Accounting for Differences in Outcome of the Arab Spring


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Why did the Arab Spring affect states differently? What accounts for these differences in outcome? This article seeks to address that very question.

Globally, no state is a “perfect democracy” but some are obviously closer and more exemplary than others. Democracy is multi-dimensional meaning that there are components therein, all of which are necessary for its sustenance.

Regionally, this is also true – that some states are more or less democratic than others. Of all the MENA states only Tunisia is considered a “successful” democracy. Both Tunisia & Egypt enjoy more developed institutions than Libya & Syria, for example. One might attribute development to geography & history, given Egypt has been more autonomous than other Arab counterparts, but this doesn’t apply across the board, given Tunisia was part of the Ottoman Empire while Egypt was not.

Why did revolution fail to break-out in Saudi Arabia?

Libya is also an oil-rich state, but it was left ravaged. Oil was not a stabilizing force in Libya.

Saudi Arabia has a notoriously strong security apparatus, one that is tied directly to the ruling family, the House of Saud. The same is true in Syria, where an Alawite-dominated military has direct links with the ruling Assad “clan”. However the major difference is that Saudi Arabia is supported by America, unlike Syria.

States which experienced military invasions endured the worst outcome of the Arab Spring, versus countries that maintained autonomy. Compare the violence in Yemen, Syria & Libya to Saudi, Egypt & Tunisia, and the claim carries weight.

This can be extended to Iraq & Afghanistan, invaded by the US.

But why then has America stood by Saudi Arabia & flip-flopped on Syria?

The US switched from mildly opposing the Syrian regime under Obama to supporting it tacitly under Trump. This underscores that US policy is not monolithic, and there are two forces contending, with one seeking further democratization & the other benefitting from authoritarian neoliberal (neocolonial) constructs such as the Saudi or Syrian state.

Perhaps the extent of political development and institutionalization in Arab states like Egypt prevented foreign countries from being able to influence the trajectory of the demonstrations, whereas thoroughly guarded states like Saudi Arabia & Syria with almost no degree of democratic institution were able to suppress without much attention. Not only does Egypt have a sizable minority, it has institutional provisions & a political infrastructure which make it less vulnerable to chaos. Clearly Egypt is no democracy, and has in fact continued as an authoritarian state, but it also experienced peaceful revolutions, ousted two leaders. A mere change in the face of executive leadership is reassuring to the people about at least some sense of accountability and connect. This is arguably the result of the political infrastructure of the state which has democratic features such as separation of powers & independent judiciary.

Ultimately then it can be argued that while culturally Saudi Arabia and Syria are different, they are politically underdeveloped to a comparable degree, with few to no provisions in place meant to separate powers of the state or establish a mild sense of accountability among officials.

Thus the failure of the Arab Spring to overwhelm Saudi Arabia can be traced to the US decision to stand by the government, despite its authoritarian character.

If the neoliberal face of the Middle East is to be defeated, it must also be defeated in the US, meaning Trump must be replaced with a Democrat who is not at all inclined towards authoritarian governments.

Perhaps this why there was such a coordinated effort by various authoritarian governments across the world to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump, who is more or less sympathetic to authoritarianism than his Democratic counterpart Hillary Clinton. Autocrats have no consistent agenda but self-preservation at any expense, so coordinating on this delicate issue even with “enemies” occurred.

Globalization has rendered the world inextricably linked no matter how much anti globalist nationalists tout otherwise. Since America is the world’s most powerful state, it is only sensible that changes in its domestic politics would have ripple effects, especially in the Middle East where it has been involved so long & the politics are so volatile.

Is it safe to conclude then that the chapter of revolution has not yet ended in the region?

Perhaps it will be easier to tell in 2020, unless of course Trump doesn’t make it that far.

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Who Really is ‘Presidential’? Thoughts Ahead of Tonight’s Debate – #Election2016


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Bernie Sanders was not presidential [sadly to say – despite many of his ideals being great – if not the best compared to his counterparts].

That is something the American people are struggling to grasp – especially the youth.

What is – ‘presidential’?

Donald Trump – is not presidential. But for reasons different than Bernie. Bernie is, well, simply put, without any character, really. Despite all the slogans and witty catch phrases, Bernie is just another product of social trends. He isn’t Justin Trudeau. He isn’t Obama. He just doesn’t have any flair. Americans like intellect – but they equally value humor; athleticism; suaveness – or “swagger” in today’s terminology. None of these are characteristic of Sanders.

The same could be said of Donald Trump but for different reasons. He is too uneducated, vulgar, impolite, erratic & irresponsible for such leadership – if not to hold any post. He can barely manage his own funds – or his father’s, rather.

That isn’t to say that Hillary Clinton is ‘presidential’.

Back in ’08, I hadn’t heard of a guy named Barack Obama, but as the campaign progressed, I realized – I had just witnessed the rise of an extraordinary individual. This man is beyond brilliant – something that few people truly appreciate. I can say that the world appreciates Obama more than America – which is quite telling. That isn’t necessarily true – a lot of Americans love our current president. But the ‘other side’ is equally if not more bent on voicing their hatred – to put it ‘mildly’.

Ahead of tonight’s momentous occasion, the first live debate between Clinton & Trump – I share the following sentiment. People often expect too much. This is a sign of…a lack of experience maybe. But other forces play a role too. The world is suffering and yet, the average American struggles to understand the nooks and crannies of his or her own political system and culture.

As an Armenian-Syrian immigrant living in America – I must say that my perspective should be heeded. There are many causes which are directly connected to me that have yet to be addressed or have been horribly managed, by the US wholly but also precisely by US president Barack Obama, whom I continue to support. Why? Because I am not a perfectionist in the political sense – and expect some compromise – not always – but in times of necessity and urgency. There is much change, and much work to be done in the stride towards justice – but it is just that – a stride – a path. We cannot be held back by radical expectations which in themselves seek to paralyze our sense of progress. That being said it is clear to me there is only one candidate worthy of a vote in this election and that reasoning is from contrived a moral and practical logic – that candidate is Hillary Clinton.

So while she isn’t necessarily the perfect candidate – relative to America’s choices – she is definitely presidential.

The US president is a person of immense wisdom and discipline; responsibility and sacrifice; public service and family value. Which of the two candidates possesses these qualities? And if you have to think twice – think again.

What gets me is that Americans want to change parts of their system that are less relevant to domestic and global wellbeing while ignoring the more pressing issues. And then when a tragedy or crisis occurs, Americans are left wondering how or why. Instead of a Wall Street revolution there should be a minority rights and immigration reform revolution. Instead of a focus on spreading democracy abroad we should be seeking to reduce our arbitrary and partial political influence overseas. Issues like these are costing us – but instead Americans wish to focus on ideological ambiguities and polarized politics.

That is why the candidates have dwindled down to the current options available – one representing the so-called establishment while the other represents the ugliest part of the establishment disguised as anti-establishment.

It is undoubtable that America and the world must implement comprehensive political reform – but this is likely an impossible feat under the auspices of a hypothetical President Trump. On the contrary, Hillary, like Obama (but perhaps to a lesser degree since she is more hawkish) – will pave the road for future generations to at least further the cause of progressivism in its purest form.

Perhaps future generations will reflect a more balanced perspective on US politics – representing minorities; women; LGBTQ; etc. But this cannot be associated with any particular ideological strand or populist trend as it has been in this election. American individualism and personal responsibility, contrary to the ‘8th grader youtube conspiracy video viewer mentality’ – is not preserved or protected by the far left or right – but rather, by a careful, tolerant moderate centrist. So when I say that Hillary Clinton is in fact presidential – that is precisely why. She isn’t just the echo of our grievances – but also of our reason.

The Future of the Middle East: Islam versus the Radicals


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A few years into the crisis, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad issued a stark warning to the international community, with perhaps more emphasis on what he referred to as the coalition funding the uprising, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Europe, the US and Israel. The president warned of the impending consequences of funding or supporting terrorist groups which he said would eventually turn against them. Remember that al Qaeda was originally supported by the US in its conflict against the USSR in Afghanistan. This is largely why al Qaeda has endured till today. Ironically, al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the deadliest terror attack on US soil – 9/11.

Terrorism is a reoccurring phenomenon. Its potential to exist cannot be ended. That is precisely why the so-called “War on Terror”, like the “War on Drugs” is futile. A war cannot be fought against an ideology or a concept.

But reducing terror, is not impossible. Neither is stability in the Middle East. Terrorism in the name of radical Islam is a relatively new phenomenon that emerged in the twentieth century, largely as a response to a series of actions undertaken by global powers.

The emergence of ISIS, which has overshadowed al Qaeda, has prompted a new opportunity for previously tense relations between Arab states to improve, out of necessity not necessarily genuine conviction.

The country of Syria has historically stood its ground in the front against foreign occupation. For this reason, global powers utilized terrorism and exploited Arab grievances to their advantage, an unoriginal tradition of US foreign policy. In fact Syria is referred to as the beating heart of Arabism.

Putin’s Russia foreign policy is largely a response to US imperial overreach. The illusion of capitalism and conservative politics being mutually exclusive from imperialism is becoming more apparent. Western democracy is being threatened by the age-old western tradition of absolutism. Furthermore, democracy is being threatened by mob-rule and populist right-wing fascism, which has engulfed England as evidenced by ‘Brexit’, and may soon engulf the US, as evidenced by the rise of Donald Trump and the New Conservative Class.

Recent attacks in Saudi Arabia have provided a rare opportunity for Arab states to cooperate. This sense of unity has only become hopeless and scarce because of the history of foreign domination of this region. Has there have been a fully united Arab world? If so, certainly it hasn’t been for long enough, since the Islamic empires were largely Asian and Turkish in orientation. Ottoman Islam, like European colonialism, and historical imperialism all took from the opportunity for Arab nationalism, unity and sovereignty. Furthermore, it reduced Arab culture to narrow, dogmatic religious traditions. The source of this fanaticism is mainly the Gulf, which has exported radical Islam globally. That the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is allied to the US is elusive. How can terrorism be genuinely reduced if the perpetrator is allied with the force against it?

Why is there always a security menace in the Middle East, meant to justify security policy and foreign occupation?

If the world leader, the United States of America, is devoted to securing a better world, it must tackle the problem afflicting the Middle East as a threat to the Islamic world. Islamic terrorism, like US imperialism, have together reduced security in the Muslim world. Coercive democratization efforts, funding of terrorists, regime-change and military invasion have reduced security in the Muslim world.

Why is the US playing this contradictory role? How does it benefit?

The easy answer is oil. But countries like Turkey remain closely linked to the US despite its lack of resource abundance. The resource-curse cannot explain why the US is heavily involved in security coordination with Turkey.

The geopolitical location of the Middle East, as the buffer zone between East and West; the democratic-capitalist and the orthodox-authoritarian world. As a result, this region has been perpetually plagued by security initiatives, led by the West and the East, which is meant to suppress Middle Eastern sovereignty, and to preserve the elite dominance of Russia, China, England and America.

The most important element of political stability is sovereignty.

If the sovereignty of the Middle East is realized and respected, terrorism can be reduced.

But this age-old tug-o-war between world powers over dominion of the Middle East is not entirely original and for this reason it has been referred to as the New Great Game, whereas the old power players were the UK and Russia; the UK has been replaced by the US.

But Russia’s role has been more of a counter-balance to the US. Only following WWII did communism fully take root in Russia. After that, the USSR became the world’s second greatest power. While many countries were coerced into allegiance to the USSR, some also did so willingly out of repulsion to Western imperialism – a sort of balancing. Similarly, many states balanced against the USSR, with their democratic allies forming then future NATO bloc.

The idea of a Shiite-Sunni conflict in the Middle East is an extension of American imperial propaganda meant to preserve the political apparatus which has dominated the Arabian peninsula for the past century – anarcho-capitalism & Islamo-fascism. These two forces, together, have caused the greatest socio-economic imbalance in the Middle East. Together, this social reality, fused with constant violations to Middle Eastern sovereignty have made this region the breeding ground for radicalism and terrorism. While Central Asia and Latin America share similar characteristics with the region, both have made substantial democratic reforms, and exhibit much less levels of political instability. What is the reason for the lag in the Middle East?

The world powers are bent on subjugating this region and preventing its sovereignty merely out of their imperial ambitions. The only institution meant to check these powers, the UN, is powerless in the face of global tyranny. Instead, the world points to radical Islam without realizing that it would not exist if these political realities also did not. It has much less to do with resources and regime-type as it does with the persistence of foreign occupation via Israel; US military invasions; covert operations; and terrorism. If the US was not culturally inclined towards domination-politics, a global balance of power could emerge limiting imperial overreach as well as reducing the incentive for imperial retaliatory measures such as those undertaken by Russia and the Soviet nations following WWII.

Diversity, secularism, stability and political development are not possible with the realization of the need for sovereignty, and the greatest disrupter of this possibility can be explained by constructivist theory which sees the tendency for hawkish foreign policy as a social construct of US political culture. If the warring tendency of capitalist-inclined states can be reduced, not only can true democracy unfold globally, but so to can violence be reduced. Pushing for democracy coercively will not solve the problem because political development must come from authentic national initiative. Any attempt by foreign powers to get involved is in their own self-interest.

Elements of realism, liberalism and constructivism must all be considered, but so too much constructivism. The distinct political cultures of states must be realized. Furthermore, sovereignty must be respected.

Is the problem imperial tendency or democracy or capitalism?

Democracy might not work in the Middle East. It might. But if it does, it won’t come from coercive foreign efforts. Even then, democracy is not universal in orientation and takes many forms, such as the Westminster model versus the consensual model. Elements such as term limits, referendums, votes of confidence, parliamentary representation, and other limits are distinct across different countries. Perhaps many Arab leaders do possess support of a majority of their populations. How can we know if the observation is tainted by war and foreign occupation?

Capitalism is disrupting democracy. Free markets and individual liberty are necessary for prosperity, happiness and stability – but so to is law and order. Sometimes, ideologies like capitalism can run rampant and overshadow human values.

The problem is imperial tendency – capitalism taken to an intolerable scale.

Once this extreme is mitigated, imperial overreach will too and political stability won’t be so scarce an opportunity on a global scale.

The majority of casualties as a result of radical Islamic terrorism are Muslims themselves. Furthermore, more than a quarter-million Iraqis have died since the beginning of the US invasion. The face of radicalism is not only Islamo-fascism, but also American imperialism. We can lump the Abu Bakr al Baghdadis, Zawahiris, bin Ladens, Kasimovs, Julanis, as well as the Dick Cheneys, Rumsfelds, Bushs, Saddam Husseins, Gaddafis, Kim Jong Uns, Dutertes all into the same bunch – individual with imperial ambitions and a disregard for human life and security.

Once laws are enacted to limit the potential for such individuals to exploit the political process in the US and abroad, sovereignty can be respected, political stability and human security can be fortified, and political development can be made possible. Until then, we remain paralyzed by power, money, terror & propaganda.

How Arab Unity Became An Oxymoron – Another Tale of Orientalism


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A more liberal strand of Islam might argue that cultural identity is tied to Islamic heritage. Furthermore, it encompasses all philosophy and knowledge into Islam, as opposed to radical Islam which excludes philosophies from the Enlightenment, Renaissance, and the mystical indigenous religions of various regions in the world, like Central Asia and Latin America.

What if identity, whether it is Chinese, or Syrian, is also tied to an Islamic consciousness?

Let us say for example that Confucius was a Muslim. But only in the philosophical sense.

Let us say that Islam, is a philosophy too, a form of consciousness that becomes intertwined with language and custom.

If that is the case, instead of isolating extremism in Islam – what if we look at national struggles for national representation as well as national struggles for independence through the lens of a struggle for a higher level of consciousness?

In communist China, Islam is systemically suppressed. In the West, Islam is discriminated against. In the Middle East, from where it originates, it is disenfranchised from the political process. Palestine, the crux of Islamic scripture, remains occupied. Mecca, resides in a politically corrupt nation-state. The vast majority of Muslims, shiite or sunni, are living in poverty due both to foreign occupation and arbitrary authoritarian government. Russia is united with many forces, some its enemies, like the US in the fight against radicalism, of course, without looking at the initial cause.

In today’s world we see North Korea and Russia and Iran and China as US arch-rivals. But how can we be so sure? It appears premature to assume that enemies on the media aren’t cooperating behind closed doors. Does the US not benefit from the existence of a constant menace? Fanatical ideology or religion, whether it is coming from ISIS or North Korea, isn’t the concern of the great powers.

The world powers are still playing their great game, and they are doing their utmost to prevent the emergence of an autonomous Middle East (or Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia) that can balance their power, out of arrogance as well as out of the desire to exploit resources and prevent any fair competition in the Middle East.

And fanaticism is working in their favor too, because it does nothing to promote national sovereignty – in fact, it is almost carrying out the neoconservative deed under the guise of a Salafi strain of Islam.

A united, moderate and tolerant Middle East would counter all of these forces – but the greatest obstacle to this includes all the puppet regimes in the Middle East which have resisted challenging Israel militarily – the crucible of Middle Eastern conflict and instability. Once the leadership in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt is overthrown, the Arab front against imperialism can actually hold its ground.

The so-called Arab Spring was a delusional, western manufactured initiative distracting everyone from the real cause of conflict in the Middle East – Occupation.

Democracy is a concept meant for parts of the world where religious sensitivity and culture does not overwhelm the philosophical expectations of the individual. Ideologies like neoconservatism and communism all have threatened the peace and sovereignty of the Middle East. The Arab Spring was a farce attempt in this regard, as much as communism was to liberate Afghanistan, America to liberate Afghanistan afterwards, or Iraq, Libya, Yemen and so forth.

Whether political immorality is exercised by the Chinese, Russians or the Americans, does not matter – the point is that a brainwashing game is being played on the media to blur the lines between good and bad.

But all you need to do to understand who the bad guy is have a basic understanding of boundaries – and that when boundaries are crossed, war ensues.

That boundary has been, since 1948, Palestine.

Until sovereignty is respected, the brainwash will continue, and so too shall conflict.

Democracy will save nothing – unity will.

The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Middle East


 

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There are numbers floating around regarding the relatively low amount of terrorist incidents committed by Islamic radicals.

Still, two points can be brought up.

Instability is uniquely inherent to the Middle East; and anti-Americanism is common in the Islamic World.

Perhaps these two characteristics of the Islamic World coupled with the increase in radicalized Islamic terrorist incidents (after 2003) could be explained as the products of humiliation .

Fanaticism is denounced by most Muslims.

But even ordinary Muslims, like for example in Iran, feel a sense of betrayal from the US with regards to sovereignty that is seen as the cause of extremism in the first place.

Since Islamic terrorism didn’t surge until after the War in Iraq, their claims seem to exhibit some validity .

The implication here is that, more respect for sovereignty might reduce the impetus for radicalization, and thus terror.

Is Saudi Arabia Next?


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The Gulf countries, to some extent, initiated quick reforms to avoid the domino effect of the Arab Spring.

Reminiscent of the Age of Metternich in Europe, when serious efforts to revolutionize the continent were being suppressed.

Revolution often has little idea of the future, but this weakness is exploited by existing orders to maintain the “status quo”. The divisions between revolutionaries, usually ideologically, lead to fragmentation. Sometimes, revolutions become themselves suppressive, as with far left or far right ideologies in Europe, the Far East and Latin America.

Ironically, the Arab Spring affected only the nations with little economic influence in the region. If the Arab World has a list of grievances, it would be safe to assume that economic misery is atop the list, along with cultural and political factors. Involvement by foreign countries further complicates the dynamic.

How could the Arab Spring miss the Gulf countries? Why did it not sweep Lebanon? Why were the results overturned quickly in Egypt?

All of these are important questions. Many of the leaders that were overthrown in the Arab World over the last two decades, including Saddam, Gaddafi, Mubarak and Morsi deserved their fate, perhaps. But two forces plague the Middle East – robust capitalism in the Gulf and authoritarianism and sectarianism in the Levant and North Africa. This dynamic of persistent monarchism and militarized statism have together, produced disaster. But how can such polarized forces, like the two aforementioned, which are ideologically diametrically opposed, share the feature of tyranny? This forces analysis to focus on external factors.

The most crucial piece of the Arab political puzzle is the Gulf region, because economically, it preserves the economic capacity necessary for sustaining and developing the entire Middle East. Patronage and nepotism have disenfranchised the average person from the political and thus, economic processes. Religious and family bonds infiltrate policy, and result in corruption and economic misery.

The Gulf is aptly supported by America. Israel too.

Is it possible that both economic, social and political development are lagging then not only as a result of Arab tyranny, but the American involvement which secures it?

Placing the blame on external forces is an easy and common trend, particularly in the Middle East where a factual history of foreign conspiracies confirmed societal paranoias towards the US and Europe.

Both the conflicts in Iraq and Syria were US-led initiatives, really. But genuine reform in the Middle East cannot take place without reform in the crux of the puzzle – the Gulf. If violent insurgencies persist, will they eventually realize their greatest obstacle is not the enemy of the US, Assad and Iran, but rather, the enemy of the Arab World, which is the greediness which permeates the Gulf?

Is Islam Experiencing Its Enlightenment?


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A common theme in criticism of the Assad regime among Syrians themselves is that the government has given minorities like Alawites (Shiite offshoot), Christians and Armenians privileged statuses that surpasses those of the average Sunni Muslim, by a far margin and for long periods of time.

The majority of Syria is Sunni Muslim, and lives in either wretched poverty or stagnant economic conditions that result from rentier-policies of the government.

The argument that Syrian Sunnis participate actively in government is true. But there is a huge discrepancy in income and social status between Syrian Sunnis and Syrian Sunnis in government who adhere to the Baathist and Assadist “cult of personality”.

I would liken Shiism to Catholicism, and Sunni Islam to Protestantism, in historical relevance, as suggested by Iranian-American religious scholar Reza Aslan. Shiism is more prone to mysticism, intermediation between man and God, sainthood, and collectivism. Similarly is catholicism, particularly in France and Latin America. Sunni Islam stresses private property and individualism in politics, which is reminiscent of the Protestant “work ethic” offered by Max Weber. Furthermore, strict Sunni doctrine forbids intermediaries like saints between man and God. Both cultures are equally conservative, but in some cases, such as in Lebanon, Sunni Muslims exhibit the most liberal cultural values, both economically and socially. Perhaps this suggests that why Sunni Islamic orthodoxy is most prevalent in the Gulf Region, which holds a much more sentimental value for Islam than the Levant.

The deprivations in Syria of Sunni Muslims, in their ability to participate in politics and elevate their statuses socially and economically, reflects a similar struggle endured by minorities like Alawites themselves during previous administrations, particularly during the Ottoman period. The solution to the woes of Alawites was Socialism – because it prevented, like Ottoman times, the participation of the average Syrian Sunni. The political disenfranchisement of the majority of Syrian Sunnis over time from political representation resulted in the build up of anger, which manifested in religious radicalization. Would radicalism cease with the end of political disenfranchisement of Sunni Muslims in the Syria political process?

Is the great break which developed between Catholicism and Protestantism comparable to Shiism and Sunni tensions? The dimensions are both political and theological, as mentioned by Liz Hazleton. The theological are more obvious, with conflicts stemming from the succession crisis. But was authoritarianism and the disenfranchisement of those dissenting against the Church the motive? Perhaps not. In this case, the war in Syria is seemingly more about the problem of authoritarianism. In this regard, the Syrian civil war could be compared to the English Civil War challenging the authoritarian rule of Charles I. While Syria is not a kingdom, very few countries in the Middle East are not authoritarian. Syria is included. Could the Arab World be struggling for the same concept of “popular sovereignty” demanded by the English, and then later by the French and the Americans? Is the Islamic World experiencing its political enlightenment?

A liberalized Middle East, at least with respect to political enfranchisement and economic mobilization, might reduce terrorism. While conservatism takes hold in the Middle East, so too has conservatism challenged liberal values in the West even today. This gives hope for the future. This is not to suggest that authoritarianism is the only cause of instability, but based on this perspective, it can be convincing.