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Revolutions in the Balance

Ignited in Tunisia in late 2010, the Arab Uprisings quickly swept through a wider region better known for sectarian, ethnic and religious cleavages. In Tahrir Square and Benghazi, citizens – particularly millions of youth – rallied around common demands such as bread, freedom and social justice. Almost three years later, however, the revolutions that began with such high hopes are increasingly defined by ongoing political chaos. Revolution has led to counter-revolution and military coups. For scholars interested in social movements, particularly religious-based ones, these ongoing events are historic. The evolving nature of the social movements has injected a great deal of uncertainty in the region, and especially the foreign ministries of key players like Iran, Turkey and Israel. While the …

The decision taken by France’s Credit Agricole and Japan’s Tokyo-Mitsubishi bank to leave Bahrain following the unrest in 2011 sparked widespread fears of a mass exodus of financial institutions and led to a slump in investor confidence, casting a shadow of doubt over the performance of Bahrain’s economy. However, three years later, these initial fears seem rather misplaced. Despite a drop in investor confidence, Bahrain’s financial sector has remained intact, and economic growth has rebounded to pre-2011 levels. In the 1980s, in the wake of the Lebanese Civil War, Bahrain established itself as a regional financial center. In recent years, Bahrain has faced intense competition from Dubai and increasingly Qatar, but it has proven resilient due to its solid regulatory …

Since the partitioning of the Sudan, Algeria is the largest African country and a primary regional power in the Mediterranean region. Therefore, the condition of this North African pivot-state is essential for Europe: Algiers is the 3rd largest energy supplier to the EU, while its population of 38 million inhabitants, its anti-terrorism security expertise and the size of its armed forces (130,000 men) make their security capabilities necessary to the stability of the Sahel zone. Moreover, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of 208 million dollars in 2013, Algeria remains the largest regional economy. Algiers was the least affected by the wave of the Arab Spring despite negative societal indicators. This situation contrasts with that of Tunisia or Egypt, notably due to politics of large redistribution of riches gained from oil revenues, but also due to the people’s fear of a return to a decade of stagnation. Nevertheless, the relative calm in this country during the last three years should not lead one to believe that the upcoming presidential election is not without high stakes. In fact, the trajectory of this powerful regional presence is uncertain for at least two reasons. First, the country’s socio-economic dynamic is worrisome. Second, the security dynamic is deteriorating given that Jihadist groups have found new resources. Thus, in the context of a tense regional framework, the Algerian situation is more important today than ever before.

In Egypt, it is clear that constructive results are not going to materialise anytime soon. Increasing state violence, arrests and intimidation have no clear logic beyond an attempt by the security apparatus to regain power and tighten control over the economy. It is an outworn order that risks collapsing. While the regime does have a serious security issue on its hands, namely the Sinai-based terrorism that has now spread to Cairo, the regime is increasingly blurring the lines between terrorism and anyone who opposes the official line. Labelling the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, outlawing anti-regime protests, cracking down on NGOs and the clampdown against anti-regime activists and journalists are indications that the security state is disintegrating. The regime is carrying out violent measures against Islamists and youth – two major groups that cannot afford to be alienated – signalling the regime’s struggles to control a significant segment of the population via peaceful means.

The announcement by Egypt’s Defense Minister, now Field Marshall, Abdel-Fattah El Sissi that he would be running for president was greeted with joy and with apprehension, not only in Egypt, but also in the Gulf States. If current trends hold, it seems increasingly likely that El Sissi will be comfortably elected to serve as president of Egypt for at least the next four years. Egypt’s relations with the Gulf States under a potential El Sissi presidency will largely be shaped by the positions these states have taken in the past few months. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain, who considered the Muslim Brotherhood to be a significant domestic threat, have strengthened relations with Egypt following the overthrow of former president Mohammed Morsi. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, who welcomed Morsi’s overthrow immediately pledged $12 Billion to post-Brotherhood Egypt, increasing their assistance in the subsequent months. If elected, President El Sissi will look to build on the current relationship with these states, possibly by visiting Riyadh, where he previously served as military attaché, and Abu Dhabi soon after the election. Although the UAE’s Prime Minister stated in an interview with the BBC that he “hopes (El Sissi) remains in the military, and that another person [runs] for the presidency”, a clarification was soon issued by the official news agency saying that the “brotherly advice is that General al-Sissi should not run as a military man for the post of the presidency”. El Sissi has already stated that Saudi’s support for Egypt will “never be forgotten” and expressed gratitude for the UAE’s aid.

The Arab uprisings, initially perceived as one unit of analysis, have gone through a rite of passage and identified themselves as distinct from one another; it is no longer logically sound to talk of one “spring”. Nevertheless, it is instructive to extract lessons learned from each experience and place them into conversation with one another. An Arab dialectic seems possible instead of a unified discourse on change and transitions. Libya’s ‘national dialogue’ has been launched in the hope of carving out a space of peace across the country and for developing a form of consensus on what is perceived as a reborn Libyan nation, post-Qaddafi. The National Dialogue Preparatory Commission’a (NDPC) Chairman Fadeel Lame emphasised that Libya needs to “move from one stage to another and from one situation to another and that this transition could be achieved only through the power of dialogue.”[1] Earlier in September 2013, Tarek Mitri, who heads the UN Support Mission in Libya, described it as a process that “would give voice to many Libyans and opens a space that does not exclude any of those who may have contributions to make to public life and are otherwise isolated, separated or entrenched in their partisan attitudes… [to] promote a national capacity to address urgent priorities and ensure public support to the efforts of state-building.” The need for dialogue is indisputable in a country that seems ridden with conflict. In Tripoli, separatist movements gaining ground in the eastern part of the country. General instability highlights the urgency for dialogue – and the difficulties. Recently, militias from Misrata opened fire on peaceful protestors in Tripoli who were calling for the departure of militias and the restoration of peace. According to one account, more than 40 were killed and 400 wounded in the clashes.[2] The General National Congress (GNC) and government agencies froze; it was only through the intervention of local councils and civil society that an end of violence was reached.[3] As described by the reporter: “There was a tense calm in Tripoli on Sunday after more than 48 hours of bloodshed. Civil-society and community leaders abided by a general strike that coincided with a national mourning period for those slain. Shops were shut and normally busy commercial streets were devoid of traffic on the first day of the working week, witnesses reported.” The question here then is not about need – in an ideal world, developing consensus among the Libyan people towards state building and a national identity would be the way out. It is about capacity.