Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sameh Abdelaziz: After Spring, any thing can happen!

by Sameh Abdelaziz

After Spring, any thing can happen!

Even optimists are starting to have second thoughts about the Arab Spring, which is quickly turning into blood showers. The numbers of dead and injured are astounding and the prize so far is confined to three bad possibilities. An extension of a dictatorial corrupt regime such as the case in Egypt, the election of an Islamist party that the West don’t understand nor trust, as the case is in Tunisia, or an endless insane killing as the case seem to be in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. This bleak picture is unfortunately true.

Consecutive American administrations based its policy in the Arab World, on the need for stable regimes that can maintain the critical oil supply, while ensuring the safety of Israel. The American partners in this policy have been corrupted and autocratic regimes that control their countries with iron fists.

The premise of stability was shattered on September 11. However, instead of reassessing our policies and trying to understand the cause and effect we started an endless debate about an imaginary clash of civilization. None of our think tanks stopped to argue that in the age of the internet there is only one civilization with different levels of restrictions imposed on its inhabitants.

This year, our politicians were shocked, as usual, to discover that the people of the Arab World, wearing headscarfs or jeans and sometimes both, demanded freedom and were willing to die for democracy. The so-called Arab Spring surprised the world and especially America.

In the case of Egypt, after a few days of confusion, the American government supported at least publicly handing Mubarak’s power to the second in command, a junta of Egyptian generals. In Libya, our government participated in the physical removal of Gaddafi. In Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria Obama’s administration shut in different degrees their eyes on the ongoing brutality.

Ten months after the initial spark, demonstrations are igniting once again in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The Syrian revolution that started peaceful is sliding slowly into an armed conflict, and Yemen is disintegrating. The Arab revolutions are moving to a next phase that is impossible to defined, but will clearly reshape the region and impact American interests for years to come.

The first step to deal with this challenging environment is to understand that stability built on autocracy is over, because the genie is already out of the bottle. The options left for America in the Middle East are either to stand idle, which will definitely elongate people’s struggles, or to support the revolutionary movements to the dismay of some old allies.

In such turning points, history can provide NO guarantees. But, logically an elongated struggle will most likely bring extreme religious factions. These extremists are already presenting themselves as the alternative to the secular institutional corruption supported by America and the West. On the other hand, a shorter struggle can enable the real actors of the revolution, mostly liberals and moderate Islamists, to provide a reliable alternative.

It is in America’s interest to support a peaceful and speedy power transfer.

America has developed the Egyptian military apparatus over the last forty years and even handpicked their leadership. This influence is the result of 1.3 billion dollars in military aid that goes mainly to buy loyalty through fancy long training engagements and huge commissions permissible by Egyptian laws. This is the time to use this capital.

I’m quite confident that the American administration is able, if not so willing, to advise/ pressure the Egyptian generals in private to share power with a civilian leadership representing all the major political factions. Such a move will bring immediate calm to the explosive situation in Egypt and should be a first step towards a complete and real power transfer to elected civilians. The new Egyptian administration might be less loyal to America than Mubarak and his cronies, but the people of Egypt and the rest of the Arab world can and will support America if the American administration is smart enough to support freedom and democracy.

A resolution to the Egyptian crisis will serve as a model to bring back stability to other countries within the region. America should support the Arab revolution because of principles, but it is also good for business.

Sameh Abdelaziz is an Egyptian American born in Alexandria. He immigrated to the US in the late eighties, and works as an IT manager. He blogs on OpEd News.

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