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Edition 16 Volume 10 - May 03, 2012

The Arab revolutions: strategic assessment III

The coming regime: a civil or religious state?  - Nasser Arrabyee
Only completion of all steps of the GCC deal will rescue Yemen from civil war.

Saudi Arabia's quandary  - Bernard Haykel
The regime realized that the domino theory does not apply to the Arab spring.

The Moroccan reinvention of mild authoritarianism  - Aboubakr Jamai
What has been achieved exactly? Democracy? Certainly not. Stability? Maybe, maybe not.

The landscape of the Arab spring  - Sadegh Zibakalam
The Arab spring has for the first time created a realistic prospect for peace between the Arabs and Israel.

The coming regime: a civil or religious state?
 Nasser Arrabyee

Yemen now faces a new political reality, but one not yet better than before. Yemenis' long-wished-for dream of establishing a civil state where liberties and rights are guaranteed to every citizen has not yet been realized.

Although Yemenis elected a new transitional president on February 21, 2012 after about a year of protests for change, they remain far away from their aspirations in what has been called the "Arab spring" that swept through many Arab countries, including Yemen. The long-sought-after civil state is supposed to be established on February 2014--if transitional President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi succeeds in implementing an agreement among the parties that created the political crisis of 2011.

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh is now gone from power, but his party still holds 50 percent of the ministerial seats in the unity government and a majority of the parliament. President Hadi himself is still secretary general of Saleh's party. And Saleh remains the head of that party (even though he is trying to be solely "honorary"--busy with sports, socializing with normal people, and writing his memoirs). He is now writing his life story about the 33 years he spent "dancing on the heads of snakes" (which was how he always used to refer to ruling Yemen).

This means that the parties that conflicted during the political crisis are those same parties that will establish the civil state--if they remain balanced through regional and international support. Maintaining Saleh's semi-secular party is at the heart of this balance and prevents Islamist-extremist dominance.

On November 23 last year, Saleh and his opponents signed in Riyadh a deal sponsored by Saudi Arabia and strongly supported by the United States for a peaceful, smooth, orderly and constitutional transfer of power by Saleh. The United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 2014 to support the deal's implementation and sent special envoy Jamal Bin Omar to help end the crisis.

Both Saudi Arabia and the US did not want al-Qaeda (which mainly threatens both of them) to exploit ongoing chaos to expand and recruit. They were and remain the key supporters of this political solution for Yemen's crisis.

The deal, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative, or GCC Initiative, calls for a step-by-step plan over two years and gives immunity from future prosecution to Saleh and all key conflicting players in Saleh's regime. A unity government was then formed between Saleh's party and the opposition coalition behind the anti-Saleh protests. Early elections were held on February 21, 2012, about two years before the true end of Saleh's term.

Now elected President Hadi has to complete three more major steps before the end of the transitional period in February 2014. The most important of these is a comprehensive national dialogue including even those who did not sign the GCC initiative, such as the Houthis in the north and separatist groups in the south.

The army is to be reformed under one leadership and a new constitution drafted before the 2014 presidential elections. These elections must be truly free and fair and open to all, not like the elections this year, which had only one consensus candidate--Hadi, Saleh's deputy for 18 years--crowned by the exhausted political parties.

Without sincere cooperation from all political parties and influential tribal, religious, and military figures, President Hadi will not be able to finish implementation of the GCC initiative. Only completion of all steps of the deal will rescue Yemen from a slide into civil war and utter chaos.

As such, Yemen faces three possible scenarios from now until February 2014. The best and most desirable to the majority, especially the modern forces, is the establishment of a civil state with real constitutional guarantees. All problems facing President Hadi can be solved if he can contain the military defectors under leadership of General Ali Muhsen and the tribal defectors under leadership of Hamid Al-Ahmar and his family.

These two leaders were the main pillars in Saleh's regime before they hijacked the "change revolution" to replace Saleh and exclude his son. Saleh's son, Ahmed, remains the commander of most of the army and the highly-trained republican guards and special forces.

As such, this scenario will not come easily. It faces almost the same big "snakes" that prevented former President Saleh from establishing the real institutions of a civil state. Tribal, religious, and military figures continue to wait to reap the spoils of this "civil state" to their advantage or that of their relatives. (With the exception of the terrorist al-Qaeda, almost all parties advocate for the civil state--but with different visions.)

The worst scenario would be the failure of the GCC political settlement, resulting in an uncontrollable civil war. This failure, if it happens, will be a victory for the enemies of the civil state and those who want to establish a religious state, or the "Islamic Caliphate" called for by cleric Abdul Majid al-Zandani, an influential religious leader who also publicly rejects the civil state. Al-Zandani is also a key leader of the country's largest Islamist party, Islah, which dominates among the six main parties that share in the current government with Saleh's party.

Al-Qaeda will take the lead in establishing this purported caliphate by expanding and recruiting as it did in the absence of the state during the 2011 protests. Al-Qaeda will use its sympathizers more than its operatives to achieve its goals, which is more dangerous than recruiting direct affiliates. A sympathizer with al-Qaeda is not necessarily ideologically supportive, but supportive as a result of social and economic problems.

The third scenario lies between the best and worst, and is the most likely to happen. The conflicting parties may maintain the current balance until 2014 and even beyond--not in order to establish the civil state but to reproduce themselves as "snakes" creeping under and around a new dancing president who will either do their bidding or impose himself on them as Saleh did in the past. This scenario is more plausible, being easier, less costly and more familiar to the traditional forces (tribal, religious, and military) trying to reproduce themselves under the banner of the "civil state".-Published 3/5/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org

Nasser Arrabyee is a Yemeni journalist and writer.

Saudi Arabia's quandary
 Bernard Haykel

The political leadership in Saudi Arabia was stunned by the "Arab spring" events and initially panicked. The rapid toppling of Tunisia's president and then Egypt's in populist uprisings seemed to spread like wildfire, including to neighboring Bahrain. Instability and rapid change appeared unstoppable, a situation that was deemed to undermine Saudi Arabia's interests and standing in the region. The crisis was compounded by the perception that the United States was equivocating on what to do about these events, and the Saudis found it unforgivable that Washington quickly abandoned a long-standing ally like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Should an uprising take place in Saudi Arabia, the US might also turn its back on the regime. Riyadh had to fend for itself and something had to be done to halt the tide of events. Riyadh decided that Bahrain would become the breakwater.

On February 14, 2011 Bahraini demonstrators took to the street and the Saudis made it clear that they would do whatever it takes to keep the al-Khalifa dynasty in power in Manama. Ultimately, a Gulf Cooperation Council military force led by Saudi Arabia went into Bahrain to support the regime, and it remains there today. Unfortunately, no pressure has been exerted on the al-Khalifas to adopt genuine reforms, which would address the structural discrimination against the majority Shiite population on the island kingdom as well as the misrule and pervasive corruption. An argument was elaborated that Iran was fomenting the Shiites in Bahrain to rebel, with the aim of toppling the regime and installing a pro-Iranian government. There has been little evidence to substantiate this claim, but this does not mean that Iran would not take advantage of the instability and ultimately have an ally in Manama should Shiites come to power.

Domestically, Saudi authorities were very firm and decisive that no dissent would be tolerated. Shiite demonstrators in the Eastern Province have been dealt with harshly. Others, such as the activist Islamists, have been silenced through a variety of soft and hard measures. Very importantly, however, the regime decided to go on a massive spending spree totaling over $130 billion over five years to co-opt the population through higher government salaries, new jobs and housing units and other pecuniary promises. At the same time, official religious authorities issued strong opinions that all forms of organized public protest are deemed un-Islamic and loyalty to the ruler is a religious obligation. Prince Nayef, the crown prince and interior minister, has led this effort, and thus far quite effectively.

With Bahrain stabilized and the domestic situation under control, the regime realized that the domino theory does not apply to the Arab spring. Regimes are actually resilient, especially monarchies, which have fared better than the Arab republics. Riyadh could relax for a bit and be less decisive about the other uprisings in the region.

In Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule (although not his influence) has come to an end, the Saudis brokered the deal that led to his resignation in February 2012. But the problem for the Saudis in Yemen is that there is no clear policy solution to the country's myriad problems. There is no obvious strongman who can take Saleh's place and the old regime's elites are still present and jockeying for power. There are also relatively new political actors (like the demonstrating youth, al-Qaeda, Houthis, and Southerners) who want their share of power and wish to make a clean break with the misrule of the past. Yemen will remain a very unstable country, threatening to become a failed state, and because of this the Saudis will have to expend money and influence to prevent this from happening.

In Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the Saudis so far have not adopted clear policies. There is no evidence that they are supporting Salafis in these countries, although this cannot be discounted. It is not obvious, however, that Salafis would be natural allies of Riyadh just because of shared religious affinities. The Saudis are unsettled by strong Turkish and Qatari influence in Tunisia, are happy that Libya's Muammar Gaddafi is dead and his regime gone, but are not sure what to do about Egypt. They desire the regime in Cairo to be a subservient ally and for the country to be stable. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood is unsettling because since at least 1990 relations with this organization have been tense and any Islamist force coming to power can compete with the Saudis more effectively in the "culture wars" of Islam. The main influence the Saudis will have in Cairo is financial because Egypt is unlikely to emerge from its dire economic problems without the help of the Gulf countries.

At present, Syria occupies the center of Riyadh's attention. Initially the Saudis were uncertain what to do about the uprising in Syria. They disliked Bashar Assad but if chaos was to be the alternative, then maybe it was best for him to stay on in Damascus. However, the wanton killing and brutalization of large numbers of Sunnis has become politically untenable for the kingdom. More important still was the realization that if Assad is toppled, then Iran's influence in the Arab world would be diminished and confined to Iraq. The Saudis have become convinced that Iran represents a real menace and should be dealt with. Syria has therefore become a stage for a proxy war between Tehran and Riyadh. The problem, however, is that Riyadh has very few real policy options beyond spending money on the Syrian opposition, which is weak, divided and unable to confront militarily the regime's forces. It is in Syria that Saudi Arabia's influence will be put to the test, and Riyadh now no longer views all change as bad, particularly if it vitiates one's rivals and opponents.-Published 3/5/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org

Bernard Haykel is professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and director of the Transregional Institute for the Study of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

The Moroccan reinvention of mild authoritarianism
 Aboubakr Jamai

If the Arab spring marks a major change in the view of political governance in the Arab Middle East, Morocco (like Jordan) deserves our attention. These two countries seem to represent the middle ground between a complete preservation of the authoritarian model and a radical systemic change toward a democratic model exclusively based on people's sovereignty. The success of the Moroccan experience would mean the persistence of benign authoritarianism as a model for the region.

To understand where Morocco is heading today, one has to go back to the events of February 2011. A nascent pro-democracy organization, the February 20 movement, rode the "Arab spring" wave and succeeded on multiple occasions in mobilizing tens of thousands of demonstrators in dozens of cities--an absolute first in Morocco's recent history. After dismissing the movement as a marginal faddish phenomenon, the regime declared the initiation of a constitutional reform process. In the speech announcing the reform, King Mohammed VI committed to all the institutional principles on which democratic institutions are built: separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, free and fair elections, etc.

Fast forward to July 2011. After a dubious reform process, Morocco woke up with a new constitution that is a far cry from instituting democracy. The king still maintains directly or indirectly most of the prerogatives usually held by elected institutions in democratic systems. The monarchy controls the security apparatus, the judiciary system, and the constitutional court. It appoints the CEOs of the most important state agencies and companies and still holds enough levers to seriously influence lawmaking.

How did the regime achieve such a remarkable feat? How did it safeguard almost untouched the authoritarian nature of its rule while eliciting kudos from most of the political parties and from its international partners? How did it organize legislative elections deemed to have been fair and transparent, bringing to power the Party of Justice and Development--the opposition Islamist party?

These achievements all seem to be a testament to the Moroccan miracle. Morocco appears to have achieved through peaceful and almost consensual means what other countries in the region either failed to achieve or achieved through messy and bloody means. At least, that is the story the regime's supporters would like to believe. But what has been achieved exactly? Democracy? Certainly not. Stability? Maybe, maybe not.

The Moroccan regime withstood the pressure to radically change for many reasons. While authoritarian and corrupt, it never reached the conspicuousness extent of authoritarianism and corruption that characterizes the Ben Ali or Mubarak regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. There are also reasons pertaining to the democracy movement's own failings. After a promising start that led one of the most popular Islamist movements in the country, Al Adl Wal Ihsan, to declare its support for a "civilian state" as opposed to a religious one, the alliance between the Islamist and progressive wings of the February 20 movement crumbled. The monarchy's decision to initiate a constitutional reform process was fast, and its decision to use minimal violence against recurring pro-democracy demonstrations won over a big enough portion of public opinion to the notion that change in Morocco would be less costly with a monarchy firmly in command. But one of the most crucial ingredients in the monarchy's success thus far is the PJD's decision to subscribe to the limited institutional changes the constitutional reform brought about.

This PJD position was key to the regime's strategy as it lent it credibility. The PJD's leadership is generally considered to be "clean"--devoid of corruption and nepotism. Moreover, the party has often been hailed for its robust internal democracy. By joining the "limited reform" approach camp, the PJD essentially relied on two contradictory arguments: that Morocco could descend into anarchy were the changes to be too brutal, in other words too democratic; and that the monarchy's authoritarianism, with some tweaking, could still be benevolent.

This schizophrenic approach tells the democratic-reformist current in society, "you are fundamentally right but you're too impatient", while assuaging the pro-monarchy camp. This balancing act is the result of a simple political calculus. The PJD was allowed to win the elections because of the Arab spring and the pressure of the democracy movement, but also because it was perceived as less threatening to the regime's interests than other Islamist and opposition movements. Had the PJD missed one of these elements, it would have been left gasping for political space.

The PJD victory in the first post-constitutional reform legislative elections in November 2011 supposedly brought even more validation to the democratic credentials of the reforms. After all, an opposition Islamist party won, and parties more or less openly allied with the monarchy lost.

Two caveats are in order here. First, the PJD's reformist reputation goes only so far. While it espoused part of the February 20 movement's demand of fighting corruption, it made abundantly clear that it rejected the parliamentarian monarchy system advocated by the democracy movement and supported the persistence of an authoritarian regime, albeit a watered-down one. In other words, the PJD seems still to subscribe to the idea that good governance does not necessarily require democratic institutions. Here we reencounter the perennial myth of the benevolent dictator--a myth the Arab spring was supposed to lay to rest.

Second, even if one subscribes to the idea that the PJD is pursuing a strategy of "democracy by stealth", this approach goes only so far. This strategy is based on the notion that, against the backdrop of the Arab spring, the regime is politically weak enough to allow the PJD to conduct a credible reform agenda. In other words, what the new constitution fails to provide as guarantees of reform, the political situation does--the political situation being the electoral victory and the pressure exerted by the democracy protest movement.

Let's begin with the PJD's electoral victory. A closer look at the numbers shows that it did not provide the PJD with the political capital to confront the regime's entrenched practices. While the PJD won 27 percent of the seats, it is worth recalling that the participation rate was a paltry 45 percent. These numbers look even less impressive in view of the fact that the electoral list on which the participation rate is based comprised only 60 percent of voting age Moroccans. Combined with the balkanizing features of the Moroccan electoral system, these figures put the PJD at the helm of a fractious coalition comprising partners from the outgoing governing coalition--a coalition the PJD campaigned against and that was widely perceived as pro-"ancien regime". This is not exactly what we might call a strong mandate or a free hand for reform.

What about the protest movement compelling the regime to allow the PJD to conduct serious reforms? It has morphed. The coordinated movement comprised of Islamists and progressives has all but disappeared and been replaced by new, more virulent and confrontational localized protests. Besides, most components of the protest movement blame equally the regime and the PJD for the current stasis.

Yet, so far, this political configuration makes the PJD the optimal partner for the monarchy. The PJD is still credible enough to entertain the idea of reform while not strong enough to challenge the monarchy and endanger its expansive prerogatives. This equilibrium is inherently unstable because what makes the PJD alluring to the monarchy today is exactly what makes it an unreliable partner for the new version of Moroccan authoritarianism. Already, signs of powerlessness and even cluelessness in the PJD government are denting its credibility.

Clearly, the government of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane is avoiding serious reforms. Since the PJD's accession to power four months ago, nothing has been proposed let alone done to rationalize an unfair tax system, reform the financial black hole that is the subsidies fund or more generally confront the entrenched economic mafia related to the monarchy. When the effects of the crisis in Europe and the economic fallout of a paltry rainy season hit home, inflaming even more the already incandescent social climate, the PJD fuse might not prove solid enough to protect the Moroccan model of authoritarianism. Another nightmarish scenario for the monarchy would be if the famed internal democracy of the PJD came back with a vengeance. PJD constituencies might balk at their party leaders' powerlessness and subservience to the regime, and revolt. A new, less compromising breed of PJD leaders might emerge that would push the party into the arms of the democracy movement. -Published 3/5/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org

Aboubakr Jamai is editor of Lakome.com. He is former editor of the Casablanca-based Le Journal Hebdomadaire.

The landscape of the Arab spring
 Sadegh Zibakalam

The "Arab spring" is well into its second year. What is the broad outcome of this gigantic struggle and, more importantly, what can be sketched so far for the future of the Middle East?

Is there a new Middle East emerging? If so, what sort of landscape can we project for it? How different would it be from the present one? Will the Arab spring really lead the Arabs to democracy? What will happen to some of the long and deep-rooted historical conflicts in this region that have shaped the Middle East as we have known it for more than a century?

Let us begin by noting that it is far too early to project or to draw any concrete landscape for the new Middle East. The Arab states are socially, economically and politically far too different from one another to draw any general and concrete conclusions about all of them. Still, there are certain strands that can be defined with reasonable confidence.

One of the most important aspects of the new Middle East is a general move towards democracy. To avoid any ambiguity as to what is meant by the word "democracy" in the Arab/Islamic context, let us explain that it concerns three fundamental points. First, the government is appointed by the people through a fair and free election. Second, the rule of law: the elected government is limited to what the constitution empowers it to do. Third, the government must be answerable to parliament for all its decisions and policies.

Needless to say, until now none of these criteria were genuinely and effectively practiced in any of the Arab states. The Arab regimes sought their legitimacy from places other than the ballot box. Invariably, it was their armed forces that raised them to power and kept them there as well. The idea of the rule of law existed only in textbooks. Arab leaders ruled quite arbitrarily; they did whatever they deemed necessary to stay in power.

No Arab leader, from Hosni Mubarak to Muammar Gaddafi to Zine El Abidine Bin Ali, ever said, "I want to do this or that, execute this decision or exercise that policy but, alas, the law or the constitution doesn't allow me to." They always did whatever they desired, in the absence of any institution to which Arab heads of states were obliged to reply and defend their actions. Whatever they did was appropriate and was, of course, "for the good of their country and their people". Consequently, whoever opposed or criticized them was a traitor, an agent of western colonial and Zionist powers and of the enemies of Islam and the Arab people. All Arab leaders identified their opponents with "foreign powers", which invariably meant the West and Israel.

The Arab spring has a long way to go. Conditions in many Arab countries will get worse before they get any better. The tumultuous events in Libya, including tribalism and ethnic conflict, are a clear example of post-revolution upheavals. Some Libyans are already beginning to seek the stability and security their country enjoyed under Gaddafi. If the Egyptian Omar Suleiman had stood as a candidate in the coming presidential elections, many Egyptians who long for the stability of their country under Hosni Mubarak would have voted for him. Syria, which is being torn apart by the Arab spring, presents an even more serious example of the huge turmoil that is visiting the Arab world.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Democracy is slowly rising in the Arab world for the first time in its history. And if history is anything to go by, democracy will solve many historical conflicts in the region--both domestic as well as between states--in much the same the way it did in Europe and elsewhere. True, there were at one point fears that in the absence of strong, ruthless and authoritarian regimes in the Arab countries, radical Islamic groups might fill the vacuum and establish rigid anti-western governments. But this has not happened.

The Islam that has emerged in the Arab spring is more inclined towards a Turkish than an Iranian model. It is true that the Islamists in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt have emerged as the biggest winners in free and fair elections. But it is also true that the Islam they broadly represent is a moderate Islam. It is neither anti-western nor anti- American. It is not even explicitly anti-Israel. The Islamists are of course critical of Israel's conduct towards Palestinians, in much the same way that many non-Zionists and secular and non-orthodox Israelis are critical of their government, but they have not raised the banner of the destruction of the Jewish state.

In fact, the Arab spring has for the first time created a realistic prospect for peace between the Arabs and Israel. Democracy aside, this is the most important achievement of the Arab spring.-Published 10/5/2012 © bitterlemons-international.org

Sadegh Zibakalam is professor of political science at Tehran University.

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