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Vail Valley Voices: Where will Arab Spring wind up?

Matthew Kennedy
Vail, CO, Colorado

The Middle East’s ongoing events have created an awe, surprise, bewilderment and curiosity among many international affairs aficionados. Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution was the start; Egypt’s revolt was the real catalyst; and the events are resulting in periodic surprises.

Several observations regarding the Arab Spring’s direction:

n Removing Syria’s government will prove difficult unless key societal sectors rebel.



n Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Oman are unlikely to experience Libya and Syria’s bloody fates.

n Lebanon, Algeria, Yemen, and Bahrain have unknown futures.

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n Iran is seeking to influence the Arab Spring’s direction.

n Two unknown questions are how the Arab Spring will influence Al Qaeda’s network and the Middle East’s relations with the United States and European Union.

Ousting Syrian President Hafaz Assad may prove difficult. Many Syrians were inspired by Tunisia, Egypt and Libya’s uprisings. Assad promised reforms, but refused to deliver. The Syrian president enjoys the support of the country’s military-security apparatus, business community and different religious elements.



Many fear that the regime’s removal will splinter the country along Sunni, Christian, Alawite and Kurdish lines or instigate the rise of militant Islamist elements. Most of the president’s advocates are inclined to sustain the status quo rather than risk the alternative.

An Assad ouster will probably only occur if one of those groups rebels, regardless of how many reformists are killed or how long their protests last.

Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Oman are seeking to address their people’s economic and political grievances. A repeat of Libya and Syria’s circumstances cannot be discounted in those areas. The chances are slim it will occur, unless those countries’ authorities stagnate or abandon their reforms.

Lebanon, Algeria, Yemen, and Bahrain are the region’s unknowns. The likelihood of the Arab Spring spreading to Lebanon is slim.

Beirut has experienced similar political upheavals since the 1970s, at least — the type many Arabs are now witnessing.

Algerian authorities are initiating reforms to address their citizens’ socio-political-economic complaints. Their hope is to prevent the Arab Spring from reaching Algers.

Yemen’s protests are motivated by a desire to remove the president, not improve the country’s decimated economy. Sanaa authorities have reacted violently and without promising political reforms.

Bahrain faces the most complex situation outside Syria. The Persian Gulf nation is officially a constitutional monarchy; unofficially is another issue. The Bahraini Sunni-dominated royal family controls Manama’s political environment. The country’s Shia majority populace is dissatisfied. Opposition leaders are seeking reforms, including a parliament with genuine decision-making powers (unlike its present status,which requires differing its decisions to a monarchial-appointed Shura Council). Bahraini’s officials are reluctant to pursue genuine reforms for fear of the monarchy’s removal.

Iran has the most to lose from the Arab Spring. It is wary of events in Syria. Iran sees a potential opportunity in Bahrain. Tehran’s authorities are also concerned about the precedents the Arab Spring could serve for its opposition movement.

Iran’s most direct interest in the Arab Spring is via Bahrain and Syria. Tehran’s influence in the Persian Gulf might increase if Bahraini authorities are ousted. It’s a worrisome scenario for Manama. They are especially concerned since there are unconfirmed reports of Iranian support for Bahrain’s Shia-dominated opposition elements.

Iranian authorities are especially worried about Syria. Damascus is Tehran’s outlet to the Arab world. Iran and Syria collaborate on buttressing various Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas. It is unsurprising, then, that there are rumors claimingthat the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are buttressing Syria’s anti-reform efforts; and that Iran is providing Syria with Internet surveillance equipment capable of locating the reformist movement’s leadership via Facebook and Twitter.

Iran could lose its logistical-operational conduit to different terrorist groups if Assad’s removal occurs. It might finally serve as an additional model for Iran’s opposition forces to employ against Tehran’s government — a model more applicable than Libya’s example.

How the Arab Spring will impact the Al Qaeda phenomena is unclear. Speculation is that it will result in the organization’s demise, considering the rebellions are occurring for reasons outside of what Al Qaeda envisioned for the region. Al Qaeda’s affiliates will probably use the instability to enhance their operational capabilities, plus plan additional attacks against American targets. This is primarily applicable to Al Qaeda’s surrogate in Yemen.

The last issue: How will the Arab Spring influence the Middle East’s relations with the U.S. and EU? Will the region’s ties improve with both entities, or will the area’s new leaders exercise their energy clout for their people’s social-economic benefit and the West’s detriment via higher oil prices?

It is hard to guess when the Arab Spring will conclude. What began in Tunisia will likely end in Iran. The long-term implications for Washington and Brussels are unknown. The outcome could buttress or frustrate both entities’ strategic ties with the Middle East.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to intl.affairs@yahoo.com.


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