It is undeniable that the region is plagued by persistent crises, hindering stability, peace, and sustainable development for its people. Furthermore, these crises are now increasing in frequency.
Reflecting on the region's history, the last time there was any significant collective positive news was when the Arab states declared their independence. This happened about eight decades ago, with overwhelming optimism for the start of a new era. Specifically, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon gained their independence one year after WWII ended. Other Arab states followed suit, with Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia becoming independent in the 1950s. The departure of the British and French, who were often blamed for the region's crises, enabled the newly independent states to make decisions autonomously. The Arab League was established to continue the momentum of promoting peace and cooperation in the region.
Countries in the region dealt with their problems while being preoccupied with two ongoing dilemmas: the chronic Palestinian issue and another changing crisis such as the Lebanese civil war, leftists fighting in South Yemen, the Iraq-Iran war, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and the invasion of Iraq. Despite occasional crises, most of this vast region was relatively peaceful. However, the situation is now drastically different, and the region has become the most chaotic in the world due to ongoing conflicts and militias. With many countries becoming failed relics of the 2011 revolutions, what caused the breakdown of regional security leading to over half of the countries in persistent chaos?
In summary, the chain of events began with the swift removal of Bin Ali in Tunisia. Despite avoiding a violent conflict, Tunisia still struggles to overcome its obstacles. Meanwhile, Muammar Gaddafi's refusal to resign during a widespread uprising ultimately led to the intervention of NATO and the collapse of his regime. As a result, a power struggle emerged among the Libyan people.
Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s longest-serving president, relinquished power after the military supported the people on two separate occasions: during the revolution and the counterrevolution. In Syria, the regime lost control of most of the country but held the capital. Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down, and the Iran-backed Houthi militia took over Sanaa while revolutionaries debated over granting immunity to the deposed President. Bahrain and Kuwait suppressed protests at the Pearl Roundabout – mostly led by Iran-affiliated extremists – and Al-Erada Square, respectively.
Lebanon, Iraq, and Somalia are among the countries that continue to experience failure or chaos beyond the scope of revolutions.
Other countries have learned from past collapses and have found that change often leads to more disasters. With over twelve years having passed, a sound judgment can now be made on the events that occurred.
Some Western analysts initially held a positive view, drawing parallels between the Middle Eastern uprisings and the 1989 Eastern European revolutions, which saw the peaceful collapse of seven regimes in three years, except for Romania.
The comparison is flawed because the changes in Eastern Europe were a consequence of the collapse of the communist government in Moscow and its affiliated regimes. The West took on the responsibility of protecting, aiding, and organizing the transition, preventing it from descending into turmoil or failure.
Since the 1950s, the streets of the Arab world have been dominated by Islamists and leftists. The leftist movement includes Baathists, Nationalists, Nasserists, and socialists who have previously failed to rule in countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, and South Yemen. In 2011, they re-emerged through demonstrations and disputed power in Tunisia, Libya, and Syria, leading to disastrous endings.
Containing or coexisting with one or two regional crises is possible, but persistent war and military conflicts pose a risk for all.
As a matter of fact, there have been no significant Arab collective efforts to address the ongoing chaos, possibly due to the belief that it will naturally dissipate, which could have unintended consequences. With deteriorating political conditions, the situation may spiral out of control.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.