By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Four years after the uprisings of the Arab region, the scene is still blurry, reflecting a state of instability with the inability of the rival parties to settle the conflict in any side’s favor. There continues to be a conflict of wills in which revolutionary and popular forces are at odds with political regimes seeking to preserve themselves by all means, while foreign powers are trying to take advantage of the instability, conflict, and weakness of states to advance their own interests.
Four regimes fell in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, and a fifth regime is fighting for survival in Syria against rebel forces that control considerable parts of the country. As for the counterrevolutionary wave, it achieved its biggest success in the military coup in Egypt, and is still trying to settle the battle in its favor in other places.
There are four possible scenarios for the near and medium terms (2-7 years). These can be summarized as follows:
The First Scenario: The Success of the Counterrevolutionary Wave, and the restoration of corrupt and tyrannical regimes after cosmetic changes.
This means that the “Moderate Axis” would continue and go in line with US-Western regional policy and in intersection with Israeli interests. Supporting the military coup in Egypt, reversing the revolution in Libya, and pushing for a Syrian change in the axis’s favor would continue, in addition to isolating and marginalizing Islamists and revolutionaries in Tunisia and Yemen.
However, it is difficult for this scenario to end in success unless:
1. Powers recognize a fundamental regional role for Iran in resolving the problems and arranging the situation in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and in one degree or another Bahrain, consequently they would give Iran a share of the “pie.”
2. A success or major breakthrough is achieved in resolving the Palestinian issue, which is considered a major factor in regional tension, and where Islamists dominate the resistance forces. This means trying to achieve a breakthrough in the peace process, hitting the resistance forces led by Hamas, and subjugating the Gaza Strip in accordance to the standards of the “functional” nature of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
If this scenario takes place, the main loser will be moderate Sunni Islamist groups, which wager on peaceful change and programs for social reform.
Second Scenario: Instability and Fragmentation
This scenario possibly responds to a desire in some American-Israeli quarters to reshape the region into sectarian and ethnic entities, weakening the region, and hitting its political and economic foundations, in addition to tearing apart its social fabric. These sectarian and ethnic entities will show the Zionist-Israeli state as a natural entity in the Arab-Muslim region, where it would be a Jewish entity similar to other Alawite, Druze, Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish entities… . According to Western Orientalist Bernard Lewis, this would guarantee Israel’s survival for another 50 years.
The roots of this path can be practically traced back to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which inflamed sectarian sentiments among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. This scenario requires the conflicts and disputes to continue in a way that would ultimately lead to:
1. Sects and minorities deciding that they can only be secure as independent entities.
2. American policy makers “Ingratitude” by placing the priorities of fragmentation—as a supposed supreme strategic interest—above the interests of their friends and allies, in Jordan, the Arabian Peninsula, and Egypt. As a result, the contagion of conflict and fragmentation would spread to their countries. This was alluded to in projects we had previously mentioned.
3. Small emerging entities and states would feel permanently threatened and concerned for their future, as a result of ongoing conflicts. As a result, they would only find security through foreign protection, for example from the United States, while Israel would serve as the region’s policeman and law enforcer.
4. This scenario would not preclude the emergence of a Sunni entity or more, provided that it would carry a distorted and repulsive model of Islam, while being denied the chance to form an inclusive civilizational vessel for the region’s people.
The Third Scenario: The Rise of a New Popular Revolutionary Wave
This scenario would see the end of the counterrevolutionary wave, by benefiting from the lessons learned from the revolutions, whether in change, building alliances, or eliminating the structures of the “Deep State,” in order to build new political regimes that are able to deal with various challenges.
This scenario assumes that counterrevolutionary wave and corrupt regimes carry the seeds of their own failure. Among the most prominent features of this scenario would be the end of military coup in Egypt, and the recovery of revolutions in areas affected by the “Arab Spring.”
However, this scenario would require:
1. The pro-change movement especially the moderate Islamist movement, to regain its vitality and carry out the necessary self-critiquing that would allow it to address issues of leadership, organization, and political alliances, to offer a real and practicable vision for change.
2. The pro-change movements to present their vision within a project for Arab-Islamic cooperation and alliance, and to overcome their country-centered seclusion and coordinate their efforts.
3. The pro-change movement to be able to produce leading symbols who can rally the masses, make crucial decisions, and bear the consequences.
In this context, the Islamic forces affiliated with Salafi-Jihadism, extremism, and radicalism may get chances to bring about change and establish “emirates” in “loose” regions. Their chances could improve, with the regimes’ insistence on corruption and tyranny, and on blocking the door to any chances of change by the moderate Islamic movements.
However, some regional and international powers do not mind the emergence of radical groups, whose actions are conducive to these powers’ interests in seeing the regimes in the region collapse and disintegrate. These radical groups do not have real popular support or the capacity to lead a genuine reform project, and the experience and ability to deal with complex regional and international circumstances. In addition, some radical groups are willing to fight fierce bloody battles with other Islamist groups, with all sides emerging weaker and drained as a result.
Fourth Scenario: Political and Societal Settlements
This scenario assumes that all sides (local forces and their regional and international extensions and allies) realize that none of the parties would be able to settle the battle in its favor, and that “the pie” has to be shared through real partnership. Perhaps the Tunisian model is an inspiration for such course of action among many.
However, this scenario requires:
1. All sides to change their game from a lose-lose to a win-win game, with each party showing willingness to compromise on some of its ambitions.
2. Agreeing to head off foreign intervention, especially the US-Israeli one.
3. Establishing an inclusive national safety net that would ensure a smooth transition and head off obstructionist forces and their “deep” structures.
The Probability Analysis
The first three scenarios seem more likely than the fourth one, at least in the near term. Indeed, various parties (especially in Egypt and the Arab Orient), according to historical experience, and the experience of the past four years, will tend to exhaust all ways and potentials to achieve their goals, before everyone decides on compromise and reconciliation, which may take time.
The odds of success of the scenario favoring the counterrevolutionary wave seem good at present. Among the favorable conditions are: the presence of a conducive regional and international climate; the strength of the institutions of the Deep State in the countries that saw change; the continued fear among Gulf regimes of the contagion of the Arab Spring, and their subsequent continuous support of this wave; the harsh blows dealt to the forces of revolution, especially moderate Islamists; and the possibility of resolving the Iranian nuclear question.
Among the indications of the success of this scenario is the fact that the coup regime in Egypt has achieved more stability and international legitimacy, and the consent or silence of regional and international powers regarding the Houthi takeover of Yemen at the expense of the transitional process and the forces of change, especially the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah Party).
However, this scenario faces challenges, including the real chance of success the revolutionary forces have in Libya, the strong possibility of failure the peace process has in Palestine and the eruption of Palestinian resistance again, and the growing losses incurred by the Gulf countries as a result of lower oil prices, and hence their declining ability to back the counterrevolutionary wave. Another challenge would result from the failure of deals related to the Iranian role in the region, as regional and international powers may prefer to continue to drain Iran and its economic and military capabilities in the hot spots, with Iran overstretching as a result of its policies.
Concerning the scenario of instability and fragmentation, it has chances to pan out, but less so than the first scenario. The situation that has taken on a real sectarian and ethnic dimension in Iraq and Syria, the rising sectarian friction in Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Egypt, and the separatist tendencies in Yemen, Libya, and Sudan are all factors that encourage the forces seeking fragmentation. Furthermore, some of the problems faced by ruling families in the Gulf, with the presence of sectarian minorities in their countries, could fuel fragmentation among some powers that do not feel they are real partners in running their countries and societies.
However, on the other hand, history tells us that the majority of unity and reform projects had been preceded by fragmentation and division projects, after which the nation was able to recover and rise up. Furthermore, minorities and sects, should they agree to fragmentation projects, will suffer massively from bloody conflicts among one another, or in confronting the Sunni-Arab majority that will seek to retake the initiative.
Furthermore, the instability that will unfold in the region will allow forces of resistance confronting the “Zionist project” to benefit from the opportunities created by the Arab states collapse, which would bring broad risks to Israel on its borders. This would also allow the forces of change to pursue unity projects that have broad popular support.
Regarding the third scenario, which is linked to the rise of a new popular revolutionary wave, its odds are related to the assumption that people in the region had broken the fear barrier, and that the genie will not return to the bottle. It assumes that the pro-change movements have learned from the first wave lessons, and the counterrevolutionary wave had revealed the map of friends, foes, strengths, and weaknesses. The scenario assumes that that people in the region will impose their will in the end, and that the corruptive and tyrannical regimes have no future, and that the Zionist project is doomed.
Among the encouraging signs for this scenario are the steadfastness of resistance and its exceptional performance in Palestine, the steadfastness of revolutionary forces in Libya, and the fact that the region remains in flux with none of the regional and international actors being able to impose their agenda, not to mention that many of them are being exhausted in the region’s quagmires.
However, this scenario has likely no strong odds in the near term. Indeed, it seems that the pro-change and revolutionary movements are not ready yet to take the initiative, whether at the level of vision, leadership, or mastering the mechanism of leading a modern state. Furthermore, the counterrevolutionary movement still has some way to go, and its flaws have not yet been fully revealed or its crises fully erupted. In addition, the regional and international climate is still hostile to this scenario. Its odds will improve with time, inasmuch as the pro-change forces show their ability to regroup and provide a worthy model.
Finally, it is the author’s belief that change is coming, God willing, perhaps in the medium term. The reform and union project will rise again, and the strategic environment surrounding occupied Palestine will change in a way that serves its liberation from Israel’s occupation.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 22/1/2015