بيانات صحفية / مواقف

Arab Spring yielding unintended tragedy   25/06/2013

By Robert Robb, columnist
The Republic
azcentral.com
Mon Jun 24, 2013 8:00 PM

The Arab Spring, celebrated by the world with the hope that autocratic dictators will make way for new democratic and popularly elected leaders, is a disaster in the making.

Two and a half years ago, police confiscated the cart of a Tunisian vegetable seller, and he responded by setting himself on fire. The reaction was nationwide riots and the rapid resignation of the Tunisian president.

Rage spread through Middle East countries, culminating in the most widespread internal Arab revolt in modern times.

But instead of ushering in new democratic regimes, the Arab Spring has brought unintended tragic consequences that bode ill for the future of democracy, peace and prosperity in the Arab world.

Hitherto, the Arab Spring has led to the toppling of leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen — all of them dictators that needed to go.

There is unrest in the Arab world, the most tragic occurring in Syria, where civil war has engulfed the country and killed an estimated 93,000 people and displaced 1.5 million. Most of the dead were civilians.

Syria’s ethnic and sectarian violence has now become a regional conflict. Lebanon and Iraq have suffered growing violence as the Syrian conflict turns increasingly into a proxy war along confessional lines. Jordan is preparing to be the staging ground for a likely Western-imposed no-fly zone over parts of Syria and a major conduit of arms to the rebels.

For the Arabs, the downfall of the autocratic regimes led to their replacement by mostly Islamic governments allied with the dogmatic Muslim Brotherhood and the more radical Salafis. These regimes are neither democratic nor representative of the aspirations of their people.

The schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims has not been this pronounced in centuries. An alliance of Sunni Muslims bankrolled by Qatar and Saudi Arabia that includes Egypt, Jordan, Hamas and non-Arab Turkey has emerged. It has been countered by an equally defiant alliance of Syria’s Bashar Assad, Hezbollah and non-Arab Iran.

These clashes have harmed the Christians of the Middle East. Christians are fleeing, Syria Iraq and Egypt, where about 10 million Coptic Christians live and the level of religious persecution is the highest in the world, according to a Pew Research Center study.

The study concluded that in the years since the Arab Spring, both social and governmental intolerance has impeded religious freedoms across the Middle East, especially in Egypt, home of the largest Christian population in the Middle East.

Although Israel was initially fearful of the advent of Islamists in power in the Middle East, these regimes have been more focused on their consolidation of power and their internal problems.

More importantly, Egypt’s Islamic government quickly declared it would uphold the peace treaty with Israel and would help control its Palestinian ally, Hamas. Syria, Israel’s other major concern, is of little concern. Israel was happy with the Assad regime that dutifully adhered to the cease-fire in effect since the 1970s. And should the Syrian rebels win, which looks unlikely, their mentors (Qatar and Saudi Arabia) would assure that they adhere to the cease-fire with Israel.

As for the Palestinians, the Arab Spring has overshadowed and sidelined their cause. The chaotic state of Arab affairs will ensure that Israel is left unhindered to build settlements on Palestinian lands and offer lip service to the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. The Arab Spring ended up being a God-given gift to the Israelis.

In hindsight, President Barack Obama’s administration committed a tragic error by abandoning the compliant dictators who were its allies and is about to commit a grave mistake by beginning to arm the Syrian rebels, some of whom are allied with al-Qaida.

No one knows how the saga of the Arab Spring will unfold. Undoubtedly, it will take years for the dust to settle and reveal a more chaotic and unstable Middle East, a Palestinian-Israeli peace process mummified and buried, and the revelation of Obama’s ill-conceived intervention in Syria.

Bishara A. Bahbah, a Valley resident, is the former associate director of Harvard’s Middle East Institute and an adjunct professor at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem.


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