By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
It seems that the counter wave against the revolutions and the revival movements in the Arab region has reached its zenith. Exhaustion and attrition have started to appear, leaving cracks in its structure and thus proceeding to regress.
The author’s study of the directions and trends of events for the next three years, show that despite the continuing fierce battle against the reform and change forces, they will likely rise and improve their positioning in the strategic environment of the region. For they have benefitted from the escalating crisis of the counter-forces, the reviews done by the change movements, their accumulated experiences, reorganizing themselves and developing their performance.
The change forces, especially the moderate Islamic movements that had a leading role in the “Arab Spring,” have preserved their solid core and cohesion, absorbed the big waves, and even took the initiative in some countries, albeit in varying degrees. Although the gap between the two sides is still big, it has stopped widening, and the chances of revival forces to re-sort their papers and make a breakthrough in the medium term have increased. However, it is too early to talk about them approaching the “critical point,” of possessing the change and empowerment tools.
In this article, we’ll focus on the major indicators that corroborate the above conclusions:
1. If the KSA keeps insisting on following the same policies in managing its political, economic and military files, it is heading to more deterioration and failure. Furthermore, costs, burdens, internal tensions and external pressures will mount, due to internal repression of potential competitors within the royal family, religious scholars and reformers; also due to following the tracks of normalization and appeasement with the US and Israel; multiple management failures in the Yemen war, the Qatar siege, the conflict with Iran, and antagonizing “political Islam” movements in the region.
The Saudi military expenditure exceeds $80 billion a year, the third largest military spender after the US and China. However, it is getting depleted in less efficient and useless ways.
As for the economy and the procedures towards the expatriate workers, so far been proven to be futile, and damaging to the economy.
In addition, the case of Jamal Khashoggi has entailed disastrous consequences for the Saudi regime and its international status, in addition to its negative internal repercussions.
2. What the KSA considers “smart” management of the Yemeni file, has proved to be a “disastrous” one for both itself and Yemen. The Saudi had the desire to keep Yemen weak under its wing, exclude the reform forces (political Islam movements), combat any revival democratic transition—since it is considered contrary to the system, nature and political structure of the Saudi state—and weaken the Houthis… All of this have engaged the KSA in an equation that destroyed Yemen, and exhausted KSA. However, the Houthis and Iranians have—until now—ended up the winners. If the Saudis continue with the same policies, more failure and attrition awaits them in the near and medium terms.
3. KSA and Emirates will reduce the intensity of their intervention in support of the regimes and the movements countering “political Islam” movements and other forces of change. For they have failed in their endeavors, and important parts of their budgets were drained due to the large financial costs. This has mitigated their previous rush to intervene. The Emirati withdrawal from Yemen may expand in the coming days, which means better chances for change forces to mobilize the public.
4. The Gulf countries tend to move towards reviewing their open hostility towards Iran, and mitigating their “ego” or self-confidence in the prospects of facing or defeating it, through the US and Israeli support. Perhaps the attacks on vessels off Fujairah’s coast, the Iranian shoot-down of US drones, and the drone attacks on Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facilities, indicate that the US will continue its blackmail of the Gulf States, while there are no serious signs of a US military confrontation with Iran. Consequently, these countries may have to return to their previous state of coexistence with Iran, in addition to keeping quiet about the newly acquired Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen in return for their survival and security, as this can be seen recently in the Emirati behavior.
5. Despite the initial positive interaction of “moderate” countries with the “deal of the century,” they have to take more cautious steps to appease the Americans and the Israelis. In light of a Palestinian consensus rejecting the deal, the Arab public was against it, and the moderate countries themselves were suffering from crises at home. The exposure of some of these countries of having relations with Israel, normalizing their relations with it, and supporting the “deal of the century,” have negatively reflected on their status among their people and the whole Arabs and Muslims.
Furthermore, the Saudi detention of Palestinians, especially those affiliated with the Hamas movement, has negatively reflected on the Saudi regime’s image in the Arab and Muslim popular realms.
6. The economic, political, social and security crises of the Egyptian regime are expected to escalate, and the chances for the opposition to take action may improve… The latest popular interactions with the leaks and tweets of the actor and business contractor Muhammad Ali—no matter who’s behind him or who’s trying to use him for his agenda—are alarming indicators for the regime. However, the real change opposition has a lot to do in order to force the regime to make concessions, engage in reconciliation, or change its political behavior.
7. The popular revolutionary movements in Sudan and Algeria prove that the youth and public forces did not abandon the notion of change or become desperate. They can innovate, develop their potentials, impose their conditions, and surprise the regimes that believe themselves stable.
8. The countries where the revolutions failed are unstable, suffer political, economic, security and social crises that may escalate (Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria). Their political systems have no solid popular bases, while the oppositions still have the potentials to develop.
9. The ability of the international community, Israel and even the regional powers to intervene directly, and engage in long-term high-cost attrition battles has declined. The US and Western public mood no longer wants direct military intervention. They are also unable to simultaneously interfere with their armies in multiple areas, unwilling to continue accepting the influx of refugees into their territories… Therefore, the patience and insistence of moderate civilized change forces on their endeavors, and their ability to mobilize, rally and provide solutions and symbols, would grant them a strong chance to rise again.
10. The “floundering” US policy, which antagonizes or provokes different international forces, will give a greater impetus to rising powers, hence be internationally more effective, like Russia, China and India. This policy may also push European countries to adopt policies more independent of US policy … It gives change forces better opportunities to have political performance in a multipolar system.
11. Most of the propaganda, distortion and demonization campaigns against the reform and change forces (especially the Islamic movement) have been exposed, and they no longer fool the people. Whereas the credibility of change forces towards corrupt and authoritarian regimes have been confirmed. These forces are now more experienced and can prepare a new, more powerful and successful revolutionary wave.
Nonetheless, we realize that the counter wave has not exhausted its purposes yet, the dictatorships and corrupt regimes may become worse, and the campaign against “political Islam” may increase and intensify. We realize also that the sectarian and ethnic fragmentation project would continue until implemented in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan; that the conditions in some countries may become worse, Israel and the right-winged US administration think this is the best time to close the Palestinian issue through the “deal of the century,” and the prospects of radical change by reform movements are still not strong or debilitated.
Therefore, the region may head towards more suffering, and complicated times in a number of countries. However, the crises started to affect the anti-change forces and exhaust them, and these conditions will gradually widen the chances for the change movements to initiate and launch a new wave. This may happen due to the growing problems of existing regimes, the failure of the US-Israeli system to impose its will on the nation, with the high cost of intervention by anti-change countries which caused them internal economic, political and security crises.
This article was originally published in Arabic on “Arabi 21” on 27/9/2019.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 3/10/2019