Analysis: The Arab uprisings – 2012 edition

Experts recognize "a new actor" in the region: The people.

Protests in Morocco 311 (photo credit: (Reuters))
Protests in Morocco 311
(photo credit: (Reuters))
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 countries.
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 year.
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.
Inbar sees the “same problems present, to some degree, in Iraq.”
According to 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.”