There is no reason to disbelieve the comments made by former US Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley during the MEDays Forum in Tangiers. In a speech at the forum, Crowley refuted conspiracy theories that Washington was pulling the strings in the wave of political changes that have taken place across the regime, particularly in Egypt. What seems more logical is his assertion that “the US Secretary of State used to hold a two-hour meeting every day throughout January 2011 in an attempt to understand what was going on.”
Spreading from Tunisia to Egypt and from Libya to Yemen and then to Syria, the concurrent uprisings that erupted in the region under different circumstances have led to different consequences for all international and regional players, including the regimes that were toppled. This may be the reason behind the confused, contradictory and sometimes reluctant stances towards these unprecedented and unexpected events that have been following different courses. These events include June’s popular uprising in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood’s year of rule, which nobody expected would end so quickly.
A large part of this inability to understand what is happening is due to the fact that it is difficult to anticipate the movement and the general mood of the masses, particularly in light of the political changes in the Arab Spring states. These changes were not motivated by a clear political leadership, resulting in the most organized and willing forces dominating the scene, namely the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist currents. This left a general impression that this was the future that everyone had to deal and coexist with, while in fact it did not reflect the real direction of the public mood.
Crowley was speaking during a special session at the MEDays Forum entitled “The Arab World: Has Winter succeeded Spring?” It was a reference to the state of anxiety over the uncertainty and confusion that continues to prevail in the countries that witnessed the so-called Arab Spring. This state of anxiety exists in all of these states, albeit to varying degrees. There is a bloody civil war in Syria, political deadlock and violent clashes in Tunisia, armed militias and regional chaos in Libya, and a difficult transition in Egypt that is accompanied by acts of violence and terrorism.
Perhaps what best described this state of “Winter succeeding Spring” is the findings of the global reports by the World Economic Forum, which is just wrapping up its annual Summit on the Global Agenda in Abu Dhabi. This report states that the Arab region is locked in a major ideological war and is witnessing a split between those who want political Islam to play a role in public life and those who support a separation between religion and politics. This state of affairs means that the future of the region will remain murky for the foreseeable future. The findings of the report run contrary to the state of ecstasy and optimism that prevailed across the region two years ago, with many believing that the future would witness the birth of more pluralistic societies and thus produce a modern form of democracy following the transitions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The report also provides another important revelation: while previous surveys agreed that the greatest challenge facing the region revolved around economic issues, opinion polls conducted following the Arab Spring indicate that 45 percent of the public viewed political instability as the greatest challenge facing the region, while 27 percent cited unemployment.
The result of this survey is a reflection of the war of ideas. In some cases, the struggle over the identity of society precedes economic priorities, particularly after Islamist currents have sent disturbing signals regarding the path they want to take. This reflects an extreme failure and lack of understanding of the public mood.
The battle between the two main trends mentioned in the report continues. The future roadmap for the region will remain unclear until a degree of consensus can be reached over what formula should be pursued in terms of the form of society and the social contract governing the relationship between government and citizen.
In this regard, the Egyptian experience will serve as the compass for the Arab region. All sides realize this, and thus it explains the ferocity of the state of polarization in the region over this issue.