Dawn of a new Middle Eastern order?
The Arab Spring had a whirlwind week. While skepticism about where the uprisings are headed continues, the historic transformation gained three significant victories.
First, there was the Arab League’s suspension of Syria’s membership for its failure to implement the peace plan it signed Nov. 2 to withdraw its forces from cities. If Damascus refuses to allow an observer mission into the country, Arab foreign ministers are threatening to impose sanctions. It is very likely that Turkey will now also join the league to impose its own economic sanctions on the Bashar al-Assad regime as it has long promised.
The second notable shift was the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s (BICI) report and the kingdom’s rapid acceptance of the findings detailing the scale of the human-rights abuses that have occurred on the Gulf island since demonstrations began in February. The world will be watching to see if the kingdom indeed implements the prescription to correct its wrongdoings. The action on the kingdom side will be a deciding factor in its future stability and progress.
And the third remarkable development was the second Egyptian uprising in Tahrir Square. Bassem Sabry, an Egyptian media executive and writer who has been participating “Tahrir 2.0,” explained why: “People revolted in January to rule their country themselves, but that never happened and we all feel we are moving backwards. A lack of reform, delayed trials of officers who are accused of killing protesters [and the] violent dispersions of small sit-ins led some of us to argue that conditions now are harder than under [Hosni] Mubarak’s regime. There has a huge lack of transparency by the regime and the Cabinet, and the attempts at media crackdown have been many and strong. The military trials of civilians were also a cause of uproar.”
In brief, the Jan. 25 movement felt that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) did not take its lessons from the fall of Mubarak by insisting on operating with the same old rules while keeping their status untouched. Staging another revolution just before the planned parliamentary elections, the movement gained even bigger leverage against the SCAF by threatening to paralyze the country. The SCAF made many serious concessions to protesters on Nov. 24, but it is now up to the Egyptian protesters to decide the fate of the elections.
Even though there is a strong tendency in Turkish public opinion to believe most Arab Spring events are being plotted by Washington, the U.S. administration has faced heavy criticism from experts and activists for its slowness in catching up with Middle East developments.
Following three days of clashes around Tahrir, which caused scores of deaths and hundreds of injuries, the US was still resistant to blame the SCAF by Nov. 21, instead calling “on all sides to end the violence.” It was only late in the afternoon on Nov. 22 that the deputy national security adviser to the White House, Ben Rhodes, clearly demanded that the SCAF “stop violence […] to respect the rights of peaceful protesters.”
On Syria too, it appears Washington is also not taking the lead. U.S. Secretary of State Clinton, during a series of interviews last week, kept emphasizing Turkey and the Arab League’s importance in ending the bloodshed there; a line that suits perfectly both of these actors’ wishes which, for months, have stated the solution for Syria can only be found regionally.
In a presidential campaign year, Washington finds Iran a more exciting problem than Syria or other Arab Spring developments. It appears that Syria is getting more attention from Washington due to its proximity and importance to Iran, rather than any other concern.
Nevertheless, even if Washington is busy with its own domestic and foreign policy priorities, the empowerment of the Arab people is pushing its politicians to act.
Let’s hope it is the dawn of a new Middle Eastern order in which the main actors are its own people who want dignity, freedom and democracy