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July 2011

A summary of observations on the Arab Spring by Middle Eastern experts at the May 26th meeting of the InternationalBoardoftheU.S./MiddleEastProject.

y recent travels in postrevolutionary Tunisia provideabottomupperspectiveontheArab Spring. Duringmytravels,Ihadtheopportunitytospeakto sitin organizers in Tunis. As I discovered, this youngergenerationsharedthreecorecharacteristics:1) adeepsenseofownershipoverthechangetheyhave created;2)afeelingofconnectivitythatincludesbutis notlimitedtosocialmedia,and3)astrikingsenseof global citizenship, itself a product of technological change and expanding networks of communication. These characteristics lead me to conclude that the younger generation is best understood not just as an Arab generation, but as a global generation. The language they use and the mechanisms of revolution they employ are better understood as global phenomenaratherthanascharacteristicsuniquetothe Arabworld.

Traveling in the lessdeveloped southern region of Tunisia, I conducted an amateur political science experiment, asking a few hundred people which model of government they had in mind for their country after the revolution. Rather than hoping to model their government on Turkey, as I had suspected,theonlyanswersIreceivedwereBritain, Switzerland and France. These responses reflect the widelyheld aspiration to develop a fullyformed constitutionalsystem.YetIwasleftwonderinghowa publiclivingunderTunisiasrepressivesystemcould havedevelopedsuchglobalizednotions. While social media and the attitudes toward community and collective action it engenders have certain qualities that enable dispersed people to quickly convene and demonstrate, that same media, by virtue of its virtualness, does not seem to generaterealleadership.AsisthecaseinTunisia,these movementsthereforeentailthepowerfulpresenceofa selfconscious generation that has convened for a



singlepurpose,buthasnothadtheopportunitytotest leaders,createcoalitionsanddivideresponsibilities. In this environment, there is an emergent dialectic betweenthevirtuallyconnectedyouthpublicandthe archaicpoliticalinstitutionsleftoverfromthedaysof the previous regime. The labor unions in Tunisia, which had been a safety valve for the non threatening expression of discontent under Ben Ali (and for that reason lacked any real credibility) are today among the few organized forces in Tunisian politics. Similar forces include Islamist groups and remnants of the old regime. The leaderless younger generationwillhavenochoicebuttoformpragmatic allianceswiththeseelements. WhatIwitnessedcouldonlybedescribedasasecond Tunisian revolution: the struggle to ensure that the period of transition to democracy would be long enough to allow the secular forces in society to

organizeandcompetewiththeIslamistsandresidual regime elements. In Tunisia, the younger generation succeeded in postponing elections in favor of a constituent assembly setfor July, whereas in Egypt a coalition of the army and the Muslim Brotherhood successfully pushed for early elections. In both countries, secular parties will be forced to compete before they are ready on a political terrain where public opinion is difficult or impossible to predict given the extent of past repression, and where the appealofIslamistgroupscouldprovesurprising.

Steve Coll is president of the New America Foundation. A former senior editor at The WashingtonPostandauthorofsixbooks,Mr.Coll istherecipientoftwoPulitzerPrizesandnumerous other awards in the fields of journalism and internationalaffairs.

heeventsbroughtaboutbytheArabSpringhave yet to reach their denouement, making any analysis preliminary in nature. Yet U.S. policy will eventually strike an equilibrium between values and interests, hopefully providing robust economic assistance to ensure stable democratic transitions in postrevolutionarycountries. The current process of revolutionary change in the Arab world can be broken down into three distinct stages: ignition, demonstration and accommodation. OnlyEgyptandTunisiahavethusfarmovedintothe accommodation stage, while countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar remain in a state of pre ignition without much likelihood of revolt. Egypt is withoutdoubttheregionalbellwether,andinSyriathe


Alawiteregimeseemspoisedandcommittedtocrush theopposition. InIran,theregimeisattemptingtoclaimsponsorship of the Arab revolution while simultaneously repressingitsownindigenousprotestmovement.Yet theGreenMovementwasanearlyinspirationforthe Arab Spring. Furthermore, the protestors supported political liberalism and the rejection of authoritarian rule,focusedoneconomicreform,andseemedtotake onlittleornoantiIsraelorantiU.S.slogans. The Arab Spring and the preoccupation of Arab regimeswithdomesticeventshavebroughtaboutthe fracturingofwhatwasaninchoateAraballiancewith Israel against Iran. While Iran has been accused by certain statesnotably Saudi Arabia and Bahrain,




whichareconcernedwithrestiveShiapopulationsof instigating revolutionary activity, these claims had littlecredibilityintheopeningstages. TheimplicationsoftherevoltsforIranaremixed:on one hand, heightened oil prices are insulating the regime from U.S./UN sanctions; on the other hand, Irans strategic alliance with Syria is now threatened by instability in that country. Across the region, in Lebanon,Iraq,SouthYemenandBahrain,theeffortsto takepowerbyShiacommunitiesandthespreadofan IranianstyleShiarevolutionaryideologyoncethought tobeascendanthasbeenfrustrated,andIranhasmade fewinroadsintheSunnimajoritycountries. But overall, the Arab Spring has not helped the U.S. containIran.AsidefromthefracturedArabIsraelU.S. alliance,theinterventioninLibyasuppliestheIranian regime with a talking point along the lines of, Look whathappenswhenyoustrikeadealwiththeUnited States to give up your countrys weapons programs: theyturnagainstyouatthefirstopportunity. TheU.S.currentlyhasanhistoricopportunitytomend tieswiththeArabstreet.Thelatterhasnotmovedin a radically proIranian direction. Iran may say the Arab Street is moving to separate itself from the U.S. rather than reforming domestically, but that vision is flawed.

In Iraq, there has been a relative absence of street demonstrations,savethemostrecentbatchofSadrist protests,whichwereofadifferentstripe.ButtheArab Spring will raise tough questions for the Shia dominated Iraqi government about the division of powerandresourcesamongthedifferentreligiousand ethnic groupings in Iraq, particularly at a time when U.S. forces are withdrawing. Higher oil prices and a weakenedSyriaarebothbeneficialtoIraq. The AfghanistanPakistan theater is not fertile terrain for democratic revolution on an Arab Spring model. Theissuesthatpreoccupythepublicinthosecountries takethemoutsidetherangeofwhathasbeenreferred to,negatively,astheArabSpringsbeltofcontagion. ItisimportantfortheU.S.tounderstandthattheArab Spring is seen more widely in the Muslim world as reflectingAmericasdeclininginfluenceintheregion, and that this perception will increase as the U.S. preparestowithdrawfromAfghanistan.
Thomas R. Pickering, currently Vice Chairman at Hills and Company, holds the personal rank of CareerAmbassador,thehighestintheU.S.Foreign Service. In a diplomatic career spanning five decades, he has served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations as well as ambassador to half a dozencountries.


he Arab Spring is a boon for U.S. strategic interestsintheMiddleEast.Therevolts embody American values and, at least in Tunisia and Egypt, have achieved significant political change through nonviolent methods, striking a blow to radical ideologies that depend on violence. The opening of democratic channels for the expression of political

demands will further weaken the appeal of Islamist radicalism. YettheArabSpringhasitslimitations.InAfghanistan, for example, outside of a few elites, there will not be much of a demonstration effect from the Arab Spring.TherealreadyexistsacivilwarinAfghanistan




anditisoverthedistributionofpoweramongethnic groups and warlordsnot democracy. In the short term,thecauseforoptimisminAfghanistanhaslessto do with the Arab Spring and more to do with the demiseofOsamabinLadenandtheimpacthisdeath mighthaveontheTalibansnegotiatingposture. In Iraq, to the extent that the Shiadominated governmentofNouriAlMalikiexhibitsauthoritarian tendencies,itremainsapotentialtargetfordemocratic activism.WeredemocracytotakeholdinEgypt,there couldwellbeademonstrationeffectinIraqifonlyas a point of pride for Iraqis, who consider themselves leadersintheArabworld.ButwithSaddamHussein havingbeenousted,thechangesinquestionwouldbe marginal and reformist, not revolutionary. Iraqi politicalculturehasalreadybeentestingthelimitsof workable democracy, and some Iraqis have shifted theirfocusfromdemocracytoeconomicandsecurity concerns.FromthepointofviewofmostofIraqsShia, democracyissynonymouswithmajorityrule.Given these considerations, the Obama administration shouldmakeuseoftheDecember31,2011withdrawal deadline to extricate the U.S. from Iraq, rather than attempting to coax the AlMaliki government into requestinganextensionofAmericascommitment. InneighboringIran,itisimportanttounderscorethe inconsistency of the regimes respective reactions to the Egyptian and Syrian rebellions. Iran is a society ripe for revolution by the standards of the Arab Spring: corruption, repression and economic underperformanceall precursors to revolution in Tunisia and Egyptprevail in Iran today. In North

Africa,politicalchangewasinevitable:onlythetiming wasunpredictable.YetinIran,theexistenceofsecurity forces fiercely loyal to the regime (the Revolutionary Guard Corps), the financial cushion of oil and the disunityoftheGreenMovementareallimpediments tochange. While the Arab Spring has brought much needed change to a politically stagnant region, policymakers shouldabandonthepresumptionofimminentregime change in Iran, as well as the notion of an antiIran alliance among socalled moderate Arab states. Post revolutionary Egypt has already begun to mend ties with Iran, while the moderate GCC states led by Saudi Arabia have been flexing their muscles in an attempt to roll back revolutionary activity in their neighborhood. Such complex reactions to calls for democratic reform confound any clear sense of the regionasdividedintoobviousgoodguysandbad guys.
Paul R. Pillar is Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University. In 2005, he retired from a 28year career in the U.S. intelligence community, where his last position was National Intelligence OfficerfortheNearEastandSouthAsia.

The views expressed in US/MEPolicy Briefs are not necessarilysharedbytheU.S./MiddleEastProject.