Posts Tagged ‘arab spring’
A couple of weeks ago, America’s top diplomat for East Asia Kurt Campbell said that the top 2013 question he gets about U.S. Asia policy is whether the so-called pivot or rebalance will sustain during President Barack Obama’s second term.
At least part of that anxiety lies in the belief that the United States could once again become embroiled in the Middle East, something that is very much on the minds of seasoned Asia hands like Mike Green over at CSIS.
Those already worried about this will find little relief hearing what Vali Nasr, formerly a professor at the Fletcher School and a noted Middle East expert, had to say in his opening remarks at a Foreign Correspondents Club lunch in Hong Kong last week.
Two years after the Arab Spring, Nasr said, any hope by Asianists that the Arab Spring would somehow lead the Middle East to come to grips with its own issues and free up Washington to then focus more of its attention to Asia is all but extinguished. The region today, Nasr said:
…Is becoming a source of growing headaches and an impetus for a pivot back to the Middle East by the United States. Going forward, at least in the next year or two, the Middle East will be far more important in the making of U.S. foreign policy and how it deploys its resources going forward than any strategic statement that the administration has made and is making.
That’s a pretty bold statement, but it doesn’t seem that farfetched if you look at the ground realities in the Middle East. In the next one to two years, Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian civil war, and escalating violence in Afghanistan as the U.S. departs all loom as potential tinderboxes.
And by the way, that doesn’t include anything proactive U.S. President Barack Obama might try to do in his second term in the region, like something on the Arab-Israeli conflict which some have urged him to. Or the other innumerable domestic policy priorities the administration will try to tick off within the first half of the second term before the president risks becoming a lame duck and losing political capital.
Are you worried yet?
With early results from Egypt’s first round of elections showing a majority vote in favor of Islamists, many are wondering what the future holds for the rest of the Arab World after the wave of popular uprisings that shook the region.
Sami Moubayed, editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria, has an excellent piece out over at Asia Times Online that looks at this question from a long-term perspective. He argues that Islamism, just like Arab nationalism before it, needs to and will go through a decades-long evolution where Islamists take power, become corrupted by it, battle to hold on to it, and then get overthrown – perhaps by another Arab Spring in 2061. It is worth reading the whole thing, but two paragraphs stand out in particular:
The future of the Arab World, whether seculars like it or not, is going to be in the hands of Islamic parties – at least – for the foreseeable future. This trend, just like Arab nationalism before it, will not last forever. It has reached its zenith today, but pretty soon, the Islamists will get corrupted by power, just like seculars were corrupted before them.
We cannot predict that for sure, but this has been the cycle of history to date. Look at the Baathists before coming to power in Syria and look at them today, 48-years later. Look at the leaders of Fateh before 1993 and judge them today, almost 20-years later. Look at Iraqi Baathists before 1968 and look at them in the 1980s, during the heyday of Saddam Hussein’s era. But that is not going to happen anytime soon. The Islamists need to reach power, taste it, love it, get attached to it, become corrupted by it, fight to hold on to it, and eventually, get overthrown because of it – perhaps when another Arab Spring breaks out, 50-years from now. That Arab Spring, no doubt, would be through the ballots unlike this one which came through the street. Future goverments that lose a popular mandate will not be allowed to stay in power after their political legitimacy expires.
Of course, this evolution will be contested , not just by other domestic and foreign actors with their own interests and ambitions but factions within Islamist parties themselves. But Mr. Moubayed’s piece nonetheless reminds us that the surge of political Islam that we may witness over the next few years is but one chapter in the rise and fall of movements in the Arab world, and that we ought to see these short-term developments that inundate us daily in relation to the long view.