The Arab Spring: Conspiracy Theory or National Will
By: Fadi Elhusseini
Revolts did not knock on the door, they just sneaked in the Arab region, toppling some regimes while shaking the thrones of others. Analyses began to heap in an attempt to examine this state of affairs; some choose to factor in this context a new foreign conspiracy, aiming at dividing of what is left from the region. Others suggest that the revolts are a long awaited revolution of pride and dignity and were ignited by plain domestic forces. As a prelude to this analysis, in today's article we wish to address the common views, widespread not only among academics and politicians, but also amongst the Arab masses which started to question, doubt and lose confidence in the current spate of Arab revolts. in order to keep readers abreast of the latest developments, this article espouses a nuanced approach in addressing a third view which considers the events mere scientific material that can serve as a platform to examine existing theories of International politics in a region, described for long time as idle and sluggish towards transformations.
Many of those who believe the Arab Spring is part of a conspiracy theory, have linked their views to many remarks, articles and literature of non-Arab intellectuals like Bernard Lewis and Thierry Meyssan. Such writings gave an impression that the Arab Middle East is in a process of transformation, similar to that of the Sykes–Picot in 1916. On the official level, many terms and projects like "constructive chaos", the "New Middle East" and the "Greater Middle East", coined and uttered by “mainly” US officials, leading to further worry and distrust. For instance, in March 2004, the Bush administration adopted what was named "the Greater Middle East Project". The avowed goal of the project was encouraging political, economic and social reforms in the Arab Middle East, in addition to Turkey, Israel, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. One can argue that the US vision of this project was based on two main pillars; first is to reshuffle and reorganize cards in the Middle East after seizing control of the World Political Order, in the aftermath of the collapse of the former Soviet Union, while the second pillar is largely based on the concept of improving the image of the US in the Middle East, after being greatly smeared and distorted as a result of US invasion to Afghanistan and occupation of Iraq.
Nevertheless, the project did not bear any fruit and was complete fiasco. Other terms and projects followed like "the New Middle East" project, which was introduced by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006. The new project was accompanied with a new term of “constructive chaos”. In his article "Plans for Redrawing the Middle East: The Project for a “New Middle East” on November 18, 2006 at the GLOBAL RESEARCH (Center for Research on Globalization), Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya defines constructive chaos as "generates conditions of violence and warfare throughout the region– would in turn be used so that the United States, Britain, and Israel could redraw the map of the Middle East in accordance with their geo-strategic needs and objectives." A starker example of this approach was reflected in the new map of the Middle East, presented in the U.S. military’s Armed Forces Journal in 2006 entitled: "Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look".
Simply put, as the goals of these projects went down the drain, US decision makers started to think of a new plan that would replace previous ones and may achieve the required results. The new approach is primarily to seek a new "model" that can be accepted by Arabs and that would alienate images and stereotypes related to old and traditional regimes. The rise of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) of Turkey in 2002 inspired that viewpoint and moved the compass into the direction of what was called "moderate Islam" day after day. Hitherto, promoting the Turkish model in particular and encouraging "moderate Islam" in general widespread struck a chord with public dissatisfaction and aversion to corrupt regimes and have become a priority.
In this vein, "Moderate" Islamic movements, who were once deprived from their rights, expelled and may be executed by their own regimes, lined up to present their credentials as the new accepted "model" or alternative of the old fashioned and infamous dictatorships, which appeared in the eyes of Arab people as a stooge, too attached to the West and excessively dependent on the US.
According to this viewpoint, the rise of the current Arab revolts demonstrated the solemn declaration of this new American plan, by inserting democratically elected new "moderate" Islamic movements in power. The new Islamic regimes will serve as good as previous regimes, yet they will be more accepted by their people and hence interests, business and flux of oil will be secured. The warm relations between these Islamic movements and the US in particular, and being hosted by the West when they were escaping from the oppression of the previous regimes, bolstered such way of thinking.
I believe this treatment of such state of affairs is fulsome yet requires further investigation. Failing to take into consideration the various contexts of these events would bring about inaccurate results, and this will take us to the second group of views. Many people tend to see in the Arab revolts a definitive outcome of an increasing frustration among Arab Youth. This generation, which constitutes the majority of Arab population, inherited stories of glory and magnificent history of modernity, development, advancement in civilization, arts, science and might.
But these stories hit day after day the wall of a frustrating reality as they (Arab youth) found themselves in fully dependent states (on the West), experiencing successive defeats and living bleak economic and difficult social conditions. This accompanied with the continuation of the oppression of their regimes and the lack of democracy and freedom of expression. The rulers exaggerated in their grip and confidence, and their hyperbole made Parliamentary elections a joke and a scene of irony, while the issue of inheritance of power to their sons (in "theoretically" Republican regimes) became a mixed material of comic and bitterness.
More distressingly, Arab youth saw progress, development and success in other countries, and coveted for themselves good economic and social conditions other nations experienced. With the assistance of internet social networks and the development in communications technology, such facts are not hidden anymore, and the new Arab generation started to share their findings, concerns, fears, ambition and dreams with each other through such platforms. Meanwhile, aged regimes were still busy with old fashioned techniques, undermining the effect and importance of such technology, which was described by one of their statesmen as "children toys".
The moment of truth has arrived, catching every expert, analyst and politician off guard, as the eruption of the Arab Spring started from Tunisia the Green "the term Arabs call Tunisia", which people are well-known for quite temper, calmness and gentleness. It was only few days until the spark of revolution spread as fever, and other people followed suit, turning the fantasy world on the Internet to a reality that ushered in a new era different of the previous distasteful epoch. Thus, the crux of this view is the rejection of any external role in moving or encouraging Arabs to change their regimes.
What supports this view a number of facts; the first is close relationship between the West in general and previous autocratic regimes. Another important fact is Western flopping and hesitation on the eve of the eruption of the revolutions. Michele Alliot-Marie, former French Foreign Minister, had to resign after expressing few days after the escape of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali the willingness of France to provide the Tunisian government expertise in the field of security.
U.S. position was also marked by confusion with the first spur of the Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia. BBC correspondent in Washington, Kim Ghattas described the first reaction of US State Department officials as "seemed to be caught unaware" adding they had not been briefed about Tunisia recently. Ghattas referred to the following reaction of the US administration as focusing mostly on the advisory issued to American citizens in Tunisia.
Noteworthy in this context is to refer to the fact that despite first-blush confusion, time was ample to make foreign powers restore their balance and ride the crest of wave as they began to evaluate and reassess their positions based on these new developments, in a clear attempt to secure interests and cooperation with new emerging regimes. The US, along with many other powers, has all necessary resources and variety of powers to attract or coerce others. For soft power, new regimes can be attracted through development projects, aid, cultural and academic cooperation, scientific and technical support. As per hard power, flexing muscles with strong military force can make new regimes consider their options and polices, while economic sanctions and embargo can be loomed if it is deemed necessary. However, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prefers the use of what she calls "smart power", which is a mix between soft power and hard power, especially when it comes to the Middle East region, as Massimo Calabresi describes in his article "Hillary Clinton and the Rise of Smart Power" in the TIME MAGAZINE on November 7th, 2011.
As the events unfolded, a third group finds in the new Arab revolutions or the Arab Spring a rich scientific material, worth studying and investigating. It can be a good venue to examine old theories and a critical platform to initiate new theories of international politics. On the one hand, some linked the aspects and events of the Arab Spring to the school of realism as per the interpretation of the state of chaos, alliances and the use of force. Others explain the Arab Spring from a neo-liberal approach as to explain the role of soft power of some regional countries and superpowers, the role of diplomacy that influenced the course of events and finally the interdependence among countries of the Arab Spring. Another approach tries to validate the theory of revolutions and its components and contours as per the trajectory of Arab revolts. Last but not least, other scholars see the role theory dovetails with the events and the most appropriate approach to explain the role and leverage of regional and global powers in the course of such events.
On the other hand, another novel approaches appeared on the surface, trying to interpret the Arab Spring into new theories. For instance, some scholars, like Larry Diamond and Ali Sarihan see in the Arab revolts "the fourth wave of democratization", with reference to the concept developed by Samuel M. Huntington, yet the latter believes the third wave is still ongoing. Other scholars consider the current Arab revolts the third stage or wave of modern Arab revolutions- as addressed in our previous article entitled "New Spring: Middle East between Date of revolutions and the future of the country."
Inter alia, one can say that the Arab Spring represented a glimmer of hope for Arabs, albeit alas the longevity, failure at times, and escalation of violence and bloodshed, along with unfavorable repercussions permeated the sense of frustration, leading to a loss of zeal, questioning the purposes, motives and even the goals of these revolts. Doubt started to creep and uncertainty began to haunt hope, especially with the explicit and overt foreign scramble in the region after the current transformations. Nevertheless, it would be so naïve and superficial to qualm the motives of those who initiated these revolts and the remaining responsibility will be upon the new leaders and regimes that collected the fruits of this spring to fare well and serve their own people, while maintaining good relations with the others and dislodging the dichotomies that have poisoned the Middle East for ages.