x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Many protests, but no common inspiration

Many protests, but no common inspiration

"We cannot assume that what is happening in Libya is linked solely to the uprising in Tunisia, which in turn, has led to further upheavals across the region. In fact, the opposition in Libya has always sought to depose the regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, but it was suppressed each time," wrote Abdul Rahman al Rashed in a commentary for the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat.

The Libyan opposition together with the popular revolt in the eastern provinces is a larger action to overthrow the long-lasting political system, as the army stands fast by the regime. The latter categorically rejects all the demands of the protesters, making Libya an open war more than popular demonstrations.

In Yemen, the opposition demands are different, because the president Ali Abullah Saleh bowed to the first set of demands. He pledged not to stand for a new term, and he would prevent his son from doing the same. Meanwhile, opposition forces  push for more without determining a clear ceiling for their requests.

In Bahrain, the issue is more than sectarian, as some would argue. It is, in fact, both social and economic. Bahrain is a poor country in comparison with its gulf neigbours,  a situation that may persuade  the government to expand the participation of  Bahrainis in the decision-making process.

For Israelis, Egypt sparks uncertainty

"Israel has followed with great concern the decision of Egypt to allow the passage of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal on their way to Syrian port of Latakia," wrote Mazen Hammad in an opinion article carried by the Qatar-based daily Al Watan.

Although described as an act of provocation, Israelis admitted the fact that Egyptians have to grant permission to the two Iranian warships in accordance to the Suez Canal Treaty that requires Cairo to ensure safe passage to vessels.

Yet, during the reign of Hosni Mubarak, Iranians would not dare to take this step because they knew in advance that any permission would be denied. Now, there are growing fears among Israelis that Egypt will become a front against Israel after Mr Mubarak stepped down.

About two years ago, an Israeli warship crossed the Suez Canal to the Red Sea, where it conducted military exercises and later returned to the port of Haifa. That unusual move showed the extent of the strategic cooperation between Egypt and Israel. It was also significant in the sense that the Israeli navy can easily deploy its units through the Egyptian passageway to reach Iranian shores.

According to some Israeli newspapers, Egypt acts as if it is no longer bound by a strategic alliance with Israel against Iran, while some commentators warned that the two countries may be interested in opening doors for mutual cooperation.

Iran is to blame for the unrest in Bahrain

"It is truly a serious matter what Bahrain is facing today, because many have brandished the motto of reform while they seek to destroy the stability of the state," observed Saleh al Qallab in an opinion article for the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jareeda.

Causes of concerns in the Gulf will not come from poverty, as was the case in Egypt and Tunisia, or from corruption as in other Arab countries, but from sectarian considerations due to the the increasing number of Asian expatriates. It goes without saying that Iran would have thought of exporting its internal problems to the western Arabian Gulf shores, even before the uprisings took place in Tunisia and Egypt. And this is what is happening now in Bahrain.

"It is hard to believe that Iranians are not involved in the latest incidents. Their aim is to warn the US that interference in Iran's internal affairs may prompt Tehran to target Washington's interests in the Gulf by dumping the region into chaos. To achieve this purpose, Iran may use Shiites by pushing them to revolt."

It is not in Iran's interest to sow sectarian strife in the Arabian Gulf region. Iran itself has ethnographic and demographic gaps that can cause it immense internal political and security crises.

Tehran should end this game, while Shiites in the region should be aware of the challenges of being "turned into Iranian communities in their countries".

Reforms cause more economic problems

In an opinion article for the Jordanian newspaper Al Rai, Dr Fahd al Fanek argued that economic growth and political reform, which to many ensure social stability, usually come at a price.

Generally, economic prosperity exacerbates inequality and a high-level of corruption. As a result, it causes frustration among people, especially the youth, who tend to hold high expectations. This brings into being new demands and instigates social unrest.

The problems of traditional authoritarian rule begin when it opens the door for reform at a time when it is not ready for it. A prototypical example of this situation is the former Soviet Union, when president Mikail Gorbachev introduced reforms to the communist system by restructuring the government and economy. It turned into a mess.

"This kind of thinking is appropriate to systems which face popular revolutions. Governments tend to present themselves as victims of their own wish for reform and openness to the world, while they consider any rebellion a counterweight to the progressive regime in place."

A counter argument to this is the economic prosperity achieved in South-east Asia, thanks to political stability ensured by a margin of freedom and democracy.


* Digest compiled by Mostapha El Mouloudi