'Arab revolts led to Islamization, instability'

By OREN KESSLER
March 12, 2012 18:25

'Arab Spring' is wrong term to describe region's unrest, says INSS study marking year since start of protests.

3 minute read.



Egyptian elections in Cairo, November 28

Egyptian elections 521. (photo credit: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)

Sunni Islamists are the greatest beneficiaries of the Arab upheavals, and many Arab countries risk turning into failed states, according to an Israeli-authored report released last week to mark one year since the start of the region’s revolts.

The nearly 80-page report titled, “One Year of the Arab Spring: Global and Regional Implications,” includes contributions from 15 leading researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

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“The big winners from these revolts have been groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. We see that in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and possibly Syria as well,” Yoel Guzansky – who edited the report with fellow INSS researcher Mark Heller – told The Jerusalem Post.

“The second threat is state failure, or the slide into anarchy – states that are weak and fragmented. That’s what’s happening in Yemen and Libya,” he said. “The former regimes there were oppressive, but they also served as a kind of glue uniting the various tribes and sects together.”

INSS director Amos Yadlin said the term “Arab Spring” should now be recognized as a misnomer. “We are not witness to the flowering of a revolution leading to a liberal, secular, West European-American model of democracy,” he wrote in the paper’s introduction.

“We are not seeing nonviolent change, and we are not observing a rapid ‘domino effect’ such as we saw in Eastern Europe. We are seeing a phenomenon that is changing and will continue to change the entire Middle East.”

Yadlin, a former air force general and military attache to Washington, said the widespread use of phrases such as “Facebook rebellion” and “Twitter revolution” were also misguided.

“The Middle East has its own social networks vastly stronger than Facebook or Al Jazeera,” he wrote. “The social network of the mosques, where the masses worship five times a day, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s welfare, education, and assistance network, dawa, [which] supports the needs of the poor – [are] what really decided the elections in Egypt and Tunisia.”

Egyptian parliamentary results released in January had Islamists taking 75 percent of seats. In Tunisia – the first Arab country to rise in revolt and arguably the most secular – the Islamist Ennahda movement garnered a plurality of votes, winning three times as many seats as its closest competitor.

On the geopolitical front, Yadlin wrote, Israel and the US have been the biggest losers from the past year’s revolutions.

In Egypt, Israeli and American ally Hosni Mubarak was ousted as president, with Cairo’s parliament now dominated by Islamists and the Sinai Peninsula transforming into a lawless terrorist hub. In Jordan, the pro-Western Hashemite monarchy also appears less stable than a year ago. In Syria the anti-government revolt continues to rage, but reports are growing of Islamist influence within the rebels’ ranks.

Yadlin observed that Iran had originally encouraged the Arab uprisings, predicting correctly that they would lead to the fall of pro-Western regimes in favor of more radical Islamist alternatives. To Tehran’s disappointment, however, the Sunni Islamist movements strengthened over the past year have been loath to adopt its Shi’ite theocracy as a model. Instead, many have looked to Turkey.

“The Arab awakening has placed the ‘Turkish model’ on the regional agenda,” wrote INSS researcher Gallia Lindenstrauss, noting that the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda appear to be echoing many of the messages promulgated by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party.

“While the Turks themselves sometimes have difficulty defining what this model is, it is quite clear that those using this term are talking about a mix in Turkey of Islam, democracy and a market economy,” she wrote. “The very fact that the issue is being widely raised symbolizes Turkey’s soft power.”

One area in which the Sunni upsurge is less evident is the Persian Gulf. In his chapter on the Gulf monarchies, Guzansky wrote that unrest from Shi’ite populations in Bahrain and northeast Saudi Arabia could turn those countries into powder kegs, bringing the world oil economy to a virtual standstill.

Guzansky wrote that for decades oil-rich states like Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have “bought” their subjects’ loyalty with generous subsidies for most goods and services.

The tide is turning, he noted, and like their counterparts in less oil-rich Arab states, Gulf leaders will have to show their subjects they have some say in their own governance: “Over time, the monarchs will not be able to avoid accelerating the pace of reforms, and they will have to respond to the pressures exerted from without and within by going beyond merely cosmetic change.”


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