Friday, April 8, 2011

The Arab Spring

By Nader Uskowi

Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, there is a real Arab awaking movement that has engulfed the Arab world, creating an Arab Spring that was unimaginable last winter. What’s going on? Yesterday, I posed the questions to couple of old Arab friends who have been blogging seemingly without break in the past couple of months. We were meeting in a beautiful spring evening in an otherwise hot Arab city on the shores of the Persian Gulf. What was discussed seemed so logical that I thought I knew everything already, only realizing that’s what happens when confronted with strong arguments.

Let’s start with the Arab street. Jobs, food and affordable housing, hope for future and a chance to advance; all scarce commodities on the street. Politics follow soon. Freedom of press, freedom of assembly, freedom for political parties, free elections, and freedom from arbitrary arrests, torture and imprisonment; all as scarce as jobs and hope for future. The street feels no one cares, with the business and political elite and their foreign supporters caring almost exclusively for security and stability at the expense of the dignity of a whole generation of youths growing up in a global village increasingly linked to outside world and increasingly aware of the opportunities available to the youths elsewhere.

Add to these the seemingly ever-presence of fundamentalism, sectarian divide, and naked foreign interference in the affairs of the region.

Since coming to power, Syria’s Bashar Assad (and lately Iran’s Ahmadinejad) saw the solution to the malaise in launching economic reforms but keeping political reforms at bay, the so-called Chinese model. The problem is the model is not working; it puts too much emphasis on upholding the vested interests of the powerful, the Alawi in Syria (the clergy in Iran) and their cronies and their security apparatus. Yes, the new middle class enjoying the benefits of the economic reforms has thrown its support to the old guard, but their numbers, even in thousands, is not enough to stop the avalanche of discontent among the youths. After eleven years of economic reforms in Syria, the youths still do not feel being treated as equal stakeholders in society, it still yearns for political freedom, jobs for now, hope for future, and their lost dignity.

Those who still believe that causes of Arab Spring should be found in the foreign policies of the regimes and foreign interference in the region, Syria offers a clear example that those factors, as important as they certainly are, do not constitute the root causes of the rage and anger seen on the street these days. Iraq and Afghanistan also offer good examples: the two countries are occupied by foreign troops, yet there have not yet been any movements there comparable to other parts of the region, although we should expect the wave finding its way to those countries as well. The argument here is cautionary: do not look for foreign policy and foreign interference as the sole, or even the main source of the current discontent in the region.

The regimes in the Middle East, from Egypt to Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Iran and soon the rest should have realized by now that a program of sustained economic development together with genuine political reforms, giving the youths their voice, freedom, hopes and dignity, is the only way ahead.


Anonymous said...

The Iranian case is very different in key respects:

1) protesting student types are from a specific social strata, itself a minority.

2) a solid 80% majority of Iranians inside Iran offer varying levels of support for their form of governance (see polls).

3) by a 3:1 majority, Iranians support law enforcement/security measures against demonstrators. (see polls)

4) Iran has a representative form of government which satisfies a majority of Iranians (see polls).

5) An attempted color coup assisted by external forces was recently put down (see Brill analysis of election).

I could go on but you should by now see my point.

Nader Uskowi said...

Majorities and public opinion polls are crucial for elections, not for political movements born on the street. Of course a political movement will be effective if it is eventually supported by a significant segment of the society. If you base your analyses solely on the base of political polls and the ruling majorities, you will be unable to explain the birth of political movements. In Syria, for example, it is for now immaterial if the people on the street constitute the majority. In case of Iran, never forget how the Khomeini movement started before it was joined by seemingly everyone.

The senior leadership in Tehran are not as comfortable as you are, thinking the polls showed support for their regime, and consequently no worries about the resurgence of a movement by the youths. They have their pulse much closer to the realities on the ground to fell as complacent as your analysis suggests.

One last point; in this very post I have mentioned Ahmadinejad's attempt at economic reforms, at times emulating the Chinese model. Those reforms, like subsidies reforms, are serious moves. But not enough without political reforms as serious. I probably have not drunk the "IRI Rising" Kol-Aid yet, but I caution anyone drinking it that the situation is much more complex that a poll conducted from Istanbul might suggest. The leaders know that. They need to start serious political reforms, without them they would encourage a movement for freedom, hope and dignity.

Anonymous said...

China has its one-child-per-family policy, and therefore does not have the deluge of under-25s that has hit the Middle East. Even in ideal circumstances it would be hard to find jobs for the current MENA demographic.

As for Iran, just counting the votes at the next election would make a big difference. The constitution is not all that bad, if it was operated honestly.


Anonymous said...

those is good idea of first and the second one nader explain too but for political changes in all area must look out side of the boxes the intire midle east out off control for certain time start up by my point of view from usa and britain but they are not capable to finished they way like to be finished by to day iran know will inside of west mind of them political complaxed provide valueble information to all people need for revolution and not to be steel from one dectator come and next replace them,other importand fact i believe, iran know may face reality of his final face up with west in this years of war the talk has begining to surface and climate has changing in diferent format wayof ingagement. is iran ready for war at this time? how hard iran is capable to damaged u.s and his alliad interest in the midle east? how effective would be to each side? one ansewer i have iran has prepeared itself from war as 1990 up to day how effective would be in military force not u.s kown that for shore,but would be termandce cost to intire world would be.

Anonymous said...

Comapring Iran with the upheavel in the dictatorial Arab world is simply not valid for various historical, socio-economic and geo-strategic reasons. Iranians have always had a strong civic society, higher educational rates and a well developed national identity. Even the hybrid IRI system has modified a great deal since the original 1979 revolution.

I would agree with anon's analysis that the majority of Iranians are not interested in a foreign funded color coded "democratic revolution" and would not support street agitation by a very vocal minority, mostly overseas based and lacking cohesion or accepability in Iran.

Iranian law enforcement is also well organized and domestic intelligence is second to none. The most important aspect is the relative pluarity of Iranian democractic process and inclusion of factional politics within the IRI.

Most Iranian and objective foreign polls do show a vast majority of the populace supporting the IRI or having an apathetic political outlook not prone to street violence as envisioned by the color coded masterminds in UK and US.

The Arab regimes in contrast are all fuedal or military dictatorships that have neglected the development of socio-political institutions, suppressed dissent and played on tribal and religious differences to cling to power. It is no coicidence that the Arab world in general ranks at the lowest rungs of HDI (Human Development Index), low access to the internet, very low female participation in education or civic society etc. Heck, in the US favorite "democracy", Saudi Arabia women can't even drive or go shopping without male escorts let alone participate in any form of "awakening".

The Arab regimes are way behind the curve on all political, economic, demographic and geo-strategic dvelopments and are indeed headed for on-going upheavels.