- Conferences and Seminars
Future Scenarios for the Arab Uprisings
By: Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh
The state of anxiety and skepticism regarding the future of the Arab uprisings has prevailed widely to include the ordinary man in the street, the leaders in the region and foreign powers besides Israel. The uprisings still witness competing tracks drawn by opposing forces, hence, it is difficult to tell what the last outcome will be.
Notwithstanding our belief that the change movements would eventually fulfill peoples’ aspirations for freedom and dignity, the objective reading of the current events reveals four possible tracks which might be achieved to certain extents according to the countries where the change has taken place.
First Scenario: Change and Reform within the Internal-Regional Context of the State
This scenario is based on the idea of changing the structure of the political system into a democratic one, while being preoccupied with internal economic, security, development and social concerns.
Any burgeoning regime, should it succeed in overcoming the challenge of the change, will have to face the intertwined, discordant forces which cannot be appeased all together and which will seek to be a partner in decision-making demanding at times more than what they actually deserve or trying to foil the system in case their demands were not fulfilled.
At the same time, many will not be able to differentiate between chaos, lawlessness and political opportunism on one hand, and freedom and responsible conduct on the other hand. Concurrently, opposing forces will try to impose the model of state which suits their vision, be it Islamic, nationalist, liberal or leftist till one side prevails or all parties get used to respecting the rules of the democratic game.
The new regime will face different economic, social, educational, military or judicial institutions that have decayed under the former regime and that need rehabilitation in order to launch the reform plan. Ultimately, the new regime might be opening Pandora’s Box especially upon dealing with the sides whose interests intersected with those of the former regime. It might then need some years to found an effective, transparent system to run these institutions and integrate them within the reform process.
The new regime will need some “magic formula” to accommodate cheap partisan bickering and external pressures and to deal with the remnants of the old regime and its centers of power within the state. At the same time, it will need to present the masses with fast accomplishments on the political, economic and security levels.
This scenario means the creation of weak, unstable democracies whose leaders would plunge into their local aspirations and fear for themselves from external intervention or regional conflict. They will also try to appease super powers by vowing not to trespass certain “red lines,” while pursuing timid improvements regarding their external policies concerning national issues.
Second Scenario: Reform and Change within an Arab-Islamic Unitary Uprising Project
This is the most optimistic and ambitious scenario. The leaders of change movements mostly represent Islamic and national trends who realize that their uprisings must not only be domestic projects rather they must be a part of a unitary project to face the nation’s weakness and fragmentation.
The success of any change movement depends on the success of other movements, their integration and unity in face of the remnants of the old regimes, and on preventing international hostile powers from controlling any side.
According to this scenario, the uprisings did not break out only to express the need for bread but to restore the nation's dignity, recover decision making far from external hegemony and to emphasize that its first enemy is the Zionist project. Thus, the revolutions should embrace the nation’s need for unity and its aspirations for liberating Palestine.
Although this scenario seems logical, yet the ideological change movements preferred to focus on domestic concerns, appease Western powers and highlight common concepts of freedom, democracy and human rights.
However, such conduct was not because these currents changed their convictions but because they realized the need to move within a gradual peaceful process (as in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen); as changing the infrastructure of the old regime needs a long time during which they can enhance their status and then seek what is beyond uprising and unity projects.
In fact, these movements are aware of the magnitude of internal and foreign forces seeking to foil their efforts; thus, they cannot rush into the last stages before they can strengthen their position.
Even those who came within a revolutionary change formula realize that the uprisings are at risk in an environment which urged them to seek help from regional and international powers to achieve change in their countries. Accordingly, their “revolutionary” conduct will be limited to regional change.
Nonetheless, no matter how much the Arab and Islamic movements give reassurances, they will eventually face enormous internal and external challenges that may shake their position, unless new revolutionary spirit provokes their audience and expresses their aspiration, not for a loaf of bread, but for liberation and unity.
Third Scenario: The Corrupt Regimes Will Reproduce themselves yet in New Appearance
This scenario assumes that the change that took place has only affected the head of the regime, as was the case in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, whereas its institutions and web of interests remained intact especially on the security, economic and judiciary levels. These institutions form the core of the “deep state” and they own tools of power and pressure and the ability to thwart any root changes that might threaten their presence. Consequently, these forces will seek to accommodate the change movements and absorb the manifestations of the revolutionary tide.
They might show some patience regarding the change that took place but they will eventually try to foil it through security lawlessness, economic deterioration, antagonizing external powers and media incitement. Then, they will present their saviors anew whether on the back of tanks through a military solution or based on the World Bank formula through economic solution. Consequently, the hopes to achieve the project of uprising and liberation will be frustrated.
In both cases, some quick wins will be presented in coordination with the Western forces that will support those options concordant with their policies. However, these options will be reshaped to extend the life of the corrupt regimes before uprisings break out once again.
Under this scenario falls the state of enormous confusion witnessed in Egypt; the efforts by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to derail the uprising, presenting Ahmad Shafiq as presidential candidate, the abolition of the first genuine People’s Assembly in the history of Egypt and the attempt to strip the president-elect of his authority.
Fourth Scenario: Fragmenting the Region on Sectarian and Ethnic Basis
This scenario is related to the power of foreign influence to form the map of the region and the region’s susceptibility to ethnic and sectarian divisions. It is also based on the vision that the revolutions have led to undermining central governments and their internal security. Accordingly, those from the same ethnicity and minorities would unite to protect themselves.
This vision is also based on the idea that some ruling powers (old and the new ones) will resort to their caste or minority group to protect themselves and enforce their influence. Consequently provoking other sides to form their parties and control their areas and thus deepening the rift in the region.
In this case, Israel and other hostile forces will only have to encourage the state of division on the political, media, security and military levels and enhance feelings of hatred under the pretext of defending the rights of minorities and sects.
This scenario was discussed by many Zionist and Western authors and intellectuals including Bernard Lewis and Aluf Benn. And for them, it heralds transforming Israel into a natural entity since a “Jewish state” would not be deemed an anomaly when surrounded by Alawite, Sunni, Shiite and Maronite countries.
The Likely Scenario
Defining the probable scenario depends on a number of factors, the most notable among these are:
1. The ability of the change movements to maintain the revolutionary momentum and the masses’ support till completing the change.
2. The ability of the change movements to present charismatic popular leaders capable of leading the change course and filling the political vacuum.
3. The ability of the change movements to form wide national alliances that overcome political blackmail, foil the return of the old regime and prevent fragmentation and internal wars and conflicts.
4. The ability of the change movements to isolate the foreign factor (especially the American side) and curb its influence on national decision making.
5. The ability of the change movements to present the masses with tangible successes especially on the tracks of security, economy, facing corruption and enhancing freedoms.
6. The ability of the change movements to address national issues, especially the Palestinian issue, in a way that reflects popular will and the aspirations of the nation.
It is difficult to fathom and analyze the intertwined factors in every country. However, tracking a general course shows the following:
1. The peaceful change process in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen helped maintain the “deep state” to a large extent in addition to keeping the remnants of the old regime in influential positions.
2. The ability of the US and Western powers in security, media, political and economic fields is still high in the countries that pursued peaceful track or revolutionary one alike.
3. The change forces could not achieve decisive results in a number of countries and their parties or trends could not achieve wide majority that allows them to fulfill their programs without impediments by other forces. Nor were they able to present charismatic leaders that enjoy the consensus of the masses.
Accordingly, the scenario for the foreseeable future will most probably be heading towards:
1. A limited change process towards the formation of unstable democratic regimes.
2. Accommodating the Islamists who will be facing double-edged challenges. Thus, it would be a chance to develop their abilities, increase their expertise and expand their popularity. Otherwise, they will shrink as a result of some mistakes or practices not to mention the external attempts to demonize them and foil their efforts.
3. A state of skepticism regarding the future of the region due to the competition between the change forces on one hand and the remnants of the old regime and external forces on the other hand.
Yet, the state of instability does not only open the way for the return of the old regimes in new form or appearance, but it also paves the way for a wide state of depression and violent reactions in the form of new revolutionary tide which is stronger and more decisive.
Regardless of our wishes for the uprisings to fulfill their mission through a revolutionary, unitary project which establishes a free state that reflects the nation’s will, religion and culture, the current facts undermine the crystallization of this scenario and make it closer to wishful thinking. But one can never tell! A year and half earlier, thinking of these changes was a sort of craziness or mere wishes according to those working in the field of strategic studies.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 3/7/2012