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Opinion: A Period of Unrest in the Arab World - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Unrest extends from Syria to Libya and passes through Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. Six Arab countries have been affected by the spring of change and the darkness of an unknown future awaits them. Spring here does not come with a positive or a negative connotation. It is, rather, an important episode in the history of these countries and must be followed by another one.

The scene in Syria is the harshest and the most painful of all. The rest of these countries are living in a state of unrest whose end is difficult to predict. The region’s geographical borders and governments have changed since World War II, and its map has been redrawn since the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

So how will things end in Syria, whose people—despite the high price they’re paying—have insisted on bringing about change more than any Arab nation?

The duration of Syria’s civil war is no reason for dividing the country, some say. Somalia was torn apart into three countries and then was united because the international community refused to recognize the divisions carried out by warlords. Syria remains a country where parties fight over power. But who knows, if foreign disputes complicate the situation in Syria, would the international community finally accept a solution for dividing the country? Otherwise, sectarian and ethnic divisions will become a geographic fait accompli. Syria will end up divided into “statelets,” just like what happened in Yugoslavia. In the same manner the Assad regime destroyed Syria, jihadist groups may unite Syrians to fight them and the war may end with both evil parties eliminated, namely Assad and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

As for crisis in Bahrain, it partially reflects the sectarian struggle in our region as well as the slow change the kingdom is going through. Bahrain differs from other Gulf countries because it is not a regime that lives off easily garnered oil income. Imagine, Bahrain’s population is five times that of Qatar and it only has one fifth of its income! Without national political reconciliation, it will be difficult to overcome Iranian interference and to curb sectarian groups, be they Sunni or Shi’ite.

Yemen was divided into two countries until twenty years ago and its unity does not resemble that of a previously divided country, like Germany, because it wasn’t united before. Geography and history unite the two Yemens, whilst politics divide them. If Yemen succeeds and remains united, then unity will increase people’s ability to overcome the economic and developmental backwardness for which the former regime is to blame. Ironically, the former President Saleh united Yemen while democracy threatens to divide it. Some southerners consider that unity was a fake slogan used by Saleh’s regime to seize the south. True, but most cases of unity in the world are similar to Yemen’s case as they began with attempts to seize and control—such as the unity of the US and the current Russian Federation. Time heals all wounds. The southerners who think that remedy lies in separation will later find out that had they maintained unity, it would have ultimately strengthened Yemen. Divisions will result in several warring statelets.

Despite troubled in appearance, Egypt remains one of the most stable Arab countries. The secret to that lies in its social fabric which has been unified since the days of the pharaohs. The second reason is that the military represents the real power in the state, amid the weakness of the middle class and the fragility of Egypt’s political parties. It will certainly go through a phase of change, but it will do so gradually if the military manages the crisis well and achieves a gradual transition towards democracy.

As for Tunisia, it is the most developed among Arab states with regards to its political parties, syndicates and its political system. It appears more capable of dealing with its crises and this is evidenced by its partial success in thwarting extremist groups.

Libya remains a difficult case. We do not know where the winds of change will carry it. Will it be divided? Will it be ruled by extremist parties? Or will mutual interests push everyone towards establishing a constitutional civil state? It is the richest of the Arab countries affected by the Arab Spring and its people are happy to have toppled their former regime of Muammar Gaddafi. But it is currently a country that is tribally, intellectually, and regionally divided. This is what scares us, especially since the recent experience of constitutional and parliamentarian change was imposed with cars packed with fighters and machine guns waiting outside the parliament voicing threats.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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