Sunday, May 22, 2011

Arab Spring: What Does It Really Mean?

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By Barry Rubin

There are 20 Muslim-majority political entities in the Middle East--counting the Gaza Strip and West Bank separately.

In 2 of these--Tunisia and Egypt--there has been political change, though the outcome is far from certain. As of now, both are basically ruled by the military. The revolutions succeeded in large part because of support from the armed forces. In Egypt, the parliamentary elections are certain to produce a majority of Islamists, Marxists, and radical nationalists.

In 2 more--Libya and Yemen--change is pending. In Libya, though, the dictator is basically winning the civil war despite Western intervention on the other side. In Yemen, even if the dictator leaves it is generally recognized that nothing will change.

There have been no major pro-democracy or even anti-regime demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

In Bahrain, the demonstrations have been put down. In Syria and Iran, though there are still demonstrations, they have been heavily repressed. Nothing is going to change in Iran and probably not in Syria.

This is not to deny that there have been important developments, yet is this as much of an earthquake as many seem to think? Is this so clearly a transition to democracy?

It might be the beginning of a long-term process that will last for decades.

"Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don't align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region."

Everyone should be parsing that sentence which is a model of suicidally wishful thinking.

Yeah, they might not be perfect democracies and they might cause us a little trouble for a short time but everything's going to be great! Nothing can possibly go wrong except, of course, if repression stops these wonderful transitions.

Remember, when a president refuses to look at what can--and will--go wrong and at what the threats are--if only to combat them more effectively--his country is in very serious trouble. And so are its friends.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at

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