Four years of Arabian revolt – and no end in prospect

Martin Pabst


At the turn of the year 2010/2011, in almost all other Arabian states a new protest movement arose, which called for political and economic reforms. Triggered by the self-burning of a victimised young vegetable dealer in a neglected Tunisian provincial town, within only a few weeks the long-time presidents of Tunisia and Egypt had to yield to the pressure of the masses. This rapid success fuelled an atmosphere of changes. Optimists in the West rashly talked about an “Arabian Spring”, prognosticated quick democratization of the region based on the model of Middle-East and East-European states, and announced the end of at least militant Islamism. In the sense of Francis Fukuyama, they considered “the end of the matter” obtained, because only in the Arabian region dictatorial, autocratic and semi-autocratic systems had survived after the breakdown of communism. Pessimists (especially from Russia and Israel), on the other hand, prophesied that radical Islamistic forces would be elected into power due to their rich resources and possibilities for propaganda. After first election successes of Islamistic parties in Tunisia and Egypt, they talked about “Islamistic Winter”. Both sides, however, were wrong. The Arabian protest movement did not lead to an integrative or to a rapid change process. The external analysts had generalised, waiving country-specific political, economic and cultural parameters. More proliferative states such as Algeria and the Golf monarchies so far had hardly been shaken by protests. They had been able to calm down critics with higher wages for officials, subsidies and social contributions. In the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, the monarchs succeeded in consolidating their own legitimacy with limited top-down political reforms. Finally, however, the protests in Syria, Libya and Yemen escalated and became armed conflicts: On the one hand, the rulers of these states defended their power by force, and on the other hand, in the opposition groups ready to violence rushed forwards ready to violence, encouraged by external actors. Moreover, the analysts had wantonly underestimated the relative importance of external exertion of influence. For more than two centuries, foreign powers had been competing for power and resources in the geo-strategically important Arabian region. The global and regional powers quickly adapted to the new situation, unless they had actively aimed at changes themselves before 2011 already. With political and financial, sometimes also military exertion of influence they tried to affect the Arabian upheaval, entering varying alliances with internal actors. The debilitation of governmental power as a result of long-time transformation conflicts promoted the rise of actors who operated across the borders. Thus, the Jihad terror militia „Islamic State” (IS), which operates in Syria and Iraq, neglects not only the existing power relations, but also states and borders, and tries to rearrange the Arabian region under its control. This will open Pandora’s box: religious, ethnically, or tribally organised movements, as well as criminal actors, increasingly operate in a transnational manner. The “worst case” would be an interlacing of the persisting Syrian civil war with the Near East Conflict. A first warning symbol for this are skirmishes between Hezbollah and Israel on the Golan in the beginning of 2015.