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Government Conflict

The Collapsing Arab State

Protests in Bahrain
Protester in Bahrain. Photo: Al Jazeera English.

BOSTON – The so-called Arab Spring generated a wave of hope among those fighting or advocating for democratization of the Arab world’s authoritarian regimes. Now, following leadership changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and with a brutal civil war raging in Syria and increasingly fraught conditions in Bahrain, Sudan, Jordan, and Iraq, there is much talk of a major shift – and hope for improvement – in the nature and prospects of the Arab state.

But hope – “the thing with feathers,” as the American poet Emily Dickinson put it – often bears little resemblance to realities on the ground. Indeed, looking earthward, the beauty of the Arab Spring seems to have given way to an almost unbearable winter.

Categories
International Relations Government Economy

After the Arab Spring: Creating Economic Commons

Oil Fields.
Oil Fields. Photo:Jingletown/flickr.

If the latest Arab awakening was about jobs and justice, then political reforms, unless accompanied with a levelling of the economic playing field, are unlikely to be sufficient on their own. The latent demographic pressures across the Arab world and the resulting youth unemployment have created an employment challenge that is both real and urgent. During the next decade an estimated 100 million jobs need to be created in the Middle East. The public sector, already bloated and inefficient, is unprepared to meet this employment challenge. Sooner or later, Arab policymakers will have to return to addressing a longstanding development challenge facing the region: economic diversification. In fact, the challenges of demography and diversification are intertwined. Without developing a robust private sector and without reducing the region’s dependence on natural resources, the gains that the Arab world has made in literacy and health cannot be translated into lasting economic prosperity.

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Government Conflict

Ethnic Minorities: Tipping the Scales in Syria?

Church next to a mosque in Hama, Syria. Photo: fchmksfkcb/flickr

Last month’s assassination of Kurdish activist Mashaal Tammo has put the spotlight on Syria’s almost forgotten Kurdish minority. Their involvement in the uprisings had been considerably low up to this point, propelled by fears that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad would ruthlessly put down Kurdish participation in the protests. But after the death of Tammo, a prominent opposition figure and founding member of the Syrian National Council, a wave of outrage has swept across the Kurdish population. This brought about the most intense protests and demonstrations of this ethnic minority since the beginning of the uprisings in March and might just mark a tipping point for the highly fragmented Syrian opposition.

While opposition movements of the Arab Spring have been characterized as heterogeneous and unstructured, Syria’s opposition seems particularly patchy. Approximately 40 percent of the population do not belong to the Sunni majority. Shia Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Jews and Ismaelites all have their own political agendas. One of the main reasons why Assad has managed to remain in power for so long is because he was backed by the country’s minorities. In exchange, he implemented laws and policies to secure the minorities from the Sunni majority.

Categories
Culture Conflict

Conference: Transformation of the Arab World: Where Is It Heading To?

Transformation of the Arab World: Where are We Heading to?
A conference hosted by the NCCR Democracy and the CIS at ETH Zurich

On 27 and 28 October, the NCCR Democracy project managed by the University of Zurich, together with the Center for Comparative and International Studies at ETH, hosted a conference on the topic: “Transformation of the Arab World: Where is it heading to?” Adam Dempsey, Eveline Hoepli, Chantal Chastonay and I covered the event for the ISN.

The conference kicked off on Thursday morning with Roland Popp’s unscheduled presentation, “The Past as Prologue? Regional Dynamics and Revolutionary Trajectories in the Middle East.”  Popp, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH and an expert in the international history of the Middle East, stressed the importance of looking beyond the unit-level to understand transformation.  Citing the example of Egypt’s 1952 revolution, the fear of Arab nationalism it provoked in the other monarchies of the region, and Nasser’s subsequent isolation (which, as we know, ended up driving him closer politically to the United States), he argued that regional dynamics are essential to understanding many developments whose logic at first appears confined to individual countries.  Wise counsel, no doubt, and of obvious significance for the remarks that would follow.

Categories
Social Media Technology Internet Human Rights

The Youth of the Arab Spring

Libya's youth demonstrating against the Gaddafi regime
Game over for Gaddafi. But who's next? Photo by Collin David Anderson/Flickr

Young men and women have formed the core of the recent uprisings across the Arab world. Yet media outlets have often generalized coverage of the Arab spring and overlooked individual contributions. So the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs’ (FDFA) decision to invite six activists to its Annual Conference was an opportunity to hear the hopes and fears of the region’s youth. Their message was a mixture of genuine ambition, cautious optimism and concern for the future.

Despite recent clashes between Coptic Christians and the security forces of the interim military government, Egyptian youth remains confident that the ‘Tahrir spirit’ is alive and kicking. Confidence also remains high that genuine democratic change will happen and that upcoming elections will be free and fair. The Egyptian representative, Sondos Asem, also emphasized that relations between Muslims and Copts are generally good. While Islamists continue to grow as a significant political force, it is by no means guaranteed that they will eventually hold the reins of power. As a result, the Conference was told ‘not to fear the Arab spring’.

Libya’s Loay al-Magri offered a more substantive vision of the aspirations of the country’s youth. Demands have been made for the swift establishment of the rule of law with no ethnic distinctions. This should be accompanied by social and economic policies that review Libya’s education system, encourage vocational training, redevelop the commercial sector and revitalize the jobs market. It is also hoped that a full and frank exchange of ideas across Libyan society will result in similarly proactive foreign policies. It remains to be seen whether the recent death of Muammar Gaddafi will accelerate or temporarily derail these ambitions.