Why the Arab Spring Will Remain Messy

2013-02-17 15:25

As Libyans this week celebrate two years since the start of the revolution which ousted the Gaddafi regime, prospects for peace and security remain bleak. Indeed we have witnessed the rise of clan identities with its concomitant militias loyal to the clan as opposed to the state, coupled with demands for secession. The possibility remains that Libya might well disintegrate into three states.

To the east of Libya, where we find the source of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, stability has been undermined by the rise of Islamist extremists in the forms of the Salafis to the right of the Islamist An Nahda party. An Nahda has however undermined its own legitimacy with it continuing the politics of cronyism from the ousted Ben Ali regime. The recent killing of a prominent political opposition figure has not helped prospects for peace and stability either. Indeed, intolerance is on the rise.

Demonstrators once more gather at Tahrir Square in Egypt calling for the ouster of Cairo’s new Pharoah – Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed the Brotherhood has lost much of its allure on account of its close relationship to the military and it seeking to acquire ever more political power as opposed to creating a more democratic and inclusive polity and society.

The tiny kingdom of Bahrain does not only reflect the cleavages between feudal monarch and the disempowered masses but also reflect a deeper divide in the Muslim world between Sunni and Shiite. Bahrain is ruled by a minority Sunni elite whilst the population is overwhelmingly Shiite. This has resulted in Bahrain lying at the heart of the machinations between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran.

Sunni-Shiite considerations are also one of the key variables in the struggle between the minority Alawite clan and the mass of Syrians.

There is a strong possibility that the longer the conflict in Syria lasts, the greater the ascendancy of the Islamists will be within rebel ranks. Syria, of course, has not only witnessed the machinations of Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey but also the United States, France, Russia and China.

For those in the international community who assumed that the Arab Spring will bring about liberal democratic regimes, the disappointment is palpable. Yet, this was to be expected. In many of these countries the enduring culture is one of the bullet as opposed to the ballot box, changing this dynamic will take time. In many cases, real party politics is a relatively new phenomenon with politicians not clear on the rules of the game. We saw this clearly in Tunisia this past fortnight with the Prime Minister not even consulting with his own party when making important decisions.

The major problem, in my view, as to why politics will remain messy in these countries is the dearth of a sufficiently large and independent middle class. It is the middle class which are the custodians of liberal democratic values such as moderation and tolerance. For those well-wishers in the international community who wish to see peace and stability return to the Middle East, they need to turn their efforts to growing a vibrant and independent middle class.

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