Countries of chaos and prospects of disintegration

There are major factors relevant to the prospects of disintegration and division in some Arab Spring countries

Turki Aldakhil

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During a dinner, New York Times (NYT) editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein met with writer Scott Anderson. They agreed to work on a feature on the threats facing the Middle East post-Arab Spring. Work on the story – described as an epic as it is longer than 40,000 words – lasted 18 months.

It is a really interesting piece, particularly in terms of the investigative journalism involved. An Arabic translation of the article, entitled “Fractured lands: How the Arab world came apart,” was published in Ash-Sharq al-Awsat. It addressed economic factors as it looked into the prospects of disintegration in the Arab world, and how states have been crushed and institutions weakened.

The piece noted: “The scattershot nature of the Arab Spring makes it hard to provide a single answer. Some nations were radically transformed, even as others right next door were barely touched. Some of the nations in crisis were relatively wealthy (Libya), others crushingly poor (Yemen). Some countries with comparatively benign dictatorships (Tunisia) blew up along with some of the region’s most brutal (Syria).

“The same range of political and economic disparity is seen in the nations that remained stable. Yet one pattern does emerge, and it is striking. While most of the 22 nations that make up the Arab world have been buffeted to some degree by the Arab Spring, the six most profoundly affected - Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen - are all republics, rather than monarchies."

The Arab Spring exposed many social and cultural defects, awakening tribal affiliations as sectarianism fed off raging protests. This can clearly be seen in Syria

Turki Aldakhil

Social and cultural defects

There are major factors that are relevant to the prospects of disintegration and division in some Arab Spring countries. The Arab Spring exposed many social and cultural defects, awakening tribal affiliations as sectarianism fed off raging protests. This can clearly be seen in Syria, as the revolution shifted from a desire to achieve change to a struggle between Alawites and Shiites on one hand, and Sunnis who oppose the regime on the other.

This negative awakening makes countries such as Libya, Yemen and Syria an easy target for disintegration and collapse. This in addition to economic disparity in each country. We can complete Anderson’s note about monarchies by saying they are more able to adapt to global changes. The Arab Spring renewed their legitimacy as their citizens renewed their allegiance to them. In return, the states took developmental measures and devised programs and plans.

Since the days of Egypt’s late President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the era of Arab nationalism, some Arab republics have idolized some leaders provocatively, and outrageously idolized certain events, coups and revolutions. Meanwhile, people suffered from economic bankruptcy and institutional collapse. This made societies completely separate from politics. As time passes and idolization decreases, a desire for revenge and accountability surfaces.

Even if people remain under the governance of a dictator for more than half a century, like in Libya, Syria and particularly Yemen, they will still find a way to avenge themselves. However, monarchies are distinguished for their rare wisdom, authentic awareness of societies’ needs, and being close to the people. This has created a social system that is radically different than those in Arab republics that adopted certain ideologies.

Therefore, the possibility of disintegration, as discussed in the NYT piece, will continue to exist because the situation on the ground is not stable yet, and these disturbed countries will not move toward peace anytime soon.

Although some crises are very bloody, they are still in their beginning stages, and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, the possibilities range from disintegration to division and ongoing civil war. Perhaps the best-case scenario will be ‘stable chaos’ within fragile economic entities.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 23, 2016.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

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