Ripples of unrest felt across the Arab world

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Unrest extends from Syria to Libya and passes through Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. Six Arab countries have been affected by the spring of change and the darkness of an unknown future awaits them. Spring here doesn’t come with a positive or a negative connotation. It is, rather, an important season in the history of these countries - a season that must end for another to begin.

The scene in Syria is the harshest and the most painful of all. The rest of these countries are living through a state of unrest, the ending of which is difficult to predict. The region’s geographical borders and governments have changed since World War II, and since the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

So, how will it end in Syria after its people, despite the high price they’re paying, have proven that their insistence on achieving change is far more than the insistence of other Arab people?

The duration of Syria’s civil war is no reason for dividing the country, some say. Somalia was torn apart into three countries and then united as one because the international community refused to recognize the divisions carried out by warlords. Syria remains a country where parties fight over governance. But who knows, if foreign disputes complicate the situation in Syria, then superpower countries may finally accept a solution dividing the country. It’s either that or sectarian and ethnic distribution becomes a geographic fait accompli. In this case, Syria ends as “statelets,” rather like what happened to Yugoslavia. Just like the malicious regime of Bashar al-Assad destroyed Syria, extremist jihadist groups may unite the Syrians to fight against them and the war may end with eliminating both evil parties: Assad and al-Qaeda.

As for Bahrain, its crisis partially reflects the sectarian struggle in our region. It also partially reflects the slow change the kingdom is going through. Bahrain differs from other Gulf countries because it is not a regime that lives off easily garnered oil income. Imagine, Bahrain’s population is five times that of Qatar and it only has one fifth of its income! Without national political reconciliation, it will be difficult to overcome Iranian interference and to restrain sectarian groups, Sunni and Shiite.

Libya remains a difficult case. We do not know where the winds of change will carry it. Will it be divided? Will it be ruled by extremist parties?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Yemen was two states until twenty years ago and its unity does not resemble that of a previously divided country, like Germany, because it wasn’t united before. Despite that, geography and history unite the two Yemens whilst politics divide them. If Yemen succeeds and remains united, then unity will increase people’s ability to overcome the economic and developmental drawback which is mainly blamed on the former regime. The paradox is that former President Saleh’s dictatorship united Yemen and that the revolution’s democracy threatens to divide it. Some southerners consider that unity was a fake slogan used by Saleh’s regime to seize their country. This is true. But most cases of unity in the world are similar to Yemen’s case as they began with attempts to seize and control - such as the unity of the U.S. and the current Russian Federation. But thanks to time, all wounds heal. The southerners who think that separation will heal their wounds will later find out that if they had maintained unity, it would have ultimately strengthened Yemen. A division, on the other hand, leads to the birth of several belligerent statelets.

The case of Egypt and Tunisia

Egypt, despite its troubled appearance, remains one of the most stable Arab countries. The secret to that lies in the uniformity of the social fabric which has been one since the days of the pharaohs. The second reason is the military institution represents the real power in the state amidst the weakness of the middle class and the fragility of Egypt’s political parties. It will certainly undergo a phase of change, but it will do so gradually if the military does well in managing the crisis and in making a gradual transition towards democracy. The fear over Egypt is not rooted in fear of the Brotherhood or others but of the failing economy.

As for Tunisia, it is the most developed among Arab states with regards to its political parties, syndicates and systems. It appears more capable of dealing with its crises. Proof of that is that it partially succeeded in desisting extremist groups.

Libya remains a difficult case. We do not know where the winds of change will carry it. Will it be divided? Will it be ruled by extremist parties? Or will mutual interests push everyone towards a constitutional civil state? It is the richest of Arab Spring countries and its people are the happiest with toppling their former regime - the regime of Moammar Qaddafi. But it is currently a country tribally, intellectually and regionally divided. With the presence of such old and new wounds, there is more energy being funelled into disputes and struggles. This is what scares us, especially since the recent experience of constitutional and parliamentarian change was imposed and cars packed with fighters and machineguns stand outside the parliament’s walls voicing their threats.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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