The Revolutions in the Middle East

After two quick victories in Tunisia and Egypt, the “Arab Spring” entered a difficult period. The revolution in Bahrain was crushed by force, Libya experienced civil war, the Syrian protest movement suffered heavy losses, and neither the opposition nor the regime managed to win in Yemen. Then spring became summer and summer into autumn.

Only at the turn of the month August-September 2011 did one of the four experience a breakthrough. Then Gaddafi’s grip on Tripoli, and the rebel forces took control of the city. However, much remains to be done to create democracy in Libya. Will the revolutions win and the people rule?

  • What are the goals of the “Arab Spring”?
  • How united are the rebels in the Middle East?
  • What unites and what separates them?
  • How will the rebels “win the peace”?

2: What are the goals of the “Arab Spring”?

According to the slogans that prevail in the Arab revolutions, the goal of the uprisings is ” freedom ” (huriya) and ” dignity ” (karama). The inhabitants of most Arab countries have lived with freedom and oppression for decades. Now they want political rights and a system where everyone has a voice. In other words, the revolutions are a struggle for democracy .

In addition, the feeling of living in humiliation for many is linked to the economic everyday life – to the lack of welfare . The Arab economies are struggling with a combination of weak productivity, large youth groups and rising unemployment. For the protesters who shout down with corrupt and authoritarian regimes, the economic disability and the political reality are two sides of the same coin .

At the same time, there is some disagreement among the protesters about the way to go and the long-term goal. In the short term, the question is whether and to what extent the regime must fall and what funds can be used. In Bahrain, the protest movement has been split between two wings. A radical wing demanded the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic, while a reform-oriented faction worked for a constitutional monarchy. In Yemen, from the outset, street protesters have demanded the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, while the established opposition parties have long sought to reach a compromise.

3: Some dividing lines among the rebels

According to SHOE-WIKI, the rebels in the Middle East do not agree on one thing and another. We see clear dividing lines between them.
GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES : The revolutionary movements in reality bring together social groups with different living conditions and to some extent conflicting wishes and motives. An important distinction is made between young people and older political actors. The youth activists have played a very crucial role in starting the revolutions and bypassing the regimes’ communication barriers through mobile phones and social media. They have expectations of profound changes that also involve an element of rebellion against patriarchal structures. The established opposition, on the other hand, has more limited demands and is not always willing to give the youth political influence.

IDEOLOGICAL : Another ideological divide is between Islamists and secular forces. Both can be equally staunch opponents of the regime. But where the former want to root out an alternative to the current political system in Islam, the latter are concerned with pushing religion out of politics. In Syria, left-wing and religious-conservative opposition leaders have long had difficulty gathering in a “transitional council.”

COMPETITIVE AGENDA : A third distinction is made between geographically or religiously based groups with competing agendas. Yemen is the crowning example of a country where the revolution brought together movements that initially had widely differing goals . In north to the border with Saudi Arabia, the revival-like Houthis movement been at civil war with the central power since 2004. Houthis accuse the regime of discriminating against their religious group, Zaydi- Muslims (Shiites), and give leverage to Saudi Wahhabi Islam in Yemen.

In the south , the separatist movement Hiraak dominates, seeking to secede the former South Yemen, which was merged with northern Yemen in 1990. In the capital, Sanaa, however, Saleh opposes tribal and military leaders trying to seize power. Parts of the central elite have previously been involved in the fight against the Houthis and benefited from the capital’s dominance over southern Yemen.

4: How to overthrow the regime?

The possibility of the revolutions to win must be considered in two rounds:

  • In the short term: the ability to overthrow the regime and
  • In the long run: the prospect of winning peace.

In the first question, we can say that the revolution in Libya has succeeded, the revolution in Bahrain has failed, while the outcome in Syria and Yemen is still unclear. President Saleh has admittedly announced that he will resign, but he has also said so before without following up in practice. In each case, they have seized it, despite obstacles we can scarcely imagine. ” Why has it dragged on?

Person-dominated republics and dynastic monarchies

Libya, Syria and Yemen are clear examples of what professionals call person- dominated regimes. They differ from one-party and military regimes in that the real power does not lie in the party or the corps of officers. It lies with the leader who in practice has hijacked the state apparatus for himself and his clan and / or family. Such regimes usually have a narrower social base than one-party and military regimes and are therefore vulnerable when revolutionary winds blow.

On the other hand, in person-dominated regimes there is a tendency to fight to the end because the power apparatus consists of people who “sit in the same boat” as the president. This counteracts internal divisions. In Egypt and Tunisia, the leaders of the army turned against the president at a crucial time because they saw the possibility of retaining their position without Mubarak and Ben Ali at the helm.

In Libya, Syria and Yemen, there was no similar state, independent institution that could turn against the president (or the colonel in Libya’s case). The leaders of the security forces were all hand-picked by Gaddafi, Assad and Saleh and in many cases belonged to their own clan and family.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a very different type of regime. Here, power is rather concentrated in an extended ruling family (al-Khalifa), less in one person alone. The technical term here becomes ” dynastic monarch in” because the members of al-Khalifa have shared power and positions among themselves. This makes it more difficult to overpower the regime because the princes are so numerous and because they stand and fall with each other.

In addition, Bahrain has the other royal houses on the Arabian Peninsula behind it. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have sent military forces to the country to save the authoritarian kingdom.

5: Change of power – violence or non-violence?

For the revolutionaries, finding a good means of weakening the regime is a major challenge. The issue of violence versus non-violence is one important trade-off. Taken as a whole, the Arab Spring has from the beginning been characterized by peaceful means. This was effective in Egypt and Tunisia, where protesters won sympathy in the face of regime repression. They managed to sow discord in the power apparatus.

In Libya, a similar development was initially seen. Authorities there reacted to the regime’s violence by “jumping off” and giving their support to the people. At one point, however, the rebels decided to use weapons they had won in Benghazi to use violence against the regime. Then the ranks joined behind Gaddafi, and the military repression came on the offensive. Had the UN and NATO not intervened on the part of the rebels, the Libyan revolution would apparently have suffered an unfortunate fate.

After the fall of Tripoli and while the Syrian revolution is struggling, military defectors in Syria have argued that they too should point weapons at the regime . They reject the possibility of reform or internal divisions in the Bashar regime and claim that this type of person-dominated regime must ultimately be removed by force. However, Syria’s previous experience of armed insurgency gives cause for concern. When the Muslim Brotherhood used violent action from the late 1970s, the regime responded ruthlessly and crushed the movement militarily in the city of Hama in 1982.

6: Western intervention

Another important topic is the question of Western military intervention . In March 2011, NATO imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and bombed Gaddafi’s positions in a way that helped settle the civil war. However, the dilemmas associated with military aid from outside are great. In a part of the world where the West in general and NATO in particular have little popular trust and are suspected of being controlled by the thirst for oil, relying on Western military aid can create resistance to the revolutionary movement. It gives water on the mill to the regimes’ propaganda, which from the outset has portrayed the revolutions as a “conspiracy” by external powers.

The challenge with both Western intervention and violent means of action is also to lay down arms when peace is to be won. Unruly revolutionary forces with weapons can derail attempts to build a new political order. Moreover: If the new regime becomes dependent on Western military aid to maintain stability, it may prevent the system from achieving national legitimacy.

7: How to win peace?

Not all revolutionary movements succeed in overthrowing the dictator. And where it does, only half the work is done; The construction of a new and better system is often the biggest challenge. Attempts to change society through revolution have throughout history often failed, given unforeseen outcomes or ended in return for the old political order.

One classic problem is that revolutions are causing more and more radical demands that end up undermining stability. In order to stabilize a revolution and establish a “normal” and viable political order, three conditions must be in place :

  1. Legitimacy of the people
  2. Support in the elite
  3. Efficiency in everyday life
1. Legitimacy

The first precondition for waging a revolution in port is to ensure that the new rulers have legitimacy in the population . That is, the citizens regard their government as legitimate . In democracies, free elections ensure such legitimacy. But it is demanding to secure recognition in a transitional phase before elections can be held and give legitimacy to a new board.

Libya today faces this challenge. The Transitional Council, established in Benghazi in February 2011, must convince Libyans that it is representative of all the people of the country. Residents of other cities, such as Tripoli and Misrata, may feel underrepresented and question who has the right to elect councilors. A transitional government will also be appointed. If it is seen as a tool for individuals or special groups, it will lack legitimacy and have problems managing.

2. Support in the elite

The second prerequisite is to create support in the elite about the system and the broad outlines of a country’s development. It is important to avoid key political actors opposing each other. Such agreement (consensus) is demanding to achieve in states that are in the process of getting rid of non-democratic government. The deposed dictators have often ruled by playing social and elite groups against each other and thus splitting them. Gaddafi, Saleh and Assad gave benefits to some and downgraded others in ways that sowed divisions between regions, tribes and religious groups.

These tensions will not disappear with the leaders, but will complicate the gathering of neighborhood, clan and religious leaders. A special challenge for Libya is also to build a bridge between former opposition figures in exile and politicians with a domestic background from Gaddafi’s regime. The two groups have lived in different worlds and will need both ingenuity and time to build a common platform.

3. Efficiency

The third prerequisite is to restore effective governance that at least preserves, or preferably improves, the level of prosperity . As mentioned, economic dissatisfaction is a driving force behind the revolutions and will continue to threaten stability if dissatisfaction persists. The short-term effect of revolution is usually an economic downturn since the riots affect everything from trade to tourism.

However, it is of great importance that the wheels get started again in the new system so that the inhabitants feel it is going better. If the opposite happens and the price level and unemployment skyrocket, nostalgia for the old regime will soon arise. Opponents of democracy can then use the argument that “everything was better before” to undermine support for reforms.

By virtue of Libya’s large oil reserves, the Libyan state has an advantage over the other countries in revolution. These could help Libyans recover economic growth relatively quickly. By comparison, both Yemen and Syria soon have empty oil wells, nearly four times as many inhabitants, and significant development problems. Those who take over from Saleh and Assad will have few easy solutions to improve value creation and meet the people’s expectations of a life of dignity.

The struggle for democracy in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria can be long even after the dictators have been removed from the field.

The Revolutions in the Middle East