Now that the Arab world has witnessed unprecedented political changes that culminated in a series of historic revolutions, the so-called “Arab Spring,” what can one say at this point about the upheavals? There is no doubt that an assessment should take into account the results that could be realized in the long run and not merely those that have been achieved in the awake of the revolutions, because significant outcomes do not appear out of the blue, especially in countries where underdevelopment is an essential part of society structure.
One main scenario is the emergence of Islamic parties. Islamists realize that democracy is a tool to achieve two aspects essential to their mission: access to power, something unprecedented in modern history. Another is the legitimization of their stance, both nationally and internationally, which could help them establish a stronger base in the midst of internal divisions. To that end, Islamists may find no harm in adopting the practice of democracy as long as it serves their agendas.
There are no indications that they will abandon their religious ideals, and if that were to take place, it would be the result of domestic and foreign pressure and not of their own desire. Foreign pressure, mainly from the West, would change very little. For one, Westerners undeniably have faith in democracy, freedom and individual liberty. For another, they prefer and wisely so, to act in a manner that is not contradictory to their mantras; otherwise they lose their credibility.
The West also recognizes the risks associated with support for any change, which could potentially lead to the arrival of “radicals”. Case on point is Iran in 1979. At the same time, the West also appreciates that the “damage” caused by “radicals’” in power might be less of a risk than them not having them in authority. State actors are more likely than non-state actors to act in a rational way that accommodates international obligations. Frankly, it is less of a challenge dealing with Iran today than Muqtada al Sadr in 2004, before partnering with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, when he had no representation that one could have a dialogue with and no clear language but that of violence.
The second scenario is the emergence of democratic systems, slightly flavored with Islam, similar to the one found today in Iraq due to the presence of other political minorities that do not favor establishing absolute Islamic states. Now, whether this kind of democratization is sustainable or not is questionable as traditional values, heavily embraced by Middle Eastern governments, continue to clash with the norms and practices of democracy. For example, Iraq’s Ministry of Interior labeled the emo subculture as “Satanism” and ordered the police to wipe it out.
The third and final scenario is internal divisions and chaotic conditions, where ethnic and religious groups, mainly Islamic, in “Arab Spring” countries contend with each other after being unable to find consensus. Here however, although religious groups are more organized and have greater potential in the event of confrontation, the odds of a victory over other forces remains uncertain primarily due to external influences.
While the best prospect for this scenario is a spilt of “Arab Spring” countries into small states according to the population groups that comprise them, the worst prospect is a civil war that would drain resources, waste energies and reinstate dictatorships under the banner of restoring security and stability. Case in point: the ruling military council in Egypt (formally known as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces). As Egyptian blogger Kareem Amar said in October 2011: “Egypt’s Arab Spring has led not to democracy, but to another cruel dictatorship.”
It is imperative for the forces in the region to realize the dangers, which await their countries if and when they choose to follow their political desires at the expense of their fellow citizens. The Arab Spring could bring a positive change; nevertheless, it could also bring destruction and devastation depending on which path politicians choose to take, which is yet to be fully seen.
Unquestionably, the United States and its allies have supported the right of the Arab people to protest from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Yemen. Nonetheless, more still needs to be done in terms of overseeing how transitional governments rule and preventing a a return to square one. Furthermore, let democracy takes its course: if Islam-oriented groups, as in al Nahda party in Tunisia, win elections, then so be it; so long as they are the product of democracy and as long as they respect others’ values. In addition, more needs to be done in Syria today. The positive image that NATO countries created for themselves as supporters of freedom has the potential to be distorted, unless they act on an imminent solution that would bring an end to the murder scene in Syria. After running out of diplomatic options in dealing with Bashar al Assad, who continues murdering women and children while his wife shops online, it is about time for a Libyan-style operation similar in context to the historic one that ousted the regime of Mummer al Gadhafi.
Yasir Kuoti is an Iraqi freelance writer based in Washington, DC.