Revolutions and war in North Africa and the Middle East have been in the spotlight for practically the entire year. The Arab Sprig transitioned into the Arab Summer, the Arab Fall, and now the Arab Winter. The springtime euphoria faded and has now been replaced by a time of analysis of the consequences of deposition of authoritative rulers who seemed to be eternal and invincible.
It all began on an optimistic note – Tunisia, where Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's stagnant and corrupt regime became hopelessly obsolete, overthrown without much struggle and almost no violence. In the subsequent election, Islamists gained the highest number of votes – but these are probably the most moderate Islamists in the entire Arab world.
And in Tunisia they cannot be anything other than moderate, as they are forced to consider the interests of the people, making a living from the tourism sector and money transfers from relatives who have relocated to France. Moreover, the education level in Tunisia is higher than in most Arab states. It is hard to solicit radical ideas to people accustomed to using Facebook and Twitter. Wahhabis, Salafis, and other fundamentalists did not put much effort, or waste much energy, on a country of 10 million, but that had never played a major role in the region.
Egypt, the cultural and political capital of the Arab world – with a population of 85 million – is a different story. Here, things were much more dramatic than in Tunisia – with more victims and more bitterness on both sides. The military, backing President Hosni Mubarak, resisted for much longer than its Tunisian counterparts – and continues to do so day. But, it was ultimately forced to surrender the main positions. First the army agreed to Mubarak’s resignation, and then to his arrest.
Meanwhile, the culmination of the defeat of the military, which represented secular Egypt, became the Islamists’ triumph at the parliamentary election – not only for the relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood, but for radical Salafis, who cut off the ears of Coptic Christians and burn down churches.
When Islamists come to power in Egypt (which will inevitably happen if the army recognizes the election results), the world will longingly remember Hosni Mubarak – a strict but a secular ruler who conducted a reasonable foreign policy. The Islamists will hardly choose to follow the same path. Their general course is already evident. One of the main demands is to break the peace treaty with Israel. Once again, the Jewish state and the largest Arab state will officially find themselves at war.
There will be plenty of things to stress over for Israel’s main guardian – the United States. After all, it was the US that was most insistent in its demands for Mubarak to listen to its people and resign. And now, Washington is forced to face the harsh realities of sovereign Arab democracy.
These realities have proved even more horrendous in Libya. There, the number of victims was ten times higher than in Egypt, and the results of the revolution could be much more dramatic.
Muammar Gaddafi, torn apart by the crowd, was called a despot, a tyrant, and an international terrorist. But under his rule, no one questioned Libyan unity. Today, the country’s new owners are unable to divide power and oil and gas riches. Conflicts are increasingly more often settled with the use of arms, with each party relying on “their” tribes, in “their” provinces. Benghazi is at war with Misrata, Misrata with Zintan, and so on ad infinitum. Meanwhile, the result could be the country’s disintegration into Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, Fezzan – and that’s at the very least. It’s possible that other territories will want to separate.
The “Somalization” of Libya is becoming a real threat. Meanwhile, Libya is not positioned on the outskirts of the Horn of Africa, but in the Mediterranean – 300 km from the European Union.
Syria is next, as the Bashar al-Assad regime slowly but surely moves toward collapse, with the West, Turkey, and the Arab monarchs of the Persian Gulf doing everything possible to accelerate the process. But Syria will hardly see stability and prosperity following the fall of the al-Assad regime. A much more realistic scenario includes an intensified civil war on several fronts, with Sunnis against the al-Assad supporters, Alawis; Christians against Sunnis; and Kurds against everyone and for their own autonomy. And if things actually come to free elections, the favored choice is already known – the Muslim Brotherhood, just like in Egypt.
In 2012, the Arab Spring (or winter) will bring the world many more surprises – many of which will be unpleasant.
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