Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Arab regimes and the question of timing | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The extent with which mistakes are being repeated by some Arab regimes in their confrontation of the political earthquake that is striking the entire region from all direction is astonishing, regardless of the different manner that this [political earthquake] is affecting different regimes and peoples.

The greatest mistake that is being repeated by Arab regimes in dealing with this political earthquake is: killing [protestors], and not being aware of the importance of timing. In Egypt, Mubarak’s regime was continually three days late in its response to events, and I wrote an article entitled “Egypt…the time difference” [09/02/2011] commenting on this. The Mubarak regime was acceding to yesterday’s demands tomorrow, and so the protestors would continually say “this is not enough, time has run out on these demands.” The Mubarak regime acceded to all the protestors’ demands, but too late, and this ended with the Mubarak regime facing the grandest demand, for it to step down. Today we are seeing the same thing in Libya, although the Gaddafi regime is not three days late, but rather it is a regime that is out of time altogether, and its nature is to reject any and all rational solutions.

The other such situation is what is happening in Yemen, and in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV we heard the Yemeni President complain that whenever he puts forward an initiative, the opposition raises the ceiling of demands. This is only natural, because solutions always come late, for regimes always lag behind; this is because the regimes do not negotiate [directly] but rather attempt to haggle, as if they are buying or selling goods in a public market. The Yemeni president said that he would not extend his presidential term, he then said that he would leave office at the end of his current presidential term, he then said that he would leave office in January 2012. Following this, President Saleh said that he would be prepared to leave office in 60 days, and then he later told Al-Arabiya TV that he was prepared to leave office within hours so long as this occurred with dignity. The problem here is clear, which is that this is a problem of timing, for all of these proposals were good but were issued too late, not to mention that there is a genuine crisis of confidence, between the ruler and the ruled, not just in Yemen, but in many of our regional states!

We have also witnessed the same series of mistakes in Syria. In his famous interview with the Wall Street Journal – which occurred during the Egyptian revolution – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad commented on the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, stressing that Syria is not Egypt. In this interview, al-Assad said that it would be a mistake to make reforms under [public] pressure. However what happened in Syria is that Damascus rushed to offer one concession after another, under pressure from the demonstrations, contrary to what the Syrian president said to the US newspaper. After Damascus attempted to suppress the demonstrations, it offered its condolences, and began to talk about reform and releasing prisoners, so why did they delay in the first place?

Therefore, we are facing a series of mistakes being repeated, from regime’s ignoring the importance of timing to continuing the cycle of violence, killing protestors. The ideal solution here would be there, first and foremost, to be an end to the killing, with regimes putting forward a package of genuine solutions that go beyond the demands of the protestors or the opposition. This would ensure that the situation does not became further complicated, with countries slipping into a state of chaos and violence or civil war, ending with the ouster of the regime, which was something that was not initially one of the protestors demands. This is what happened in a number of Arab states, including Tunisia which is where the first spark was lit.

This is not advice to help regimes that are facing genuine trouble to survive, but rather this is an attempt to remind everybody of the reality of the situation in order to avoid further killing and destruction.