The hopes that the Arab Spring created continued to be frustrated in 2012, as
many commentators started to call it the “Arab Winter.” What seems to be clearer
this year is that a Sunni wave of Islamists is taking the region by storm, often
using democratic means.
The Arab uprisings began at the end of 2010, and
so far, rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen,
while significant conflict continues in Bahrain and Syria. Additionally most
other Arab states have seen at least some kind of protest. In 2012, we did not
see an Arab leader fall (Yemeni president-elect Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi assumed
power in February), but there has been a growing flame of tension in a number of
Arab Spring fever continued to spread over the past year, the
first significant development being the Syrian government’s beginning a major
attack on the city of Homs in February.
In June, former Egyptian
president Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison, and former Tunisian
president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali received a life sentence for the deaths of 23
protesters. He also received a 66-year sentence in civilian court on charges of
embezzlement, drug trafficking and other crimes. Ben Ali fled with his wife to
Saudi Arabia and is unlikely to see any jail time.
In July, the Syrian
conflict escalated as the Red Cross declared it a civil war; around 17,000
people had been killed by that time. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights said on Tuesday that 85 percent of the people killed in the conflict –
39,520 – died in 2012.
Other Arab countries did not reach Syria’s level
of violence, but protests and opposition activity were present throughout the
Egypt, the leader and bellwether of the Arab world, demonstrates
how public opinion has become more important compared to before the uprisings
began. We have witnessed ongoing protests from all sides of the spectrum, though
it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood-backed regime has dealt strictly, and
even harshly, with any opposition.
Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the
BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, thinks the Arab masses
have discovered that they have power, with all kinds of political agitators
descending on the street and trying to influence events.
Inbar sees a
regional “trend of fragmentation of political units, such as what we see
happening in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and even in the PA.” He adds that it is
entirely possible that Hamas will take power from the PA.
States in the
region are having a difficult time controlling all of their territory, and in
many places they are disintegrating.
In Yemen, for example, there are
regions controlled by al-Qaida and strong tribes, where the state has
effectively lost control.
Max Weber’s well-known definition of a state –
an entity that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence – seems to be
unfulfilled in many parts of the region since the uprisings began.
sees the “same problems present, to some degree, in Iraq.”
him, “if Syria falls, there could be a domino effect, and we could see the
uprisings move to Jordan and the Gulf states.”
When this reporter
suggests that the Gulf states could be insulated against such uprisings, Inbar
counters that he considers “insulated” too strong a term.
“Even in the
Gulf, they are afraid of the masses,” he says.
“Even the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt is scared, and see what will happen in the future if they
are unable to improve the economic situation there.”
Last week, Amir
Taheri wrote an article in the popular Arab daily Asharq Alawsat, entitled “Arab
Spring: Heading for reactionary backlash.” In it, he argues that “people power
has asserted itself.”
As Inbar puts it, “there is a new actor in the Arab
world, which we have not seen before.”
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