Arab Spring Becomes Winter of Discontent

David Meir-Levi writes and lectures on Middle East topics, until recently in the History Department of San Jose State University.


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Spring sprang in the Arab world with the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia, on December 17, 2010, affecting country after country, moving quickly to Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and finally Syria.[i] Results to date: no democracy, no elections, no stability, no security; and instead the strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and Iran.  While the protests and demonstrations may have begun with well-meaning poverty-stricken people fed up with tyrannical repression and economic exploitation, radical Muslim extremists, most prominently the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), seem to now have the upper hand as elections loom in Tunisia and Egypt.

When Gaddafi goes, the tribal instincts of the Libyan rebels are more likely to drive their Transitional National Council (TNC) to in-fighting and internecine violence than to a unified coalition thirsty for freedom and democracy.  Armed groups within the TNC have known connections to el-Qaeda and are not likely to let the opportunity to create an el-Qaeda base in Libya slip away because of some pesky elections.

Jordan and Morocco have kept the Arab spring’s rebellious wolf from the door, at least for now, with cosmetic changes in government and promises of more power to elected leaders; but the natives are restless and the kings of both countries know that they are sitting on powder kegs.  Jordan’s Abdullah II is acutely aware that the most powerful enemies in his kingdom are Hamas and the MB.

Saudi Arabia has stemmed the tide with massive social spending, a new phenomenon in the kingdom:  about $130 billion at last count for salaries, housing, and religious organizations.  But the Saudi royal family knows that using cash to keep things calm can go only so far.  They too are on a powder keg, and they fear that Iran seeks to light the fuse.

The uprising in Bahrain was brutally and effectively repressed with the aid of Saudi tanks and troops. The Saudis acted quickly, and without regard for public opinion, because they did not want neighboring Bahrain to become a stepping stone for Shiite Iran’s influence in the Sunni Arab world.  Neither did the ruling family in Bahrain, who welcomed the Saudi armed forces.  No one wants the price of oil to go up, so the Saudis have no concerns about world opinion or UN sanctions.

In Yemen protests began in late January and have continued almost non-stop.  President Ali Abdullah Saleh fled to Arabia for medical treatment after sustaining injuries during an attack on his palace, the economy is on the verge of collapse, hundreds have died, and there is no front runner for leadership among the feuding tribal groups that coalesced against Saleh back in March.  As the New York Times described it, Yemen is “…on the brink of hell.”

At this point things are not looking good for the Arab countries assailed by the “Arab Spring.”  Already fragile economies have been disrupted by the violence, and nowhere in sight is the emergence of anything other than feuding tribes and radical Islamist destabilization, and certainly not the free, stable, and prosperous liberal western-style democracy that President Bush hoped would blossom in Iraq to serve as a model of freedom for other countries in the Middle East.

Syria is different, because it is hard to decide which are the least bad of the bad options. On one hand we have young Bashir al-Assad, whose brutality seems boundless and to whom Obama gave a free pass, benignly ignoring his butchery for months while thousands of Syrian civilians were slaughtered, quite unlike our President’s swift political and military actions against Mubarak and Gadaffi.  Bashir is Iran’s closest ally, almost a puppet; and his demise would be a major defeat for Iran.  A break between Syria and Iran would also be very bad news for Hezbollah, whose terrorist leaders rely heavily on Iranian supplies, funds, and armaments, all channeled into Lebanon via Syria.  Hamas too would suffer from a break in its link with its Iranian godfather. So one might think that the USA’s Commander-in-Chief would see the military and political value of regime change in Syria.

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  • Shalom Freedman

    This article provides an excellent survey, and realistic view of 'The Arab Spring'. It rightly indicates that instead of progress towards Democracy we are seeing more and more deteriotration to anarchy and Islamization.
    From the West's point- of- view the developments are almost wholly negative. Obama gets a big F on this one. As for Israel the dangers are increasing with the slight hope that a new regime in Syria might make Hizbollah a bit weaker. But I wouldn't bet on it.

  • Marti

    The name of the Syrian president is Bashar al-Assad not Bashir al-Assad, doesn't the author of the article know that?

    • SAM000

      Of course the writer knows the right name
      When the people SHiiiiT on your president, his name get transformed.

  • bart simpson

    i have serious doubts about your assertion that Israel is likely to win a war with Egypt: As a reminder, Egypt has a modern fleet of aircraft almost as numerous as the turkey, and 1200 M1 ABRAMS, its maritime fights platerome are three time more numerous than the Israeli navy! and the list goes on. demographic power leaves no doubt about its ability to mobilize (85 millions vs. 6 millions) yakoz katz a very experienced military expert said recently in Israel: the Egyptian army is equal to the IDF and I can not imagine what would happen in case of war

  • StephenD

    I can see a correlation with the Arab Peoples and their eventual subjugation to a Tyrannical Totalitarian life. As wise people have said for thousands of years, "What you sow, so shall you reap." What goes around, comes around." KARMA…can be a bitch.
    Your "Religion" encourages slavery, YOU will eventually be the slave.
    You consider yourselves "The best of peoples." YOU will become…"the least among men."
    It is inevitable; A fait accompli; Or as you are fond of saying "If it be Allah's will." LOL

    • Fadi

      "The Jews and the Christians will never be satisified with you (Arabs & muslims) until you go by their ways" ~the Qura'an

      Mr Stephen you are a living, breathing proof of ignorance and racism. And "IT WILL BE ALLAH'S WILL to meet you on the day of judgment and ask you about what you said about muslims and how you are sarcastic to our religion.

      • Fred Dawes

        for one reason jews want to live life and christian want not to be beheaded

    • WilliamJamesWard

      Jews are desperate to believe that there does exist moderate muslims, they
      can not take in the fact that each and every one of the Billion Muslims want them
      dead. It is so much easier to believe there are only maybe a few million
      crazies that they can deal with, not the whole Billion plus…………..William

  • Bamaguje

    As a last resort, Israel has the nuclear option.

  • UCSPanther

    The more things change, the more they remain the same…

  • ObamaYoMoma

    While the protests and demonstrations may have begun with well-meaning poverty-stricken people fed up with tyrannical repression and economic exploitation, radical Muslim extremists, most prominently the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), seem to now have the upper hand as elections loom in Tunisia and Egypt.

    Yeah right it is those dastardly radical Muslim extremists again because Islam is a Religion of Peace™ being hijacked by a tiny minority of radical Muslim extremists. Indeed, that's why in country after country wherever mass Muslim immigration has occurred in the West and other non-Islamic countries, the vast overwhelming majority of Muslim immigrants just like clockwork refuse to assimilate and integrate and instead form segregated Muslim no-go zones ruled by Sharia because the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful and moderate Muslims. Indeed, it is also why that in every Muslim majority country in the world the Christians and all other non-Muslim unbelievers that live in those countries are violently oppressed and systematically persecuted when not outright slaughtered altogether and it's again because the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful and moderate Muslims.

    This writer apparently will never learn to stop complying with the dictates of political correctness and thus will never stop trying to brainwash me into believing the absurd. Hence, when I reached the passage referenced in italics above which is in the first paragraph, I immediately ceased and desisted reading this garbage.

    • StephenD

      Great point. I'd give David a chance to correct himself though. As it happens, I take such comments with a grain of salt. But you are right in pointing it out and we should all give pause with such language that tries to define the terms of the conversation. Show me a Radical Muslim apart from a Moderate Muslim. Explain the difference. What Qur'an verses do the "Moderates" reject? Where are these "Moderate" Mosques? Where is their Imam? Have they risen up en masse to protest such atrocities as THE FOGEL FAMILY MASSACRE? I've yet to see the dividing line.

      • Questions

        Definition of a moderate Muslim: a Muslim who has temporarily run out of ammunition.

  • Stuart Parsons

    Who was the idiot who authorised the selling of 1200 M1 Abram tanks to a country like Egypt ?

  • Questions

    As if any of this could not have been predicted.

    The slave (i.e., pack/herd) instinct is powerful throughout our species. And nowhere does it flourish as much as in the Islamic world. The "Arab spring" was but a brief shining moment in time, a dress rehearsal for a far darker main event: total warfare against the non-Islamic world. The Muslim equivalent of the Bolsheviks already are pushing aside the Mencheviks.

  • muchiboy

    No one said it was going to be easy.An uphill battle all the way,and failure is in the cards,as is the possibility of democratic freedoms.We can hope,and support where possible.

    As for conflict with Egypt,certainly Egypt has had the advantage of American training and equipment.As for demographics,you might want to look at illiteracy rates,etc.I do see the Arab world making progress relative to Israel if the Arab Spring is successful.With increased literacy,health,economic, and military capabilities the Arab world and neighbourhood may be able to bargain with Israel from a position of strength.May be the best possible outcome,given the Americans have failed to pressure the Zionist state to even half way resolve the very basic injustices done to the Palestinian people.Given that the Zionists have occupied and colonized Palestine while (arguably and) effectively ethnically cleansing the Palestinian Arabs,the Jewish nation has demonstrated their abilities in all areas of state building and democratic institutions.For these reasons alone,the presence of the Jewish nation is beneficial to the region.Again,the devil is in the details,and the Palestinian people must be treated equitably in all matters,pertaining to land,water,resources,right of return,etc.muchiboy

    • ziontruth

      "No one said it was going to be easy."

      It's time to say it's impossible. So long as people believe in Islam and its imperialistic political programme, permanent peace with Islam's bloody borders is impossible.

      And no amount of appeasing the Muslim world on the Jewish State's expense would change that. On the contrary, it could only embolden the Muslims' triumphalist charge.

      "Given that the Zionists have occupied and colonized Palestine…"

      Impossible by definition. The Jews are the indigenous Palestinians, therefore cannot be occupiers and colonizers of Palestine.

      "…the Palestinian Arabs…"

      …are indigenous to Arabia, and settler-colonist land-thieves in Palestine, the indigenous territory of the Jewish nation.

      "…and the Palestinian people must be treated equitably in all matters,…"

      Yes, the Palestinian people, who are the Jewish people and none other, must be treated equitably in all matters. They must be allowed the universal national right of exercising exclusive political sovereignty in their one and only homeland, Palestine, and must not be pressured to give up parts of it to the Arab nation, a nation possessing huge amounts of land beyond its entitlement, the Arabian Peninsula.

  • artcohn

    Why has Iran seemed to always playdthe uprisings to their own benefit? Yet the USA cannot.

  • Frank

    Our public "servants", gov media complex assume that the sheeple have 15 second memories like a bunch of gold fish in a tank going from one shiny object then to another.

    • Amused

      they do ….it's called the "memory hole " ……..works everytime .

  • SAM000

    With Iran there, the Arab spring could always been salvaged by Iran's Mullahs.

    David Meir-Levy says
    "that President Bush hoped would blossom in Iraq to serve as a model of freedom for other countries in the Middle East."

    With Iran there, removing Saddam was an non-pardonable mistake.

    If you touch any country, there is a great risk that the liberation movement be salvaged by the Mullahs of Iran.

    The change should start from IRAN.

    The west concentrates all his resources to keep the Mullahs on power, In the arab countries there is no democracy, there is no security, the minimum of protest will result the jail or execution.
    In these conditions, the associations, and protests will become underground, the only groups who are able to exist are the Islamists groups, because they get support and funds from the Mullahs of Iran.
    When the uprising arrives, the only groups who have an structure are the Islamists groups, the intellectuals are smashed by the dictator before uprising.

    So, any uprising in the Arab / Muslim countries will be hi-jacked by the Islamists fed by Iran.

    In IRAQ, Iran governs, Iraqi PM is installed by Iran, Iraqi PM is not elected by the Iraqis, during the last Iraqi Elections, Ayaz Alawi a pro-American democrat was the winner, Ayaz Alawi should constitute the Iraqi government, but Iran's backed PM didn't left his seat, and continues to kill and puts the bomb on Alawi's group.
    USA knows exactly what is going on IRAQ, the majority of the Iraqis don't want an Islamist government backed by Iran, but Iraqi Army and police (some 1 million personnel) who are trained and armed by USA are under total control of the Mullahs.

    So, Iran governs USA freed IRAQ.
    Now, Obama wants to withdraw US army from IRAQ, this is a bigger mistake than Buch's Mistake.
    The problem with you the Americans is that "YOU WANT TO REPAIR A MISTAKE BY ANOTHER MISTAKE".

  • Fred Dawes

    Muslims hate the sun and light and life but love the dead side of the world.

  • Amused

    Did anyone seriously think that "arab spring " would result in any sort of "democracy " ? Is islam compatable with democracy ? Certainly not !
    It is inevitable what these civil wars will morph into .Muslims will at the end of the day, afterall , be ….muslims. They are merely shedding dictators for theocratic tyrants . Whether or not the Muslim brotherhood prevails in Egypt , is not nor ever will be , due to anything the US does or says . It will be soley up to the Egyptian people themselves .

  • Amused

    As for the poster who doubts that Israel will prevail over Egypt in a war ? Let him be reminded that whatever military hardware the Egytians posses , Israel has been given that which is a notch above anything any arab nations possesses .And although the general populace seems to be pining for war ,the Egyptian Militarey simply knows better.

    • nina

      It is doubtful that the general populace would be paining for war, while their stomaches are empty. Not that they love Israel, they have been taught to hate Jews and the Jewish state. But they have more immediate problems to occupy them.
      This is why some power behind the scenes doesn't want them to be present in making important decisions for their country. This power then manpulates the Egyptians, forcing them to look in the wrong direction. This is an old trick known well to magicians, as well as to te antisemites.

  • Amused

    lol….and they're Made inChina !!