A waning spring? - Tanvir Ahmad Khan - Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=44948&Cat=9

The powerful Western media christened the recent political upsurge in the Arab world the “Arab Spring”. It served the reductionist purpose of portraying it as the long-awaited quest for democracy and freedom, the raison d’être of Western interventionism. In reality, as often happens in revolutionary turmoil, its dynamics are already being re-shaped either by the entrenched power of Arab rulers or by external actors determined to control the process of change. I propose to address this interplay in two separate articles in this valued space.

A younger generation has provided the vanguard of movements that seek a new social, political and economic compact. Then, there is the unprecedented participation of Arab women in the protests reflecting a subliminal desire for greater womens’ rights. The roots of Arab rage also go beyond this essential agenda and stretch to a deep sense of humiliation at the hands of Israel, the Arab failure to get justice for the Palestinians, and dissatisfaction with narrow local nationalisms with which the elite tried to wean away the “Arab street” from Nasserite pan-Arabism.

By now the primal innocence of this upsurge has given way to great complexity. The counter-revolution has struck back making the outcome uncertain. Arab rulers, especially with abundant oil money, have switched to a dual policy of limited reforms and big dole-outs while tightening the coercive apparatus of the state.

In the sensitive Gulf area where Iran is also a powerful actor, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has shifted to a strategic role to influence events in Bahrain and Yemen. The acceptance of the GCC plan, under which President Abdullah Ali Saleh may step down after 30 days, is a case in point.

Consider Bahrain. The opposition rejected reforms offered by the King as insufficient. Continued demonstrations sharpened focus on the sectarian divide and on the rivalry between Iran and the GCC states. The small Saudi-led GCC reinforcements for Bahrain were a message to the opposition to set its sights lower. When that did not happen, the government in Manama resorted to harsher measures. As Iran demanded withdrawal of the GCC contingent, its relations with the GCC states worsened.

When Western educated Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father 10 years ago, nobody imputed any dictatorial tendency to him. But the persistent American threat, especially in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, worked against liberal reforms. Confronted first by it and now by the gathering protests, the Syrian Ba’athist national security state has reasserted itself leading to unexpected suppression of the protest movement.

Dialectic tensions apart, the Arab world would never be the same again. Much depends on the answers that post-Mubarak Egypt finds to internal and external issues. The armed forces face the democratisation versus security and stability dilemma. Egypt has to come to terms with the Muslim Brotherhood which may seek to become more acceptable by looking at the peaceful model of Erdogan’s party in Turkey.

Already, Egypt is showing a greater capacity for diplomatic manoeuvre as evidenced in its crucial role in bringing the tragic rift between Fatah and Hamas to an end. A great deal of water will flow down the Nile before the final shape of things appropriate to this great country crystallises.

The vital interests of Western powers in the Arab world are no longer a secondary factor. From the extreme case of Libya where Nato is fighting a war that exceeds the mandate given by the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to a new focus on Syria, the West is proactively engaged.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: katanvir@ yahoo.com

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