The strategic changes to the Arab Regional system (2011-2012)

Published: Updated:

The regional Arab political system is going through a new era of uncertainty, showing some disconnection and division indicators coupled with the lack to cease the historic moment which lead to a complete political makeover without being reflected at the social, cultural, artistic arenas and societal values.

With the emergence of new elites in power, and the absence of systemic oppression, the harmony between the leaders and their popular base is still a goal far out of reach.

It is true that some Arab countries have witnessed in the past complete or partial divisions, but what we are seeing today is similar trends in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria and Libya along with Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait to a certain extent; an indicator for larger change.

The present era isn’t really a complete dissociation from the previous one, especially the first decade 2001-2011, as most of today’s changes started in a way or another during that period.

And if we would consider being final the status quo in the Arab spring countries and the rule of Islamists there, we can monitor the main changes in the Arab System as follows:

First: Gulf management to the Arab System: after the collapse of the historic power triangle (Egypt, KSA and Syria), we moved from “running the system” to the phase of “managing a regional situation” run by the GCC countries as an interim solution, led by KSA and endorsed by the Arab League.

The GCC countries were free to operate in the countries undergoing revolution and they had different approaches; ranging from preserving the status quo to facilitating the peaceful power shift that would eventually lead to the toppling of the regime.

They supported a peaceful removal of some leaders (Ben Ali, Abdallah Saleh), or avoided their toppling by force (Mubarak) or were interested in their fate (Qaddafi, Assad).

This temporary situation is due to last longer than expected because of the extension of the situation in Syria, as well as the difficulty of reestablishing the Saudi-Egyptian pole of power, mainly due to bad relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the GCC, especially KSA and the UAE.

A new development is worth mentioning, the mutual visits between Iran and Egypt, crowned by the establishment of an Egyptian-Iranian collaboration council, and the announcement of many key projects.

Second: The engagement between Gulf countries and the ones who went through the Arab Spring in the Levant and the Maghreb…not only with regimes and official players but with the least important actors and other countries. This was clear with the support (direct or indirect) to the hardliners in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, which was seen as creating a space for Jihadists away from the GCC countries.

The future of the regional system is depending on this relationship, especially with the complexity of the Syrian situation between liberals, Salafists and Jihadists, without forgetting Israel’s role and possible action.

And the last decision of the Arab league on March 6th 2013, to allow “anybody” to support arming “the free Syrian army” is an indicator to the era of free style in crisis management away from a collective decision.

Third: the conflict between “monarchy” and “Islamism”

One of the main repercussions of the revolutions was the emergence of Islamic favorable states in the Arab Spring, mainly Egypt and Tunisia, with similar traits in Yemen and Libya, and the speculation about a comparable solution in Syria.

To date, nobody can speculate the extent and the future of the Islamic ruling system, but nobody can doubt the direct clashes that emerged with some GCC countries, especially with the discovery of a terror cell in UAE, planning to create instability in there in the KSA and Kuwait.

On the other hand the Islamic regimes are seeking alliances elsewhere; with the likes of Iran and Iraq.
These new changes risk putting the secular traditions of the Arab system at stake, questioning its priorities towards key decisions such as the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Fourth: a regional factional conflict

The crisis in Syria is taking a dangerous turn, with reports of the presence of Iranian fighters, and real fears of the start of a Sunni-Shiite factional war that might start in Syria after the end of the major battle of Damascus, and is due to reach other countries, as said by the Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maleki, who expressed his direct dread of this war reaching Lebanon and Iraq, and causing divisions in Jordan.

Fifth: change in doctrine

The Arab revolutions introduced many changes to the value system of the Arab political System. The principle of non-intervention in internal issues proved to be useless in tyrannies and human rights abuses, so there will be a new modus operandi, going through a chaotic phase, especially during the conflict in Syria where things are not clear, and the engagement is clear between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rulers of the GCC.

Sixth: unfinished wars within the system

Regardless of the outcome of the revolutions, the corruption had put to ground the structure of the state in many of the Arab spring countries. And, in the absence of a strong state, it is likely for some countries to witness calls for division, especially in Libya and Yemen, and probably Syria at a later stage, which means the continuity of the conflict between Islamists and Liberals within these countries. This will affect the overall Arab political system and nurture a chaotic status for a long time.

Seventh: neighbors’ intervention

Israel, Turkey and Iran benefited from the new status of post revolution countries and each tried, separately, to intervene militarily, politically and economically.

The real question remains: to which extent will the post-revolution country adopt democracy, and is there a favorable environment in this regard among the conflict between Islamists and liberals? And to which extent will this change in regime be reflected in the performance of the Arab System, and the inter-Arab relations? And what will be the role of the Arab league?

Written by Dr. Moataz Salama, Egyptian political expert