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Published on March 16th, 2012 | by Saira Khan
Image © [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="567" caption="Tahrir Square, February 7th 2011, Ramy Raoof ©"][/caption] One year and three months on -- and over 35,000 deaths later -- what is the condition of the Arab Uprising? Were humanitarian intervention efforts effective? What were the unintended consequences? And are the USA and its allies still determining the fate of this region? The protests started in Tunisia on December 18th, 2010 following Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation in protest of police corruption and ill treatment, and are currently on-going in many countries such as Syria, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait. The protests were in response to a host of issues, including dictatorship, human rights violations, lack of political freedom, government corruption – highlighted to the international community by Wikileaks -- and economic decline, among others. The governments of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya and Saleh in Yemen were overthrown. Ben Ali and Saleh are currently on exile. The former has been charged for various crimes resulting in fines amounting to £41 million and a 35-year prison sentence but it has yet to take effect as Saudi Arabia has not extradited him. The latter secured US-backed immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down from his position. Mubarak has been prosecuted and fined but has not yet met the death penalty many are calling for. Gaddafi was killed. But what of the governments now in their place? Tunisia is governed by Islamist party, Ennahda, under Prime Minister Jebali and President Marzouki. Egypt suffered a military junta in the aftermath of Mubarak’s departure with Tantawi serving as Chairman of the Armed Forces and Ganzouri as Prime Minister. The Muslim Brotherhood won recent parliamentary elections but presidential elections have yet to be held and the country is still dissatisfied. Libya remains under the provisional government of the National Transitional Council under Chairman Jalil and Prime Minister El-Keib. Yemen is ruled by President Hadi, previous Vice President of the Saleh regime. The key variable in these developments is the response of the regime. When it responds ineffectively, as in Tunisia, they lose power. When it continues human rights violations and antagonises the international community – lacking a stable framework itself – it faces intervention, as in Libya. When it responds effectively, as it were, and sufficiently contains the demonstrations through force, the situation remains somewhat unchanged, as in Syria. Bahrain is delaying UN investigation visits and increasing limits on human rights groups’ access. The longer these developments continue, the more chance of regimes learning how to respond effectively or, in fact, negotiate a graceful exit with immunity from prosecution, provided by the international community. The involvement of NATO was tentative, with the only direct intervention in Libya. Although Gaddafi was killed, the intervention was not particularly successful – there are growing regional divisions and the federal state is not strong enough to prevent them. There are concerns among UN states over the spreading of Islamist governments. However, this perceived domino effect does not seem all-too-likely, with popular trends more focused towards newly found freedom of speech, expression of dissatisfaction through social media, protesting, etc. Moreover, the moderate regime in Tunisia should be an indication of Islamist parties’ legitimacy and future stability – the USA have a chance to see first-hand the potential for Islamist groups to have democratic values and popular support. What also has to be realised is the distinction between Western liberalism and political democracy – many of the people are fighting for human rights and elections, not the desire to be governed liberally; Sharia law is not necessarily adverse to their goal. Nonetheless, in cases such as Bahrain where there is a stark sectarian difference, the longer the struggle continues, the more likely it is to lead to extremism and extremist solutions. Situations are clearly and inevitably internationalised, with many Arab leaders, such as Gaddafi, having previous political connections to Britain and the US, and Assad having connections to Russia. It is important to consider the differences between intervention for the purpose of protecting civilians and intervention for the purpose of regime change, which can be manipulated in the interests of interveners. It is clear the latter is what the US is concerned with, as we have seen geopolitical considerations override the responsibility to protect in their decision not to intervene in Bahrain and Syria. Furthermore, the encouragement of democratisation is abandoned in respect to states with close relationships to the USA, such as the autocratic Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Double standards are clear. There seems to be a weighing of democracy versus stability. Although it may have come to such a point that protecting human rights is impossible without regime change, the success and legitimacy of outside influence still remains dubious and theoretically adverse to democratisation itself; it is no longer power to the people. As long as they have their flow of oil, security of Israel, and continued monopoly of power, is the Arab Uprising even important to the international community? Putting aside for the moment, the legitimacy of intervention, how much influence do UN states really possess? Influence – for it to be successful or positive -- hinges not on the direction of a policy or attitude, but on its impact, and with the people becoming more empowered, this impact has lessened and democracy is prevailing. We have seen, in Iraq and Libya, that once NATO forces are removed, the regime takes on a dynamic of its own. Democratisation is a process more complex than the removal of a leader and then an election – it rests foremost on the social attitudes of the population; they must want democracy before it can be achieved. Therefore, outside influence is not a deciding factor but, if optimistic, it can be a catalyst. Whilst the US may be wreaking havoc in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, after the failure in Libya and with the necessity of popular opinion in favour of democratisation for any real change to take place, it is but a benign power in the Arab Uprising.

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The Arab Uprising: One Year And Three Months On

Tahrir Square, February 7th 2011, Ramy Raoof ©

One year and three months on — and over 35,000 deaths later — what is the condition of the Arab Uprising? Were humanitarian intervention efforts effective? What were the unintended consequences? And are the USA and its allies still determining the fate of this region?

The protests started in Tunisia on December 18th, 2010 following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in protest of police corruption and ill treatment, and are currently on-going in many countries such as Syria, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait. The protests were in response to a host of issues, including dictatorship, human rights violations, lack of political freedom, government corruption – highlighted to the international community by Wikileaks — and economic decline, among others. The governments of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya and Saleh in Yemen were overthrown. Ben Ali and Saleh are currently on exile. The former has been charged for various crimes resulting in fines amounting to £41 million and a 35-year prison sentence but it has yet to take effect as Saudi Arabia has not extradited him. The latter secured US-backed immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down from his position. Mubarak has been prosecuted and fined but has not yet met the death penalty many are calling for. Gaddafi was killed.

But what of the governments now in their place? Tunisia is governed by Islamist party, Ennahda, under Prime Minister Jebali and President Marzouki. Egypt suffered a military junta in the aftermath of Mubarak’s departure with Tantawi serving as Chairman of the Armed Forces and Ganzouri as Prime Minister. The Muslim Brotherhood won recent parliamentary elections but presidential elections have yet to be held and the country is still dissatisfied. Libya remains under the provisional government of the National Transitional Council under Chairman Jalil and Prime Minister El-Keib. Yemen is ruled by President Hadi, previous Vice President of the Saleh regime.

The key variable in these developments is the response of the regime. When it responds ineffectively, as in Tunisia, they lose power. When it continues human rights violations and antagonises the international community – lacking a stable framework itself – it faces intervention, as in Libya. When it responds effectively, as it were, and sufficiently contains the demonstrations through force, the situation remains somewhat unchanged, as in Syria. Bahrain is delaying UN investigation visits and increasing limits on human rights groups’ access. The longer these developments continue, the more chance of regimes learning how to respond effectively or, in fact, negotiate a graceful exit with immunity from prosecution, provided by the international community.

The involvement of NATO was tentative, with the only direct intervention in Libya. Although Gaddafi was killed, the intervention was not particularly successful – there are growing regional divisions and the federal state is not strong enough to prevent them. There are concerns among UN states over the spreading of Islamist governments. However, this perceived domino effect does not seem all-too-likely, with popular trends more focused towards newly found freedom of speech, expression of dissatisfaction through social media, protesting, etc. Moreover, the moderate regime in Tunisia should be an indication of Islamist parties’ legitimacy and future stability – the USA have a chance to see first-hand the potential for Islamist groups to have democratic values and popular support. What also has to be realised is the distinction between Western liberalism and political democracy – many of the people are fighting for human rights and elections, not the desire to be governed liberally; Sharia law is not necessarily adverse to their goal. Nonetheless, in cases such as Bahrain where there is a stark sectarian difference, the longer the struggle continues, the more likely it is to lead to extremism and extremist solutions.

Situations are clearly and inevitably internationalised, with many Arab leaders, such as Gaddafi, having previous political connections to Britain and the US, and Assad having connections to Russia. It is important to consider the differences between intervention for the purpose of protecting civilians and intervention for the purpose of regime change, which can be manipulated in the interests of interveners. It is clear the latter is what the US is concerned with, as we have seen geopolitical considerations override the responsibility to protect in their decision not to intervene in Bahrain and Syria. Furthermore, the encouragement of democratisation is abandoned in respect to states with close relationships to the USA, such as the autocratic Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Double standards are clear. There seems to be a weighing of democracy versus stability. Although it may have come to such a point that protecting human rights is impossible without regime change, the success and legitimacy of outside influence still remains dubious and theoretically adverse to democratisation itself; it is no longer power to the people. As long as they have their flow of oil, security of Israel, and continued monopoly of power, is the Arab Uprising even important to the international community?

Putting aside for the moment, the legitimacy of intervention, how much influence do UN states really possess? Influence – for it to be successful or positive — hinges not on the direction of a policy or attitude, but on its impact, and with the people becoming more empowered, this impact has lessened and democracy is prevailing. We have seen, in Iraq and Libya, that once NATO forces are removed, the regime takes on a dynamic of its own. Democratisation is a process more complex than the removal of a leader and then an election – it rests foremost on the social attitudes of the population; they must want democracy before it can be achieved. Therefore, outside influence is not a deciding factor but, if optimistic, it can be a catalyst. Whilst the US may be wreaking havoc in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, after the failure in Libya and with the necessity of popular opinion in favour of democratisation for any real change to take place, it is but a benign power in the Arab Uprising.

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