Just when the revolutions in Egypt and Tunis are being consolidated and institutionalized in an impressive manner inspiring to other Arab countries, the movement for change in other Arab countries seems to be much slower and more complicated…
by Ghassan Khatib
The different realities that inform each Arab country are strongly reflected in the movements for change sweeping Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Jordan.
While some of the same problems and instigating factors that led to successful movements in Egypt and Tunis exist in these Arab countries, other factors may complicate the situation there. One complication is the issue of religion and ethnicity, which has arisen both naturally and has been provoked intentionally. This was obvious in Bahrain but also in other countries. The ethno-religious aspect, in many cases emphasized by parties with interests in diverting attention from social and economic grievances, also introduced external factors in some of these countries.
The behavior of the regimes faced with waves of protest has varied, and has played a role in their outcome, complexity and duration. In Syria, for example, the tough response to the protests and the success in preventing independent media from witnessing and reporting may have played a role in the way they progressed.
The two interesting common denominators in the reactions of Arab governments have been first, to claim a role by foreign powers or Islamists or both, and second, to try to bribe the public with sudden and generous gestures such as increased wages. For the most part, this has backfired, however, not only because it always comes too late, but also because the way it is conveyed is perceived as insulting.
The most significant and dangerous phenomenon in the second phase of this „Arab spring“ is foreign intervention, which began with an Arab military role in Bahrain and proceeded with an international military role in Libya. The US verbally „intervened“ this week in Yemen, when US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, „We have had a lot of counterterrorism cooperation from President Saleh and Yemeni security services. So if that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we’ll face some additional challenges out of Yemen.“
While the military intervention in Libya might have been justified by the Arab League decision that approved it, and the inhuman and vicious attacks by Gaddafi forces on Libyan civilians, the international community has to be very cautious here, especially since the Arab people have become acutely sensitive to foreign intervention.
While the situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip is very different, this regional wave hit Palestinians as well. Palestinian youth, also encouraged and inspired by the sprit and tools of the movements in Arab countries, especially Egypt, translated their anger and desire for freedom into the issue that they identified as the greatest domestic priority: the reconciliation of Palestinian factions.
In the West Bank, the movement was not as strong as it was in Gaza, which was explained by the fact that the division has a direct and weighty detrimental effect on the day-to-day life of Palestinians in Gaza, especially when compounded by Israel’s closure policies. At the same time, the authority in the West Bank tolerated the protests and was responsive to them, culminating in President Mahmoud Abbas‘ initiative to go to Gaza to work on forming a national unity government and holding elections.-Published 28/3/2011 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.