Peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have sparked what is believed to be a beginning of a democratic tide sweeping the Arab region. Uprisings spread to Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, countries in which people suffered from major oppression.
Far from romanticism, young Arabs have taken to streets in vast numbers to demonstrate against unbearable injustice and repression. A revolutionary movement in the Middle East was a synonym to impossible. Therefore, recent events have taken everyone by surprise. These uprisings have a great importance in the regional and cross-regional politics because they might change the power balance in the region.
Arab people are clamouring for change, social justice, free speech, human rights and a solution to mass unemployment and poverty. But as the uprisings evolve, it becomes clearer that not all Arabs are singing to the same tune.
The situation in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain has deteriorated into widespread violence and outright war. It seems that some regimes will stop at nothing to resist change. Tunisia and Egypt didn’t fall into violence, at least so far and are heading towards an uncertain future full of challenges. Hosni Mubarak and Zain Al-Abidin Bin Ali are saints compared to Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, Libya’s Muammar Al-Qaddafi and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Interests of different actors have become intricately intertwined and complex in a world where cultural, economic and media barriers have disappeared.
On a regional level, Qatar leaned to support Islamic elements, namely the Muslim Brotherhood or groups close to the Muslim Brothers. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States showed more interest in supporting hard-line elements across the Middle East and North Africa, while supressing any protests in their own territories.
Therefore, we witness Islamic forces have overwhelmed the uprisings of youngsters in the Arab region. Iran took a different approach from Gulf States by supporting revolutionary factions demanding freedom in Bahrain but standing next to a despotic regime in Syria to crack down legitimate protests. While protestors in Bahrain are called legitimate protestors by Iranian media, protestors in Syria are called terrorists. There are signs of counter-revolution forces represented by the old regime elements and dictator regimes.
On an international level, the US and the EU have contributed to change in the Middle East and so did Russia. A first reading claims that the US and the EU had a significant impact on change in the Arab world. A second reading claims that the impact of the US and the EU was minor and rather insignificant. In both cases, however, an influence on events has emerged throughout the development of the upheavals.
There are vital and indispensable interests between the US and the EU on one hand and Arab States on the other. Both parties based their relations and ties on stability and security measures. Therefore, these relationships are not going to be removed despite the revolutions, but they are more likely to change on the expense of the people in the Middle East.
Western powers have had an impact with dissimilar degrees in different stages on the Arab uprisings.
While they were reluctant or shy in some cases to support the will of people, they were firm in others.
The NATO had the final call in the Libyan uprising through a direct military intervention armed with a new UN resolution and Arab support.
The US as well as European countries were firm in the Libyan case, confused in the Syrian one but rather liberal in the Bahraini one. A Gulf military intervention in Bahrain breaking human rights and brutally cracking down protestors was tolerated by western powers.
For a long time, Arab people suffered from the failure of both the ruling and opposing elites to perform reform and move towards democratisation.
On one hand, western countries dealt with the Middle East and North Africa as a deaf mass. On the other hand, political elites in the Arab world failed in understanding the West. Some saw western powers as good allies, with whom friendly ties can be maintained over-exaggerating the impact of the West and gave in to the idea that all solutions are in their hands. Therefore conspiracy theories in the Middle East politics have a hospitable haven. Others saw the West as a conspiring evil underestimating the power of the West and ignoring any chance for cooperation.
Uncertainty remains a central issue in the political future of the uprising countries. Good governance and democratisation cannot be achieved in a few demonstrations and need time to be realised by the people.
Conflicts emerged in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain are not likely to develop towards peace as these violent outbreaks are sucking more actors and more radical elements into them.