President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech was unique insofar as it articulated a vision of change, but, importantly, US policy did not shift in any fundamental way afterward, again, because of serious concerns about the region’s fragility.
2. Western governments were thus almost as shocked as the region’s autocrats when the popular uprising began in Tunisia, and, when, soon thereafter, the spirit and ideas of its “Jasmine Revolution” rapidly spread throughout the region. The Tunisian protestors demonstrated that mass political mobilisation could lead to political change in societies long characterised by authoritarian stasis (Shehata). The foundations of Western policy were suddenly exposed as inadequate to the challenge. Adjustment was now essential; yet North American and European policy makers themselves confronted real tension between their own democratic values and fear of the unknown. Confusion was evident. Some governments initially signalled to autocrats under siege that they could count on their support in the face of the challenge from their people. But when the depth and seriousness of these popular uprisings became evident, embarrassing policy shifts on the part of Western governments followed.
3. Indeed, an historic shift was underway, and the US government and many of its European allies were increasingly under pressure to align themselves, at least cautiously, with the forces of change. This shift has not been easy, it is hardly complete, and indeed the approach has been uneven and even inconsistent. Acting on a UN mandate to protect the citizens of Libya, the United States, Britain and France, for example, cast their lot with the opposition in Libya—a decision that has proven an essential element to the downfall of the Gaddafi regime. Yet, the United States has been far more reluctant to do the same in Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet and which is seen as a bulwark against Iranian influence in the Gulf. It took months before the United States was prepared to signal to Yemen’s autocratic President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, an ally in the US struggle against al-Qaeda, that he could no longer count on US support. When opposition forces attacked the presidential palace in June 2011, Saleh was severely injured and left a country perched on the edge of civil war and economic collapse (Lodano and Raghavan). His initial departure ended neither the uncertainty nor the violence. His return to that country could well trigger a degradation of the situation
4. At the time of writing, the focus is turning to Syria. In August 2011, in a clearly choreographed diplomatic effort and after months of pleading for the Syrian government to back away from the use of violence, the leaders of France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Canada and the EU called for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to leave his position but, so far, to almost no effect (Richter and Daragahi). In cases such as that of Syria, Western values supporting more open societies have been weighed against concerns about stability and questions about what kind of real influence the West can and should exercise. The ever-evolving situations have pushed Western policy makers into undertaking frequent policy shifts. Indeed, the situation has grown so dynamic and the stake so high that it has proved extraordinarily challenging for Western governments to get out ahead of events.
5. While the nationalist revolutions that swept through the Middle East in the 1950’s were animated by anti-colonial ideas, the recent uprisings are far more focused on the home grown problems of authoritarianism, corruption and economic mismanagement. Demonstrators have not blamed the West for these problems, which has made it easier for Western governments to provide cautious support for the agents of change (Doran). This could be a harbinger of closer ties with successor governments, although it is too early to make any final judgments about the emerging diplomatic map. Turmoil could, for example, provide opportunities for fundamentally anti-Western political forces to assert new influence over these societies, although such groups have played no discernable role in the demonstrations.
6. In any case, the Middle East’s political map will be far more variegated, and the potential for sustained instability can hardly be discounted. It is noteworthy that some of the regimes that normally exploit regional instability are now themselves threatened by it. Syria, in particular, is currently engaged in a massive crackdown on its own people and these military operations have further alienated the al-Assad government from the Syrian people and from the international community. In Iran as well, the currently silenced opposition could again take to the streets, inspired as they likely are by their Arab counterparts. Of course, Syrian leaders are apparently looking to the Iranian regime for moral and material support and have certainly derived certain lessons from the fact that a harsh crackdown in Iran managed to quell the challenge of the Green Revolution to its rule. Finally, it is worth noting that recently even Iran has publically sought to distance itself from Syrian repression (Afrasiabi).
7. Internal instability and harsh repression in both countries could limit the regional influence of those regimes insofar as they are moving in a direction contrary to that of much of the rest of the region. This shift is already having reverberations in Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq. In Iraq, for example, Iran and Syria were able to work with Shia and Sunni groups respectively to challenge US influence there (Doran). Their capacity to do so with so many internal challenges could be weakened, although fomenting a regional security crisis could be one way for these regimes to distract their publics from their own marginalised status. That Hamas felt it necessary to forge a co-operative agreement with Fatah in the Palestinian territories earlier this year suggests concern in the Hamas camp about Syrian reliability given its serious internal problems. Of course, there are other explanations why this deal was forged now. Another view is that the transitional Egyptian government, more responsive to its public’s views on the situation in Palestine, encouraged a Hamas-Fatah accord long blocked by former President Mubarak. All of this points to the complex linkages that characterise the region; any serious political change in a key country is bound to have repercussions elsewhere. This is one way to understand why the current environment is so fraught with strategic implications.
8. A range of structural factors are also driving change. Soaring global food prices have lowered living standards in a region where there are millions of poor people, for whom purchasing food consumes a major share of their income. High unemployment, poor job prospects, particularly among young people, and fundamentally inadequate public services have also triggered public disenchantment. That said, it is worth noting that in Egypt one of the slogans seen often in Tahrir Square was “Revolution of Liberty, no Revolution of Bread”. Government failure to create a context for job growth coupled with intense demographic pressures have proved an explosive mix. The best these governments could often manage was to offer subsidies for basic commodities. But such palliatives were economically sub-optimal, often wasteful and unsustainable and, in any case, paled in comparison to the wealth and corruption of ruling elites who had effectively seized the critical economic assets of their countries and used them for personal enrichment. Interviews with many protestors in the region have revealed the degree to which their own dignity under the old systems had become a central motivating factor for their willingness to take to the streets.
9. The nature of the revolutions will likely shape the character of the emerging governing systems. Governments were overthrown in Tunisia and Egypt with relatively little violence and this could make the transition somewhat easier. The people of Tunisia and Egypt must elect new governments; yet there are legitimate concerns in both countries that forces supporting the old status quo may yet thwart the democratic movement. Libyan and Syrian authorities have conducted military operations against their own people. Libya has undergone a protracted and vicious civil war in which NATO has been an important protagonist despite the real limitations it accepted on its military actions. Gaddafi is now dead and his regime is gone, but what will replace it remains an open question. The potential for national fragmentation cannot be discounted given the unambiguous signs of regional rivalries. Most of the rebel forces were structured on tribal and regional lines and those forces are now staking their claims both on power and wealth (Kirkpatrick and Nordland).
10. The Syrian government, meanwhile, is engaged in brutal repression and had killed of an estimated 2,200 its own citizens as of August 22 (BBC News 22 August 2011). This state-sponsored violence has eviscerated the legitimacy of the al-Assad regime in the eyes of many of his people and much of the international community. Meanwhile authorities in Bahrain and Yemen have mixed violence with cautious concession-making that has failed to assuage protestors. In Bahrain, Saudi troops helped quell the protest but have done nothing to solve the underlying complaints about that country’s lack of democracy. In Morocco and Jordan, the monarchies and their governments have promised reform in a clear effort to get out ahead of the demonstrators and to justify their ongoing rule. In Morocco a key set of constitutional changes were given a very healthy endorsement by the public on 1 July 2011.
11. Some lessons from this ongoing turmoil have already emerged. A successful democratic revolution seems more likely if elements of the governing and economic elite and the military itself are willing to abandon the previous government in order to embrace a more open society. Of course, this means that they too must theoretically accept the new rules of the game and embrace the outcome of democratic elections. Success is also more likely if a wide swath of the public representing all or at least most social classes, ethnic and religious groups and urban and rural people mobilise against the government. Finally, it makes a clear difference when the international community displays its willingness to countenance the fall of particular governments, and it has been especially helpful when Arab governments have played a role (Goldstone). In many respects, meeting all these conditions constitutes something of a “perfect storm” and, still, it is too soon to determine if any of these popular rebellions will be successful in democratic terms and in terms of the stability that ensues. Next year’s GSM report should take stock of the consolidation of these revolutions.
12. The most vulnerable regimes have been those premised on highly personalised systems with rulers whom some analysts label “Sultanistic Dictators”. Such rulers structure the state apparatus primarily to maintain their grip on national power and national resources. In the MENA region Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen all constructed these types of regimes and all have either been tossed from power or are essentially “on the ropes” (Goldstone). In all of these societies, power and wealth were increasingly concentrated among an ever narrower elite, while the great majority of those living in this demographically dynamic region underwent political marginalisation, worsening material conditions and developed a growing awareness, particularly among disenfranchised, underemployed and often educated young people, that their governments were failing them. In Libya, Colonel Gaddafi also endeavoured to purposefully undermine the institutions of the state to create a permanent revolution and a cult of personality. This gravely weakened civil society and it is one reason why there is much concern about what is to come in the wake of that regime’s toppling.
13. Even though a number of these countries, particularly Tunisia, had been enjoying relatively impressive growth rates, this had little impact on the material conditions of the vast bulk of the population - a phenomenon that only exacerbated the gap between economic expectations and reality. Wages throughout the region were kept low, and unemployment levels, particularly among young people, soared. Since 1990, the population of those between the age of 15 and 29 has grown by 50% in Libya and Tunisia, 65% in Egypt and 125% in Yemen (Goldstone). According to the World Bank, the Middle East has had rapidly rising levels of schooling and the highest level of youth unemployment (25,5%) in the world, with the most educated young people suffering surprisingly higher levels of unemployment. This has created a crisis of expectations in these societies.
14. Even feeding this expanding population has grown more difficult. The World Bank’s global food price index rose by 15% between October 2010 and January 2011. Most countries in the MENA region are substantial food importers and need to look abroad to meet roughly 50% of their food requirements. Gulf countries import virtually all their staple foods. Yemen, the region’s poorest country, imports 80% of the grain it consumes. Thus substantial global price rises had struck a large sector of the region’s population in the run up to the political crises. Urban dwellers were particularly vulnerable to food price rises (Rivlin). In a region with a tradition of “bread riots”, it is not surprising that many of these people became protagonists in street demonstration and political uprisings.
15. There is also an ideological dimension to the political crisis in the MENA region. Most of the region’s governments had lost any ideological raison d’être decades ago, and justified their rule only in terms that suggested a will to power and wealth for a narrow elite rather than offering a convincing vision of a greater good (Goldstone). This ideological vacuum also led to the cynical exploitation of anti-Israeli or anti-American sentiments to justify all manner of repressive policies. This wilful disregard of fundamental public needs and their substitution with an official quest to identify external scapegoats ultimately proved politically and socially unsustainable. This is not to say that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a fundamental emotive issue and a security challenge. It is indeed, but it has also provided yet another false excuse to stifle dissent and democratic dialogue throughout the region. It seems that civil societies throughout the Arab world have decided that such excuses are no longer tenable even though there remains a very strong sense of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Some traditionally pro-Western governments, and particularly Egypt, are likely to adopt a tougher line on Israel as a direct consequence of the changes underway. Indeed, responding to popular sentiment, Egypt has reopened its border with Gaza, a decision which suggests that any new government may prove a more difficult neighbour for Israel, even though Egypt’s transitional authorities have stated unequivocally that the peace treaties with Israel will remain in effect.
16. Clearly, the conditions for unrest were present before the uprisings began. All that was needed was a catalyst. This was provided by the spontaneous street demonstrations in Tunisia that followed the death of a frustrated street vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, who had been beaten and humiliated by the police in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid (Ryan, Al Jazeera,) and, in a desperate act of protest, then set himself on fire. The symbolic importance of this singular act cannot be discounted. Bouazizi’s death helped galvanize the movement, and his tragic story became a narrative of rebellion and a catalyst of change for the entire region.
17. Young people, networked through Twitter and Facebook accounts, tapping into alternative new sources like the anonymously published internet blog posted by “Sandmonkey”, steeped in democratic idealism and frustrated by the absence of it in their leadership, took the next step and helped bring hundreds of thousands into the streets of Tunis, Cairo and other cities. Their demands for change had deep resonance and the demonstrations quickly escalated into organised mass protests that were too large for the authorities to handle. Fundamental change seemingly became inevitable once a critical mass had been achieved.
18. Although millions of Arabs have lived under stultifying regimes seemingly incapable of reform, unable to share power, and generally better suited to consuming capital than generating it, the various movements to topple these regimes point as much to the region’s underlying heterogeneity as to common aspirations for greater dignity, opportunity and openness. Some in the West have likened the events of 2011 in the MENA region to 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe. That comparison is of limited value given the fundamentally different historical, cultural and strategic factors at play, but there is at least one element in common. The old regimes in both cases were effective at papering over profound differences through the banal and yet deadly sameness of their repression. As cracks opened in these regimes, however, the region’s diversity manifested itself in new ways. In a sense, the rebirth of history is underway in a part of the world where brutal dictatorships were for decades effectively able to stop the clock. The parallels with the experience of Central and Eastern Europe after 1989 are potentially instructive.
19. As a result of these profound and rapid changes, Western governments must now account for the broad cultural, sectarian, ethnic and tribal landscape of countries where for decades it was sufficient to focus diplomacy on the top governmental leadership. The Libyan crisis, in which NATO itself has been a key protagonist, is emblematic of the dilemma. It is not enough to say that the opposition has simply sought long-lost dignity and the right to participate in the life of the state, although this is certainly true. Tribal, regional and economic factors also seem to be central to this conflict as they seem to be in Yemen and Syria as well. In Egypt, public protests began in the large metropolitan centres, and, particularly in Cairo, were led by young educated people frustrated by their lack of economic opportunity and political voice. In Tunisia, a relatively compact and economically better off country, the revolt started in the country’s poorer provinces and only later moved to the capital, where it swiftly drew in that country’s labour movement. In Libya the protests almost immediately took on a regional and tribal dimension and escalated beyond street protests to a bloody civil war (Anderson).
20. For a region that for so long has been analysed in sectarian terms, it is almost surprising that the uprisings against long entrenched regimes have, in many cases, been driven not by sectarian inspiration, but rather by deep frustration with political, social and economic exclusion and stagnation. Clerics have not played a prominent role in the street demonstrations. The role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, long a bastion of opposition to that country’s ruling regime, initially seemed to have been more limited than many would have expected. This suggests that even the Brotherhood’s leaders were caught unaware by the uprisings and like many others were compelled to play catch up. The Brotherhood’s influence, however, has mounted since the overthrow of Mubarak, to the point where many democratic activists are now worried that it has essentially made a deal with the military and is poised to assume a key role in the next government, one which could prove antithetical to the liberal aspirations of many who occupied Tahrir square (El Rashidi 14/07/11). In Tunisia, a revolution that was led by young people with a secular set of demands, the first elections have just been won by an avowedly moderate Islamic party, which, in any case, will have to build a governing coalition. In other ways, unique features of Muslim cultures have played a part in the uprisings. Thus in Syria, many of the largest street demonstrations have occurred after the conclusion of Friday prayers. The mosque has provided a central gathering point for protestors and this is no coincidence as faith-based institutions have generally enjoyed varying degrees of autonomy under these stultified regimes.
21. It is also important to recognise that the protagonists of these uprisings have not only been bound by their facility with Twitter, Facebook and blogging, they do also share a common language and many, although certainly not all, a common faith. So paradoxically as the revolts reveal the region’s underlying heterogeneity, they also point to a potential source of regional cohesion and solidarity. That said, several of the public opinion polls conducted in the region suggest that religious matters have not been driving factors in the uprisings, which have been far more focused on calls for open, transparent and democratic government. This is, of course, very good news, particularly for those who have been concerned that Osama Bin Laden’s twisted and sectarian vision for the Arab world might resonate in disturbing ways with Arab youth. As President Barack Obama noted in a recent speech on the region, “through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades” (Obama 20/5/11). Indeed, the uprisings have triggered a discourse among young people which is utterly opposed to al-Qaeda’s vision. In the words of another observer, “amid the swirling crowds of flag-waving citizens demanding change in the streets of nearly every regional capital, the distant figure of the fugitive warrior (Bin Laden) has grown obscured in the mist” (Rodenbeck). Bin Laden’s death at the hands of US marines has only further marginalized that movement, although it obviously remains dangerous and thus a serious concern.
22. It is already a central element of the revolutionary narrative that the uprisings began in Tunisia and then quickly spread to Egypt, the region’s most populous, powerful and influential state, and this galvanised the movement into a region-wide “Arab Spring”. On the surface, the two rebellions seemed similar. Both countries were governed by ageing autocrats, who for decades had effectively squelched all public expressions of dissent, while building state institutions that had become highly corrupt patronage machines. It is not surprising that a country with a thriving and well educated middle class was the first country in this Arab Spring to overthrow its government; it was precisely this class that most acutely felt the gap between expectations and reality. Finally, Tunisia is a relatively homogenous and compact society and this too may have been a factor in the revolution’s initial success.
23. The government of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, although highly authoritarian, presided over a relatively dynamic economy and had managed to create the best education system in the Arab world. Tunisia also has a well organised labour movement, a fairly large middle class and an absence of tribal and regional division. The problem for the regime was that an educated strata of society also harboured expectations that the regime simply could not meet. It responded to growing demands for change with harsh repression, mass arrests, and torture. Even émigrés were pursued with arrest warrants claiming falsely that they were engaged in terrorist activities; too often Western governments uncritically accepted these arguments. According to one US diplomatic cable, roughly half of Tunisia’s commercial elites were related to Ben Ali - a network that became known, not surprisingly, as “the family” (Anderson). At the same time, however, the bureaucracy was not in itself consumed with bribe-taking, so that there was a contrast between the unchecked nepotism of the country’s governing elite and a state that, in contrast to Egypt and Libya, functioned in a reasonable manner. This now gives some hope that a smooth transition to a successor state is possible. It is also noteworthy that the military was less prominent in Tunisian society than in neighbouring countries and had played a less compelling role in the uprisings than did the Egyptian military. Tunisia’s labour movement was far more important, and their strikes helped bring down both Ben Ali’s government and the short-lived transition government that succeeded it.
24. Finally, it is important to note how important young people were in driving this revolution forward and their apparent lack of interest in an Islamist agenda. Economic opportunity and political rights were at the top of their agenda; religion was not. Again, this is not the Middle East that Osama Bin Laden described as a region ripe for Salafist revolution (Riedel). Western governments long worried that pent-up political, economic and social demands would invariably stoke sectarian extremism, but in Tunisia’s case, at least, this has not been borne out. Although Tunisia has far to go to consolidate the changes that have taken place and to ensure that a healthy democracy takes root there, it seems to have a good chance of doing so, perhaps more than other countries in the region where the challenges are more formidable. One potential problem is that both old elites and the influential trade union movement are likely to resist economic liberalisation, although creating new opportunities can only transpire by opening up the hidebound national economy. This could prove a flash point in Tunisian politics over the near term. The old and entrenched elite are digging in to minimise change and trade unionists do not want to lose what precious little they have. The problem is that an unreformed economy will only shrink the pie, when what is needed is dynamic growth to accommodate the burgeoning demands of disenfranchised and unemployed youth.
25. In contrast to the Tunisian experience, in Egypt, the decade-long rule of Hosni Mubarak had ultimately begun to corrupt and erode virtually all the state governing institutions. The one partial exception was the military, and it is both interesting and consequential that demonstrators in Tahrir Square and elsewhere welcomed the military intervention. The Egyptian army was perhaps the only governing institution not despised by the great mass of the Egyptian people, but it remains to be seen if it will tolerate genuinely open and democratic governance—a condition which would obviously affect how the military itself is overseen (El Rashidi 28/04/11). The public view of Mubarak’s police forces, by contrast, was one of deep hatred and resentment as they were linked with deep corruption and were also seen as practitioners of arbitrary arrest and widespread torture. The post-Mubarak Ministry of Interior will certainly find it challenging to restore the decimated reputation of Egyptian police forces.
26. The Egyptian army has enjoyed strong links to top of the political order and to the national economy which has been anything but free and open. “It owns companies that sell everything from fire extinguishers and medical equipment to laptops, televisions, sewing machines, refrigerators, pots and pans, butane gas bottles, bottled water and olive oil. Its holdings include vast tracts of land, including the Sharm el-Sheikh resort. Bread from its bakeries has helped head off food riots" (Ross). The army had long been seen as the great defender of the status quo, yet it did play a pivotal role in pushing out Mubarak. With its tentacles reaching out in so many directions, the military will nevertheless be tempted to resist the kind of liberalisation policies that might create new economic opportunities for a broader swathe of Egyptian society. Failure to enact economic reform could thus become a key barrier to the exercise of civil control over the military establishment, and this could pose problems throughout the region.
27. The Egyptian state had grown highly corrupt at every level from the massive theft of public resources at the highest echelons of government to bribery and petty corruption at the lowest end. In order to receive basic state services, most Egyptians felt compelled to pay bribes for even the most prosaic government services, and this was deeply resented. Rooting out this terribly destructive and ingrained tradition will challenge any government that emerges out of national elections to be held later in 2011.
28. There has been in Egyptian society a relative degree of tolerance for free expression, and by regional standards, its newspapers were sometimes rather lively and open. This kept alive the important democratic practice of open discussion and has helped foster a degree of openness in Egyptian society that is less developed in many other Arab countries (Anderson). This may be one explanation for the discipline and non-violence of the Tahrir Square uprising, which manifested a powerful and possibly widely held determination to build a more open, tolerant and democratic order. Egyptians throughout the country ensured that even at a moment of profound political tension, order and respect for others would be maintained. This particular disposition bodes well for Egypt’s future, although the challenges to a nascent democratic order are profound, and, in light of recent sectarian tensions and violence, there are signs that the unity displayed in Tahrir square is already beginning to dissipate.
29. Following a controversial national referendum on constitutional changes, parliamentary and presidential elections are to be held in Egypt later this fall. But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has announced that foreign election monitors will not be permitted to operate on Egyptian soil (Chick). Once elected, the parliament is to form a commission charged with drafting a new constitution. Presidential elections will follow and the military claims that it will cede political power afterwards. Half of the parliamentary seats will be for individuals directly elected in their constituencies while the other half will elected on a proportional list system. The old quota which reserved a percentage of seats for women has been abolished, but quotas for farmers and workers will remain part of the system.
30. There are persistent questions and concerns about the ongoing role of the military during this delicate moment of transition. Since February 11, 2011, the day President Hosni Mubarak ceded power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, between 7,000 and 10,000 civilians have been brought before closed military tribunals, often times on trumped up charges (Hammer and Ismail) Amnesty International has called these trials, in which due process is often absent, a fundamental violation of human rights. Some see these tribunals as part of a military counterrevolution that are designed to intimidate democratic activists who are pushing for transparent and democratic governance. Others argue that the military leadership is most concerned about protecting its vast business holdings in everything from medical equipment to the Sharm el-Sheikh resort. The military council, with the apparent support of the Muslim Brotherhood and other conservative groups also adopted a series of measures which have given the military powers to govern beyond the constitution - measures which liberals and democratic forces have have strongly criticized. In the words of one retired general, “With the Brotherhood they [the military] know what they are getting, with remnants of the former regime they know what they are getting, but with revolutionaries and liberals, they don’t. The Brotherhood needs their approval just as the army needs the Brotherhood right now” (El Rashidi 14/07/11). Finally, there have been problems of public order in Egypt and some signs of worrying sectarianism. In May 2011 clashes broke out between Muslims and Christians. Fifteen people were killed in the violence and over two hundred were injured. Members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community have suffered a series of attacks since the fall of the Mubarak government and there has been a pattern of official indifference to such attacks (El Rashidi 14/07/11). Cairo has also experienced something of a crime wave in the months since the government was toppled.
31. The drama of Egypt’s transformation is therefore hardly over. Those who occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo and marched in Egypt’s other cities seem determined to maintain the energy and spirit of their movement. The problem is the great unity Egypt showed in defeating the old regime now seems to be splintering. The momentum for genuine democratic change could be slowed as a result (El Rashidi 28/04/11).
32. The unwinding of the old order in Libya presents a very clear contrast with the experiences in Tunisia and Egypt. Beyond the important historical and cultural differences among these countries, it is noteworthy that Libya’s long-time leader, Muammar Gaddafi, had ensured that the institutions of the state were both frail and highly personalized and that civil society was weak and unable to establish an autonomous role for itself. Unfortunately these are the building blocs of democracy. The fragility of the state and Gaddafi’s utterly arbitrary and personalized form of rule bred bitter resentment in Libyan society. Old tribal loyalties essentially became a last refuge from the predations of the regime, but tribalism itself was obscured by the regime’s pretension to have created some kind of utopia and its willingness to use violence to enforce this notion. The rapid recrudescence of tribalism in the midst of the uprising against Gaddafi’s rule and the movement from political protest to civil war, in fact, were the direct consequence of the regime’s impulsive and vindictive style of rule. Thus, the Libyan state was ripe for failure; it simply took a shifting regional context and set of street demonstrations throughout the country to bring about the collapse of its legitimacy and the onset of a civil war, one in which NATO, operating under UN Resolution 1973, became a key protagonist.
33. The Gaddafi regime thus proved to be among North Africa’s most brittle, and yet, it did not immediately collapse, initially showing itself militarily capable of holding out against a NATO supported rebellion. Yet the cohesion and capacity of Gaddafi’s military was limited, and Gaddafi relied on the support of non-Libyan mercenaries, whose loyalty was always suspect. Important defections from the old governing elite and the military weakened the regime’s hand. The regime clung to power for months not because of its innate strength, but rather because the opposition was weak, fragmented and compelled to build up a military structure and military experience from scratch. Moreover, NATO’s mandate was very limited and it was not in a position nor was it inclined to participate in the ground war, although a number of NATO member governments certainly provided critical air support (7,459 strike missions as of August 21, 2011) while furnishing logistics, equipment and intelligence support, all of which played a key role in eroding the coherence, supplies, mobility, and strength of Gaddafi’s forces (Benitez; Schmitt and Lee Myers). Meanwhile, NATO airpower degraded the regime’s capacity to exercise central command over its forces and prevented significant concentration of Gaddafi’s fire power. It is also evident that NATO’s effectiveness increased over time as strikes were increasingly better controlled and co-ordinated with forces on the ground. In addition, Britain, France and other countries deployed special forces inside Libya to train and arm the rebels, whose own combat effectiveness increased with time, support and experience.
34. The final battle of Sirt and the death of Gaddafi marks the collapse of the old regime. But what kind of government might replace it and whether a successor government’s hold on power will prove sufficient to maintain order remains utterly unclear. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, there is almost no foundation for building a successor state. A considerable number of countries have recognized the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council (TNC) as the legitimate body representing the Libyan people including France, Italy, Spain and on August 21, 2011, the United States. Some in the West, including some members of the US Congress, have expressed concerns that opposition forces are riddled with jihadists, some with longstanding ties to al-Qaeda, but this is strenuously denied by the TNC and civil society groups (Pelham). This set of concerns was not helped with Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the interim government announced the legalization of poloygmy and the introduction of Sharia law—remarks that angered those hoping to build a more modern form of democracy in that country. The manner of Gaddafi’s death, which has all the hallmarks of an execution, is also a concern; it is hardly an auspicious beginning for those who want to build a state of law and justice in Libya.
35. Some rebel groups in Libya and the TNC have been at pains to disassociate themselves from Salafist revolutionary elements, and certain NATO countries while providing a range of equipment, training, and intelligence support were also cautious in their approach to this conflict. NATO had to be extremely scrupulous to not inflict civilian casualties, as to do so, would have been in direct contravention of its UN mandate and thus diplomatically and morally disastrous (Locklear). To call this a delicately fought intervention would be an understatement, but it has helped build a relationship between the opposition and Western governments while transmitting an important signal to the rest of the region. NATO’s stated mission to defend a no-fly zone and protect civilians caught in the civil war, nonetheless evolved as various leaders including Presidents Sarkozy and Obama, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron came to the conclusion that the continued rule of Gaddafi was no longer acceptable. The deeper they engaged in this civil conflict, the greater their responsibility became for helping the TNC pick up the pieces afterwards. NATO governments must now begin to confront those particular reconstruction and development challenges.
36. Indeed, Libya confronts a daunting situation. The recrudescence of tribal rivalries, for example, could further undermine social trust. The authority of the TNC is still untested and its real links to society are unknown. It is not clear exactly who its members represent and if they will be able to exercise authority in the wake of the Gaddafi regime’s collapse. More than any other country in the region, with the exception of Yemen, Libya will ultimately confront the twin tasks of state building and civil society strengthening, and the legacy of decades of oppression will make both very difficult to achieve. The UN Security Council’s latest Resolution 2009, which partially lifts the sanctions on Libya, was a timely step in the right direction. There are now increasing calls from the international community for lifting of all sanctions on Libya as a result of rapidly changing conditions on the ground. The unfreezing of Libyan assets and making these available to the Libyan people is essential. The US alone had frozen an estimated $37 billion and Britain roughly $20 billion (CBS/AP 24 August 2011.) These funds will now be needed to underwrite reconstruction efforts, to kick start the economy and to help the TNC build its own legitimacy. This is a critical moment insofar as stability in the wake of the civil war is essential to ensuring a stable and quick transition to democratic rule in that country.
37. Although challenges to governmental authority and legitimacy have sprung up throughout the region, the international community has chosen to intervene militarily only in Libya. The images of Gaddafi’s vicious crackdown and his promise to exact revenge on those who challenged his rule galvanised public opinion in the West and helped prod the international community, including the Arab League and the UN among other institutions, to take a stand against the regime’s policy toward its own citizens. This opened the door to the UN mandate for international intervention. The question now is whether this has established a new precedent for civilian protection missions that might be used elsewhere, including, for example, Syria, or whether this was a unique situation that is not likely to be recreated anytime soon. It is significant, for example, that Security Council members China and Russia have argued that the NATO bombing campaign and support to rebel fighters exceeded the UN mandate while Brazil, Russia, India, China and Germany abstained in the vote on Resolution 1973.
38. In justifying US support for the intervention, President Obama gave three reasons for intervening: to prevent a massive flow of refugees which could have destabilised neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia; to convey to other regimes that violence was an unacceptable response to demands for greater political openness; and to uphold the authority of the UN Security Council (Slaughter). Had Gaddafi’s troops entered Benghazi, something that the international intervention helped prevent, there would have indeed been a bloodbath, and this would have weighed heavily on an international community that far too often has been accused of passivity in the face of such violence. But there was also a strong sense among many countries engaged in the military campaign that Gaddafi’s attacks on his own people had stripped him of his legitimacy (Corbin).
39. There is another reason why a number of key international players decided for intervention: it represented an effort to get ahead of the curve in the Middle East after months of reacting to events, often times after underestimating the power of young people on Arab streets. Many governments took a stand against a reprehensible regime, with which they had previously conducted business simply because it had renounced its nuclear weapons ambitions and terrorism. In retrospect, that decision may have been short-sighted as there had been no fundamental change in the nature of the regime itself. If the international community had begun to reconcile with Gaddafi, his people apparently never had and quickly seized the opportunity presented by the Arab Spring to push for fundamental change. Their actions ultimately compelled many in the West to reconsider their position. At the very least, the intervention has allowed participating governments to signal to those young people that they now, finally, stand with them, that their aspirations for greater openness are legitimate and that the use of systematic violence to suppress free expression is unacceptable.
40. The important paradox, however, is that a similarly powerful message followed by real action has not yet been delivered to the youth of Syria and Bahrain, and this is very much a function of limited resources, the coalition of international forces and the complex interplay of interests and values that ultimately shape foreign and security policy. For different reasons, the governments of Bahrain and Syria, one considered a friend of the West and the other a rival, have not faced the same level of sanction that has Libya. In this sense, the crisis has provided a rather telling illustration of the role of values and interests in international politics and the complex ways in which these interact. The danger of using universal values to justify military intervention is that doing so can create expectations for support elsewhere. If these expectations are not met, they can breed cynicism and disappointment. There is a risk of this in both Bahrain and Syria, where the opposition has been left to its own devices and suffered serious consequences as a result.
41. Finally, this mission has marked a sea change in the character of NATO missions, as the vanguard role was played by European forces while the American military played a crucial support rather than front-line role. The United States led the initial coalition airstrikes in March 2011 but in April withdrew from a direct combat role to provide aerial refuelling, battlefield surveillance and other support roles (Charlton and Lekic). This has generated some polemics, but one could also argue that the arrangement was itself, an expression of the kind of burden sharing for which the United States has long pushed. That is not to say that the US role was inconsequential. As rebel forces mounted their final assault on Tripoli, an intensification of American aerial surveillance proved a central factor in the erosion of Gaddafi’s military power. NATO targeting grew increasingly precise as the campaign progressed. The United States had deployed Predator drones to detect, track and fire at government’s forces (Schmitt and Lee Myers). The Libyan intervention marks the third successful effort by NATO to use force to protect civilian populations—with Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999 marking the first two cases (Hoagland). This suggests that those who seem to be willing to write off Europe as militarily and diplomatically inconsequential may need to reconsider their arguments despite the real budgetary and capabilities gaps that do exist with the Alliance.
42. As rebels pour into Tripoli and it becomes clear that the Gaddafi regime has lost its grip on power, Syria has now moved to the front line of the Arab Spring. But the situation in that country is fundamentally different. There are no rebel armies in Syria, all Syrian cities are either controlled or surrounded by the military and Syria itself is a major regional power with reasonably developed if not always legitimate institutions; virtually no one is calling for international military intervention and events in that country are very likely to have major impacts beyond its own borders (Shadid, 22/08/110). Moreover, while Libya was isolated from international support, the al-Assad regime enjoys strong support from Iran. According to the EU, al-Quds, an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary guards Corps “has been providing technical assistance, equipment and support to the Syrian security services to repress civilian protest movements” (Bakri 24/08/11). China and Russia have also been slow to criticize the al-Assad regime for the violent means it employs to cling to power.
43. In Tunisia and Egypt, national military leaders effectively abandoned regimes they were sworn to defend. They did so for complex reasons including a desire to avoid civil war but also to keep a place at the table of national decision-making in the new order and to defend their own “turf”. Their decision to do so, moreover, helped minimize the violence at a moment of tremendous social and political pressure. Syrian forces, in contrast, have not endeavoured to break with the brutal dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad, and on his government’s order have killed an estimated 2,200 people between March and August 2011 in an effort to stamp out the street demonstrations (Bakri). There have been reports of large numbers of desertions from the military with very severe penalties for those caught doing so (Oweis).
44. Assad has thus shown no sign of giving in to demands for justice, accountability and democratic rule. His government, the ruling Baath Party, and military command structure is dominated by members of the Alawi sect, a branch of Shia Islam whose adherents constitute no more than 12% of the population of the country. No Sunni officer in the Syrian military operates without an Alawi below and above him (Nakhleh and Feldman), an indication both of how fearful the regime is of the majority and the hoops through which it will jump to prevent that majority from attaining real leverage in the society. Not surprisingly, many of the young demonstrators are from the majority Sunni community, so there is, at least potentially, a sectarian dimension to this ever more bloody conflict between the regime, which has always declared itself to be secular, and its opponents - a far more heterogenous group that perhaps better reflects the broader society. These political divisions, moreover, are potentially reinforced by tribal ties and patronage linkages which could constitute an explosive set of cross-cutting cleavages that regime policies have only exacerbated.
45. As suggested above, the Syrian military is directly linked to the President and the Baath Party and, by extension, to the Alawi community. Alawi-dominated units, including the army division led by Mr. al-Assad’s younger brother Maher al-Assad, have provided critical support to the regime and have led some of the most horrific recent operations in several important Syrian cities. This has only reinforced resentment of the Alawites among the Sunni majority, and raised greater fears of the potential for a sectarian bloodletting. So far, at least, the Syrian military perceives no alternative to supporting the al-Assad regime, and frankly it has been structured to come to this precise conclusion. This is one reason why the level of violence has been so high. It is worth recalling that in 1982 the Syrian army on the orders of then-President Hafez al-Assad killed an estimated 10,000 citizens in Hama after the outbreak of a Sunni revolt.
46. Since the onset of the crisis, the Syrian government has oscillated between extremely harsh repression and fitful and half hearted calls for dialogue and reform which almost no-one takes seriously. But in recent months, it has stepped up the level of oppression, arrests and murder. In early August 2011 at least 41 people were killed in Deir al-Zor, the center of Syria’s oil industry, after armoured vehicles and tanks entered that city. Another 19 were killed when Syrian tanks shelled to the town of Hula in Homs province and Daraa Province (Bloomfield). The killings and military violence have taken place well beyond Daraa Province, where the protests began, atrocities have also been committed in the cities of Homs, Aleppo, Deir al-Zor and Latakia to name only a few. Even Damascus has been the scene of bloody military operations against demonstrators. There are also reports that soldiers refusing to shoot at protestors are themselves being shot (Bakri 8/19). In mid August President al-Assad told the UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon that the operations had ceased - at a moment when evidence suggests that it had not. A high level UN human rights team has said that the crackdown, including the summary executions of 353 named victims may amount to a crime against humanity, In its report the UN noted that "The mission found a pattern of human rights violations that constitute widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity" (Mroue). The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay has urged the Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court. That report has played a part in reshaping the international community’s perspective on the conflict and its relations with the Syrian government.
47. On August 18, 2011, US President Barack Obama called on Syria’s president to step down and announced a new set of sanctions against that country. He said the “violations of the universal right of the Syrian people have revealed to Syria, the region, and the world the al-Assad government’s flagrant disrespect for the dignity of the Syrian people.” He added that the Syrian President’s call for dialogue and reform are “hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering his own people” (Obama). The Administration has now banned all imports of Syrian oil and barred American citizens of having any dealings with the government. On the same day, the leaders of Germany, France and the EU also called for al-Assad to step down. The EU has has undertaken an embargo on exports to Syria of arms and equipment that could be used for internal repression, and a visa ban for key members of the regime. It also announced plans to draw up a ban on oil imports from Syria. In September, a seventh round of EU sanctions were announced and member states will no longer be allowed to invest in that county’s oil sector and the supply of bank notes made in Europe will be banned. In addition two people were added to the list of 54 individuals facing travel bans and asset freezes due to their involvement in the crackdown while six companies were added to a list of firms with which EU firms cannot do business (Deutsche Welle).
49. The crackdown has likely been informed in part by Iran’s crackdown of the Green Revolution. But the government approach has proven an abject failure insofar as the demonstrations have continued and the protestors have only increased their demands on the regime. An International Crisis Group report described the government’s approach this way: “The regime has lifted the emergency law but has since allowed the security services to conduct business as usual, thereby illustrating just how meaningless the concept of legality was in the first place. It authorizes demonstrations even as it claims they no longer are justified and then labels them as treasonous (…) Finally, and although it has engaged in numerous bilateral talks with local representatives, it resists convening a national dialogue, which might represent the last, slim chance for a peaceful way forward (…) The regime’s hope appears to be that a massive crackdown can bring the protesters to heel. Some claim that a show of force is required to restore calm and provide the room necessary to carry out reforms. Such a course of action entails loss of lives on a massive scale. It could usher in a period of sectarian fighting with devastating consequences for Syria. It could destabilize its neighbours. And, ultimately it is highly unlikely to work.” (Steele)
50. Reports from the country suggest that detainees are subject to brutal treatment including torture and food deprivation (Ruthven). Al-Assad’s forces are far more organized and lethal than Gadaffi’s were and no international force or opposition military forces are operating to protect the population from this onslaught. There has been very little violence perpetrated by the protestors themselves. Their demonstrations seem to emerge suddenly, often after prayer services in local mosques and without clearly identifiable leadership. Given the regime’s inclination for arbitrary arrests, torture and summary execution, anonymity is essential, and voices from the opposition through their contacts with the world media have called for an end to repression, violence and corruption (Ruthven). A meeting of exile opposition figures in Antalya, Turkey has recently called for a roadmap to democratic transition and amnesty for all political prisoners but harsh repression since then has made both opponents of the regime and international observers highly pessimistic about the prospects of negotiating with the Assad regime, which has destroyed its credibility through violence (Global Voices).
51. The problem is that without a clearly identifiable opposition with precise political ambitions, Syria’s political climate is characterised by enormous uncertainty. This has been one factor in the Arab world’s initial reluctance to endorse more strongly the position of the demonstrators. Indeed, the Arab League initially refused to take strong position against government operations against Syrian demonstrators, although it has issued a general appeal to the government not to use bullets. This is a sharp contrast with the situation in Libya, where the Arab League adopted a far strong stance. That was hardly a ringing endorsement for the opposition! In the wake of the August military actions the al-Assad government took against its own cities and people, a number of Arab countries began to adopt a more critical posture. Arab hesitations have been partly informed by concerns in some Arab governing circles that Salafists stand poised to capture this rebellion and unleash a violent sectarian purge in Syrian society. But, of course it is in the al-Assad regime’s interest to propagate this notion. At the same time, the regime at various moments has also maintained that that domestic unrest is the fault of Israeli, Saudi Arabian and American meddling. Apparently this is a line of argument that many in Syria itself openly reject as a tactic to divert attention from the real problem.
52. A number of analysts and diplomats who have met the Western educated Bashar al-Assad suggest that he has long been torn between a sense th, at political and economic reform would essential for his country and grave hesitation in the face of change because of the unpopularity of the regime, its perceived need to retain its grip on power and force, and his extended family’s interest in the status quo. The regime has used a combination of fear and patronage to maintain its hold on the state apparatus and eliminate potential challengers. This pattern has long militated against genuine reform. Mr. al-Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, commands the army’s Fourth Armoured Division, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, is a leader of the intelligence services. Both have advocated harsh repression in the face of street demonstrations.
53. The struggle in Syria has broader regional implications. Chaos there could easily spill over the borders to neighbouring Lebanon and possibly Iran (Worth). Iran is quietly supporting alAssad, with whom its government collaborates closely, as the potential collapse of the al-Assad regime would reduce Iran’s own influence in Middle East politics by denying it easy access to the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah. But more importantly, they fear that the collapse of the alAssad regime would likely inspire the currently silenced Iranian opposition to believe that political change is possible. That opposition remains potentially powerful, although harsh repression has, for the moment, silenced it. The Syrian leadership, in turn, has clearly drawn inspiration from President Ahmadinejad’s crackdown on the Green Revolution in 2009.
56. Sharing not only a 910-kilometre long border but also kinship bonds with Syria, Turkey has followed with deep concern the mounting violence against civilians and the rising death toll in this country. From the outset, the Turkish Government urged the Syrian leadership to prevent loss of lives, to expedite the reform process and to address the current challenges through political dialogue. Despite repeated calls from the international community, including neighbouring Turkey, to stop violent repression of popular demonstrations and to launch a genuine dialogue with the opposition, the course of events has revealed that the Syrian leadership had neither the capacity nor the will to understand the nature of the uprisings, which eventually led Turkey to distance itself from Syria and to become openly critical of the Assad regime. It is now expressing solidarity with the regime’s opponents.
57. It is worth noting that Turkey has participated in NATO’s Unified Protector operation in Libya to enforce UNSCR 1970 and 1973. Turkey has advocated meeting the legitimate demands of the Libyan people through a political process leading to democratic change and transformation in Libya. Following the dramatic changes on the ground in the aftermath of the seizure of Tripoli by National Transitional Council (NTC) forces, Turkey expressed its readiness to assist the Libyan people and the NTC both on a bilateral basis and through its possible contribution to the UN Support Mission (UNSMIL) in the Libyan-led efforts for the accomplishment of the political transition process and for the reconstruction of Libya.
IV. CONCLUSIONS: WESTERN RESPONSES TO THE UPRISINGS
58. Obviously the uprisings in the Arab World have a broad range of implications for NATO member governments, and forging a policy response has been extraordinarily challenging. Many Western assumptions about the key countries of the MENA region are no longer valid. Fluidity has replaced stultification, uncertainty reigns, events are moving more quickly than states’ capacities to retool their approaches, and it has proven very difficult for the international community to “get out in front” of events. Broadly speaking, the West has been reactive rather than proactive, although the Libyan intervention marks an important change in this regard. Extraordinarily tight budgets and fiscal consolidation have also conditioned NATO government responses to the crisis. Clearly, the rebellions have been as much a shock to NATO member governments as they have been to the old regimes which have either been overthrown or are now under threat. The heterogeneity and varying strategic stakes the West holds in each case has rendered consistency in approach elusive. Questions are invariably raised when universal values are summoned to justify the intervention in Libya, while significantly less has been done on behalf of the Syrian or Bahraini protestors.
59. Indeed, because the situation in each country differs in important ways, policy responses have not been uniform. Western governments have edged toward supporting to varying extents the forces of change. But the degree and kind of support has varied considerably. Consider the cases of Libya and Syria: in both countries, the leadership responded to demonstrators’ demands for change with murderous violence. In the Libyan case, a number of European countries and the United States denounced the government for its crimes, supported UNSC Resolution 1973 calling for a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and the implementation of military measures to protect the civilian population of that country (UN Resolution 1973) which, by extension, helped rebel forces capture Tripoli in August 2011. In Syria, the military enjoys an overwhelming preponderance of power, and no military option has so far been contemplated by the international community. Indeed, the United States has explicitly ruled out such an alternative. Both the EU and the United States have introduced more stringent sanctions, and the alAssad regime is increasingly isolated. Western governments are absolutely justified in their co-ordinated decision to call for Assad’s resignation in light of the killing spree upon which his government has embarked. It would be helpful if all NATO countries and other Arab countries were to impose tough sanctions on that government and undertake additional measures to isolate al-Assad and his top officials.
60. Syria’s fate is closely tied to the Middle East peace process, the balance of power in Lebanon, stability along the borders of Iraq and even Iran’s internal stability given the degree to which Iranian leaders fear the implications for them of a popular uprising in Syria, a country with which it is closely allied. China and Russia voted against a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution condemning the regime for the attacks on demonstrators and recently refused to back a UNHRC condemnation of Syria which called for an inquiry into the violence. The other states opposing that condemnation were Cuba and Ecuador. There is therefore not yet an international consensus on what is to be done. US and EU officials are clearly concerned about potential anarchy in Syria and initially sought to encourage moderation rather than push for wholesale change. They have now come to the conclusion now that al-Assad must leave. That view is justified as the Syrian regime is increasingly seen as a source of instability rather than stability. Its close ties with Iran is hardly welcomed by Gulf countries, and its support for Hamas and Hezbollah in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, respectively, have hardly brought stability to either (Nakhleh and Feldman).
61. It is still too early to assess the implications of sweeping political changes for the Middle East peace process. The situation is very fluid, and long-held assumptions about how the peace process might be advanced may have to be changed as the future political constitution of two key players, Egypt and Syria, is today very uncertain. It is important to note that Hosni Mubarak’s cooperation with Israel and his strong opposition to Hamas was never genuinely welcomed in Egyptian society, and any new government in that country will likely be under pressure to revisit the relationship with both Hamas and Israel. That the interim government has reopened the border with Gaza points to the potential for a new political and diplomatic equation in the region. At the same time, Syria has been a major sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah, two ardent opponents of any Arab peace with Israel. Any change in the status quo in Syria could also change the diplomatic equation and the recent Hamas-Fatah accord could be an intimation of the kind of changes that might be afoot. More broadly, dictators have long used an “Israeli threat” to justify emergency laws and repression. If these societies open up, there will be at once a delinking of domestic policy and the Palestinian question, but there will also be new channels for the public’s views on that question to shape the political dialogue. How this plays out, however, is entirely unclear. Israel itself is undoubtedly concerned about regional instability. The August 18, 2011 attacks on Israeli soldiers in southern Israel were launched from Sinai, and this has led to an Egyptian-Israeli agreement to allow Egypt to increase military forces in zones, which the Israeli Egyptian Peace treaty had designated as demilitarized (Issacharoff).
62. The regional implications of these uprisings, of course, extend well beyond peace process. Other regimes in the region, including Saudi Arabia, are simply worried about the fall of regimes once considered stable. Their passing invariably opens up questions about the absence of democratic dialogue elsewhere in the region. Surely pressures for political change will mount in the Gulf, the very heart of the global oil industry. Western policymakers will be watching this situation very closely, but the Bahrain case may be instructive. The intersection of energy and security interests will undoubtedly shape the future Western approach to the Gulf region, although there will be pressures from inside Western societies to use this moment to push these societies to embrace greater pluralism, transparency and openness in government. In the current environment, that would seem the prudent approach and one in line with Western values.
63. As Europe and North America begin to forge new policies to cope with a rapidly changing MENA region, they will need to keep their own enduring interests in mind. Stability in the region is critical to Western interests and global order. These interests include mitigating the potential for mass migration from the region, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, encouraging open trade, limiting the capacity of the region to host terrorist organizations, ensuring continued access to the region’s energy supplies at affordable prices, advancing the Arab-Israeli peace process and supporting more modern and open political systems that will help this region develop in a climate of security, stability and prosperity. That is a daunting array of goals and it means that policy dilemmas will continue to plague Western statesmen. The current regimes in Syria and Iran pose problems on virtually all these fronts. One result of the upheaval sweeping the region could be the growing isolation of these two countries, something that Western countries may be in a position to encourage. This, however, could complicate recent approaches to achieving Middle East peace, which, among other things, had elevated Syria to the role of strategic partner. The horrid repression across Syria compels negotiators to devise other approaches. Al-Assad’s government must now be isolated and greater support extended to those seeking justice in that highly repressive and authoritarian country. Al-Assad’s weakness could create new opportunities for dialogue and diplomatic openings across the region and these ought to be exploited.
64. Perhaps the most important lesson that can be drawn from the instability that has swept throughout the Middle East is how vulnerable and brittle undemocratic regimes can be, particularly when basic public needs cannot be fulfilled by ever more venal autocracies. It is not coincidental that the Chinese government deployed significantly more security forces to its own Muslim Western provinces once the Egyptian rebellion had fully blossomed. Such regimes have typically relied on a combination of force and sweeteners like food and fuel subsidies to win public support, but the capacity of such policies to purchase domestic peace have narrowed.
65. It would be naïve to assume that these uprisings will simply run their course and that the region will return to the status quo ante. There has been a sea change in the Middle East, and the hollowness of the old order has been made apparent. No repressive and undemocratic government in the region should feel safe. Three regimes have fallen plus the grave weakening of Yemen’s President Saleh after tribal forces attacked the presidential palace in June 2011. Iran is also vulnerable, and this is why its leaders are watching events in Syria and throughout the region with so much trepidation. The opposition there has for the moment been silenced, but there is bitter discontent with the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. None of the sources of that discontent have been addressed. That regime has considerable resources at its disposal, including a compact, motivated and loyal security sector. It exploits anti-Western sectarianism and Persian nationalism to draw legitimacy and support from part of the population and employs the tactics of fear and oppression to compel sullen obedience from the rest.
66. Meanwhile, the governments of Morocco and Jordan have sought to get out ahead of protestors and have promised liberalizing reforms perhaps to pre-empt more exacting demands from their public. These countries confront similar economic, demographic and educational challenges. Monarchies, it should be noted, have the option to cede legislative authorities to democratic forces while retaining control over executive powers (Goldstone). This gives them a degree of institutional resilience that the republics of the region may lack. King Mohammed VI in Morocco, for example, has made important concessions over the past year, and this has helped limit protests in that country.
67. There has been an array of warnings that instability may well replace the uneasy stability offered by the old authoritarian regimes that have either been overthrown or that are hanging on to power by a thread. The fear is that Iran and Syria will be able to exploit this uncertainty to reinforce their influence throughout the region - a development that would be broadly antithetical to Western interests. The passage of two Iranian war ships through the Suez Canal was very much an attempt to reinforce this image of Iranian power and influence. But the analyst Jack Goldstone provides a more optimistic outlook: “The historical record of revolutions in Sultanistic regimes should somewhat alleviate such concerns. Not a single sultan overthrown in the last 30 years … has been succeeded by an ideologically driven or radical government. Rather, in every case, the end product has been a flawed democracy - often corrupt and prone to authoritarian tendencies, but not aggressive or extremist (…) since the 1980s, neither the communist nor the Islamist model has had much appeal.”
68. NATO member governments and parliaments need to continue to reach out to opposition movements and successor governments to help strengthen the hand of democratic forces in these societies. This is consistent with Western values of self-determination and democracy and it ultimately squares with Western interests as well. Myriad considerations will condition relations in the region including overarching security concerns, the uncertain nature of some opposition forces, and the not inconsequential potential for radicalization if these governments prove incompetent or should they give in to authoritarian temptations. Given the Western countries’ long engagement with the old order, it must be aware that its endorsements can backfire. Support should be extended, but it is also essential to recognize that domestic forces must take the lead in redefining their political and economic systems. These are not Western revolutions. They are the revolutions of the people of the region and this must be utterly respected.
69. At the same time, Western links to the region’s military forces should be used to signal that military counter-revolutions are unacceptable. There will be consequences if the militaries are used to thwart the will of recently liberated people. It seems that the US dialogue with the Egyptian military might have been helpful in this regard. Unfortunately no such success has been apparent in Bahrain where security forces with Saudi support have crushed a movement seeking greater democratic freedoms. Western political, economic and financial support for the emerging regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya is critical and must be defended even in times of serious budgetary constraint. Once the situation is more settled in Libya, efforts will be needed to release Libyan funds impounded by the international community. Libya will need these resources to rebuild vital infrastructure destroyed during the war.
70. Maintaining access to energy exports from the Gulf and North Africa will remain a central concern for both European and North American leaders. Even if it is the case that the US imports less oil from the region than Europe, oil is a globally fungible commodity in which the law of one price is operative. For this reason, the United States has as much at stake in regional oil and gas production as does Europe. Western energy interests, however, should not work at cross purpose with Western support for greater openness, transparency and democracy in the region. Western diplomatic pressure on the old regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, as well as the Libyan intervention has simultaneously signalled Western support for civil society movements in the face of highly repressive governments. This has helped the image of Western countries, certainly in Libya but perhaps further afield as well. It could also represent a foundation for constructing a deeper and more constructive relationship with Arab civil society, particularly if civil society is pushing for greater openness and democracy. That relationship has been tense for decades due to active Western support for repressive regimes, differing outlooks on the Arab-Israeli peace process, the so-called war on terror and other factors. In this sense, the so-called “Arab Spring” opens new opportunities for engagement. NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue and the EU’s Barcelona Process should therefore include discussions about the building blocks needed for democratic development, including in the security sector. Democratic control of national militaries would be one area where NATO countries are well-positioned to share a wealth of information and best practices.
71. But there are also new tensions as well. Economic crisis and political turmoil have triggered an exodus of young people in search of better opportunities. Young Tunisians, for example, have flooded into Italy, triggering an immigration crisis. Italian officials have appealed to their European partners for greater support, arguing that Italy is effectively taking on a European wide responsibility simply because it is a front line state. Europe and indeed the international community need to back up Italy and other Mediterranean member states that confront this unique and very serious problem. The long-term goal must be to help Europe’s Mediterranean partners construct the kind of economies that will generate the jobs young people need to remain at home. This will not happen over the short-run, however, particularly as the political crisis has coincided with a global economic slowdown. This is precisely why humanitarian and development assistance as well as economic reform are critical. Over the longer term, though, there is at least a possibility that more open societies will be positioned to construct economies offering greater opportunity for the people of the region.
72. NATO member governments clearly have a role to play in helping the Middle East and North Africa transition away from authoritarianism. Foreign assistance will be essential to help these countries through what will be very delicate and indeed dangerous transitions. NATO has engaged militarily in the Libyan struggle but this is likely a unique case. That said, the Alliance should be prepared to assist emerging democracies in areas like civil-military relations and restructuring militaries appropriate to more open societies. In this regard, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has a potentially important role to play in supporting the MENA region’s transformation, working in particular with democratically elected parliamentarians and democratically minded forces dedicated to building parliamentary democracies. It stands to make an important contribution to the region’s democratic forces at the same time that the Western countries themselves learn how to deal with a more open and democratic Middle East. This is a moment of great opportunity that should not be squandered.
73. The lessons from the war in Libya need to be studied and absorbed. There are many implications even though the level of military engagement was relatively modest. Yet the implications of this engagement are not inconsequential. First of all, the Americans, deeply engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, were willing to let European forces, and particularly France and the United Kingdom, take the lead. It is important to note, moreover, that some NATO allies expressly refused to participate in the effort, and so this became an effort by a coalition of the willing rather than the Alliance as a whole. For the United States not to play the leading role in a war in which it is participating is suggestive of a new approach to American engagement and a tacit recognition of the US limited means. This could have important long-term political and diplomatic consequences. In the words of the French security specialist Francois Heisbourg: “Given these deep divisions, NATO was in no position to conduct the war in political and strategic terms: that was done by a half-dozen coalition partners in Europe and North America. The role of the Alliance was that of a service provider, choreographing the intricate ballet of combat aircraft, in-flight refuelling planes, information-gathering assets and warships. Without NATO’s enabling machinery and the formidable American capabilities on which it rests, the war would have been a much-more fraught affair. But that is damning with faint praise. NATO as a political organization is a casualty of the Libyan war.”
74. The French and British led effort in Libya seems to have been successful due to critical support from the United States and other NATO and regional partners. Although there are serious and justified concerns about European military capabilities and defence budgets in this time of grave economic stress, the Libyan engagement has nonetheless pointed to a new kind of burden sharing that could provide an antidote to those concerned that America is carrying too many collective defence obligations. There are legitimate concerns, however, that because the United States did not provide close air support and the suppression of enemy air defences, European allies may now need to invest in those areas in which the United States has traditionally held a comparative advantage, rather than those areas where Europe might be better placed to contribute to the collective security posture (Heisbourg). This, in turn, could lead to new fractures in the Alliance. For this reason, the Alliance as a whole must very carefully consider the implications of the Libyan effort and manage these in such a way that Alliance solidarity is enhanced rather than undermined. This may prove very difficult and it is essential that parliamentarians play a role here as well.
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