When revolutions broke out one after the other in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and
Syria more than two years ago, there was a feeling that things in the Middle
East were dramatically shifting. The impetus for what was dubbed the “Arab
spring” seemed to be a sincere impulse by millions of people to throw off
authoritarian rulers and move towards democracy.
But in all of these
countries, especially Egypt and Syria, the move towards democracy has been far
from simple. In Syria, President Bashar Assad has managed to hang on, and in
recent weeks, even take back some territory he had lost, far longer than most
people had predicted.
Moshe Ma’oz, an Israeli expert on Syria, says
Assad, a member of Syria’s Alawite minority, seems to be hanging on, despite
Israeli intelligence predictions that his regime was nearing its
“Right now there is some kind of status quo between Assad and the
rebels,” he told The Media Line
. “I might even say that the balance of power is
in favor of the regime because the army of 300,000 people is still loyal to him.
He also has the support of the middle class, even those who are Muslim and
Part of the problem, he says, is that the rebel opposition
has not been able to unite, and the international community has been hesitant to
intervene. But eventually, he says, Assad will fall, and there could be chaos in
an area that is crucial for both Israel and Turkey, which has a 700-mile border
“Both Israel and Turkey should support the same thing – a
mainstream Islamic regime,” Maoz says. “The alternative is worse because that
means Al-Qaida, Salafis, or Jihadists.”
The death toll in Syria is
mounting daily, and there seems to be no end in sight. More than one million
Syrians have fled the country, and another two million have fled their homes to
other parts of the country. Recent air strikes attributed to Israel increased
tension in the area, although Israeli officials said they do not believe Assad
wants to open another front against Israel, they are concerned that he could be
transferring high-tech weapons to Hezbullah guerillas in south Lebanon and
Israel has stepped up its alert.
When it comes to Israel’s southern
neighbor, Egypt, the situation is radically different. Long-time autocrat Hosni
Mubarak stepped down after massive peaceful protests and Mohammed Morsi was
elected in a democratic vote.
“The main achievement is that people feel
they can protest and they no longer have a fear of authority,” Maye Kassem, a
professor of political science at the American University of Cairo told The
Yet the optimism that Egypt’s transition to democracy would
be smooth has dissipated as Egypt faces a growing economic
“People feel their standard of living has deteriorated,” Kassem
“Even access to water and electricity -- they can be cut off, often
for days on end. People are not willing to buy more than the basic necessities
because they want to keep their money close to them.”
has also gone down, as crime and sexual harassment of women has gone up. Tourism
is down significantly.
Egypt has been negotiating with the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $4.8 billion loan, but has so far been unable to close
Foreign investment is down, and the international community
seems unsure that Morsi will be able to maintain the financial reforms that the
IMF is demanding.
One place where the Arab spring revolution hasn’t taken
hold is, perhaps ironically, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians
have been struggling for an independent state well before the Arab spring began.
In 1987, the first intifada, or uprising against Israel, began and in 2000, the
more violent, second intifada.
It would be logical that Palestinians,
inspired by the Arab spring, would have launched a new uprising against Israel.
But they have been preoccupied with other issues including the rift between
Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Obama Administration is currently trying to restart peace talks between Israel
and the Palestinians, with a new effort spearheaded by US Secretary of State
John Kerry. But some Palestinian analysts say that without intensive US
involvement there won’t be peace.
“Neither the Palestinian nor the
Israelis are the players in this game – the grand masters are the Americans,”
Munther Dajani, a professor of political science at Al-Quds University told The
. “When the Americans feel there should be peace here, they will
impose it in any way, shape or color that they want.”
Looking at the
broader Middle East, Dajani says it is too early to see the final
“The Arab spring is a mass movement which is sweeping the Arab
countries one by one,” he said. “It will take a few years for it to be over. I
don’t think anybody can evaluate it if it positive or negative because we
haven’t seen the end of it.”For more stories from The Media Line go to www.themedialine.org