We filmed an episode of Crosstalk today, so I thought I would share my talking points in advance of the show being aired on Monday. Not everything here was said, but the questions they sent in advance will give you a broad sense of what was said on the show.
Is the term Arab Spring or Arab Awakening appropriate anymore? Do we
need to invent a new and different term to describe what is happening
in the Arab Middle East today?
It was never appropriate in the beginning. When you spoke to protesters in the individual countries they would always refer to their countries “revolutions”. I think our best method of looking at the phenomenon in the region, is to keep referring to them in this manner. This helps us keep on track of the fact that whilst there was a “demonstration” effect that helped them spread across the region, all the revolutions were country specific. It is safer to refer to the “revolutions” occurring through the region. This is also particularly the case, as we don’t, and have never known, the directions these revolutions will take. Spring and Awakening suggests a transition process to democracy, and it is far from guaranteed that this will be the case.
What to the countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria have in
common today (if any thing beyond being Arab Muslim countries)?
These countries still have a lot in common beyond being Arab Muslim countries. They have deeply troubled economies, high youth unemployment, a disproportionately high youth demographic, deep troubles with rule of law and security. These are in fact the same conditions that led to the uprisings in the first place. They differ in many of the problems they face, but broadly speaking the underlined causes of the revolutions are still there.
Over two years ago many in the west (and their proxies on the ground
in the Arab Middle East) talked of democracy and western values in a
region in the hands of dictators for decades. Where does democracy
stand today in the region?
Any one who has studied democracy in the Arab world over decades will tell you that the region always takes one step forward, and two steps back. But the Arab spring demonstrates that there is popular demand for rights, dignity and freedom. The revolutions are a major leap forward for democracy in the region, and the genie has been let out of the bottle. There is less willingness to accept the security guarantee of dictators, as the people in the region see that this hasn’t provided them with the basic things they need in their daily lives. Of course, the situation on the ground differs across each of the countries, and some are moving forward more rapidly with what look like basic democratic institutions than others. But overall, democratisation is a long process, and we certainly stand in a place where democracy looks more plausible today than it did in 2010.
To what degree have events in Syria been a “game changer” for the region?
Events in Syria are very important, and have important regional repercussions. But overall, what happens in Syria is going to have little effect on the domestic revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. We also have an important example of a more successful transition in Yemen, which shouldn’t be forgotten. The problem with Syria has to do with the nature of the state structure. The security forces are tied to the regime itself, which wasn’t the case in Tunisia and Egypt, and NATO intervention in Libya cancelled that particular dynamic out. Are there going to be serious security problems in Syria for the forceable future, that will impact Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon? They certainly will, but alternative trajectories are in place for the countries already undergoing revolutions.
Has western overt and/or covert involvement been a plus or minus in
the region over the past two years?
There was a period when US and EU involvement in the region was particularly high – throughout 2011-2012. There was a greater emphasis on trying to promote democracy, and on helping successful democratic transitions to take place. The September 11 embassy attacks, however, have lowered the willingness of the US to focus on this, and return to a more traditional “security and interests” focus. So post-2012 the US has pulled back its presence in the region, and missed important opportunities. Because of the problems with the way EU foreign policy is conducted and made, they have followed in the US foot steps.
The show airs on Monday, so any feed back is welcome on here or twitter @ozhassan.
Postscript: Link to Youtube show