Since the eruption of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, many questions have been raised about the regional political scene and inter-Arab relations, and whether this will bring about reforms in other countries.
The Arab world is going through unprecedented political change, ranging from the toppling of governments, ongoing attempts at regime-change, and political and economic reforms aimed at preventing revolution. All this will lead to a major historic transformation based on popular participation, citizenship, human rights, political pluralism, and rejection of international intervention.
The accession to power of political Islamist movements has not created the anticipated unified front between Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, mainly because of internal problems. Yemen is still busy with its own reforms, in addition to facing separatists in the south and north, which is limiting any regional role or affiliation it may have.
The Arab Maghreb region has been greatly affected by these changes, as the accession to power of Islamists in Tunisia and Libya will have negative implications on their ties with Europe.
The goal of intra-Maghreb union is still distant due to security challenges, and the fact that Algeria is unwilling to accept the changes that have taken place in Libya. Instead, efforts are focused on bilateral ties, to enhance security coordination against extremist groups.
Relations between Arab Spring states and the Gulf
The Gulf Cooperation Council has worked hard to stop popular domestic demands for change, and has undergone a real test in the way it has dealt with the Arab revolutions. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took the lead in supporting regime-change, to the extent that they rushed into providing political and economic support to the newly-formed governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
However, the biggest fear is of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt, and of exporting revolution to the GCC, which is eager to maintain good relations with Cairo out of fear that a neglected Egypt will turn to Iran.
Arab Spring economies
It is estimated that Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia have lost $100 billion due to their revolutions, and they are still facing major challenges. Economic analysts talk of unemployment exceeding 18 percent, which means that 17 million are out of work. This requires $70 billion of investment in job-creating initiatives.
In the meantime, Arab countries have more than 15 million foreign workers, and 20 percent of graduates from Arab universities migrate every year.
Instability has affected these countries’ revenues, leading to criticism from the International Monetary Fund and other international economic organizations, which have demanded adherence to strict rules in return for foreign aid.
The conflict in Syria represents another challenge, as the more time it will take to resolve, the more resources it will need, to the extent that it might distract attention from the Palestinian cause. Whatever the final outcome, Arab countries will suffer, especially since the Arab League lost its neutral role by giving Syria’s seat to the opposition. Whether the regime resists or falls, problems will persist and repercussions could reach Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
The present situation in the Arab world does not allow for a unified vision to confront dangers and challenges until after the revolutionary wave and its repercussions. Political and constitutional changes have not improved inter-Arab relations, and this period of instability is likely to continue for some time.