The phrase “Arab Spring” is a surprisingly appropriate description of current events in the Arab world. It relates not only to the awakening of anger and to the desire for change by the Arab masses, but also to the lack of understanding of the circumstances, by most European and American observers.
Winter in New York, London or Berlin is ... a period when nothing blooms, very little remains green, sunshine is rare and most birds are gone. And then comes the spring, when everything begins to blossom, warmth returns, birds are chirping and life restarts.
...in most of the Arab world, ... “The Arab Spring” inevitably leads to a difficult and unpleasant summer. The metaphor reflects not only what it purports to describe, but also the mentality gap between its Western authors and the real situation.
Many of the demonstrators in the streets of Tunis, Cairo and Damascus were truly fed up with the corrupt dictators, lack of democracy and absence of freedom. Indeed, democracy is long overdue in the Arab world. But democracy and freedom are not trivial concepts.
- Democracy is not removing the Shah of Iran and replacing him by a cruel Ayatollah regime.
- Democracy is not removing the Russian Tsar and replacing him by Stalin and
- democracy is not electing Hitler.
- Democracy is not even just an honest election, once every four years.
None of the above guarantee the rule of law, freedom of speech, free press, proper judicial system, equality for women, fair treatment of minorities, freedom of religion, equal opportunity and social mobility, to quote just a few basic ingredients of a real democracy.
Achieving any of the above in a society in which all significant organized forces are hostile to each of these concepts, and in which the majority of women are illiterate, cannot happen through street demonstrations. Successful protests in such countries are as good as pressing a “restart” button on a machine which can be controlled, at present, only by one of three previously existing forces. And, if all of these forces are hostile to every single element of democracy, the Arab Spring will indeed lead to a long and harsh summer.
There are 22 Arab states ...all or most Arab states have many things in common. Not last among these features is the total absence of democracy, by any definition that is even remotely acceptable by Western standards. At the risk of oversimplification, we might observe that, in every Arab country, in different forms and at various levels, there are at most three major organized types of political forces:
- First, “Royalty” of one sort or another, supported by the military-police-intelligence complex;
- Second, fanatic political Islam, Sunni or Shiite; and
- third, tribal forces and rivalries or organized ethnic minorities.
The first and, until the current “Spring”, the dominant organized force is the military, coupled with the police, intelligence services and related bodies, supporting a ruler, who is either a King (Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan), a Sultan (Oman), an Emir (Kuwait, Qatar, UAE), or a “non-royal quasi-monarch” who is, in some sense, royalty without a crown (Assad, Ghaddafi, Mubarak). In several cases, the ruling military-backed regime is also tribalor sectarian, controlled by a well defined minority of the population (the Allawites in Syria, the Bedouins in Jordan and the Sunnis in Bahrain).
The second force is the extreme political Islam, Sunni or Shiite. The Sunni version is usually the Muslim Brothers or variations on its themes, and the Shiite version is largely inspired, if not directly guided, by Iran’s Ayatollahs, who have an active hand in much of the tumult in the Arab world. Iran and Turkey are, of course, Muslim but not Arab. However, both interfere in a variety of ways in the upheaval of the “Arab Spring”. In a full analogy to a kingdom, which has a king, a prime minister and an army, political Islam is often organized in three layers: The “military wing”, which might be a strong organized force like the revolutionary guard in Iran, or the Hizbullah in Lebanon; the “political wing”, which pretends to be the real leadership but has only limited influence; and the “spiritual leader”who is the actual dictatorial ruler, approximately equivalent to an absolute King, although he is always pretending to play the role of a religious scholar and he never stands for election.
The third force is the old tribal structure, based on family or clan loyalty and surviving in the 21st century in a way of life not unlike that of several centuries ago. Somali, Yemen and, to a large extent Libya, are countries in which such allegiances are extremely strong and tribal forces must be reckoned with. In other countries various private armies may belong to specific religious or ethnic groups, rather than to tribes. This is the case with the Druz in Lebanon and the Kurds in Iraq.
... almost nowhere in the Arab world we can find any significant organized force, other than the above three dominant flavors:
- The military based Monarchy (or quasi-monarchy),
- the Islamic extremists and
- the tribal forces.
In particular, there is nowhere in sight a substantial organized force pushing for real democracy.
There are individuals, active in weak political parties or in street demonstrations, cheering for democracy. But, whenever one of the three major traditional forces is toppled, its place is taken by another element of this unholy trinity, or by a different version of the same type of force. No street demonstration, facebook driven enterprise or democracy seeking educated youngsters, can change this fact.
A formal election day, in any such country, even if no irregularities are taking place, must inevitably lead to a victory of one of the above, usually the Islamic option. The uneducated rural masses, numerous illiterate voters and even educated, frustrated and hateful young adults are easily incited and influenced by the preachers, and the mosques are the focal points of “guided enlightenment”. Since the Islamic extremists are often the only counterforce to the cruel dictator, they will usually be the winners, if one of the three dominant forces is to be replaced by another.
...Most European and American observers, those who think that spring is the beginning of a good period, observe the Islamists through the distorted lenses of Western culture....The Western TV viewer sees secular youth roaming the streets in demonstrations in Cairo or Tunis, with no major visible Islamic influence, and suddenly the first post-revolution election leads to an Islamic government.
...once in power, the private armies of the extreme Islam are not conventional at all. They are not interested in planes or tanks. Their primary weapon is ruthless terror against civilian populations, and the leading tools are car bombs, explosive devices, suicide murders, rockets and, eventually, even hoping to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We see it in Iraq, in Somali, in the Palestinian areas, and in the Muslim, non-Arab, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The division of labor between the Iranian army and the revolutionary guard, or between the Lebanese army and the Hizbullah, serve as models for Hamas and future Muslim Brotherhood regimes.
...an election of an extremist Islamic regime is not a victory for democracy, even if a real majority voted for it. It is usually the first and last free election in such a country, just as in the Fascist or Communist regimes, which are sometimes elected democratically, for the first time, and perpetuate their totalitarian regime thereafter without regard to any democratic principles or human rights.
Western observers view much of the above with the naïve eyes of those who believe that removing a dictator is a guarantee for freedom, that religious leaders cannot be murderous and that a winning candidate in an election is indeed the real ruler. They also have the illusion that public declarations bear a close relationship to true plans and views. None of these are common practices in the struggle between the two leading undemocratic forces of the Arab world: The ruthless kings and dictators and the even more ruthless extreme political Islam.
The relation of Israel to the events in the Arab world is entirely asymmetric. Israel, its conflict with the Palestinians and any actions it takes, are either totally irrelevant or have a very minor impact on the events in the Arab world.
But the scorching “Arab Summer” that will probably follow the “Arab Spring” may create serious problems for Israel. It is entirely clear that the protesters in Bahrain, Tunis and Yemen, and even those in Cairo and Damascus, could not care less about the Palestinians and are not spending a minute thinking about Israel. Only after the fall of Mubarak, the Egyptian Muslim Brothers tried to mobilize the masses for “a march of a million” against Israel. The attendance was meager and the great march fizzled. This was followed by a fierce attack on the Israeli Embassy, by a relatively small group, with no great visible interest of the demonstrating masses.
The protests are entirely an internal affair of each Arab State, with no relation to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and nothing that Israel might do, or avoid doing, would have the slightest effect on them. On the other hand, any power grab by the Muslim Brothers, an organization historically created with the active help of the Nazis, and committed to the annihilation not only of Israel but of the entire Jewish people, will not be good news for Israel. This topic requires a separate analysis, and we will not dwell on it here...