The Arab Uprisings have changed the political landscape in the region and created a new reality for the international community. Earlier, “a soft bigotry of lowered expectations in the West and among Arab elites,” assumed that democracy was not possible in the region. Stability was championed over democracy using the specter of an Islamist threat as an excuse to promote strategic interests. Arab countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to popular aspirations. Arab populations, in turn, saw their governments as corrupt, secular puppets of Western power. Anti-Western sentiments were rife.
The Arab Uprisings will herald a more equal relationship between Arab countries and the West. Regardless of whether regimes have changed or not, Arab countries will reflect popular sentiment to a greater degree and will be more aggressive in asserting their sovereignty.
Implications for the International Community
After two years of uprisings, the emerging political order in the Middle East is marked by considerable shifts of power both within individual countries as well as at the regional level. Some old actors remain, some new actors are emerging, and some others are fading away.
The United States face a situation where some of its key allies in the Arab world have been ousted. Their influence and position in the region is being reevaluated. “The dilemma for the United States and its allies has been and is to maintain existing working relations with the Palace for shared concerns on trade and security while recognizing that they will have to pay homage increasingly to citizen movements, which at their core demand more influence on the affairs of the State.”
Core US interests in the region are threefold: natural resources; security for Israel; and counter-terrorism and regional security measures. US interests in natural resources are largely unaffected. Oil-rich Gulf kingdoms remain intact. “So far the [uprisings have] caused minimal disruptions of the oil market because Gulf producers, principally Saudi Arabia, have made up for supply losses from Libya… Nonetheless, these events pose the question of how much disruption from such events can the market absorb before the repercussions are widespread.” If political upheaval spreads and affects the Arabian Peninsula, the global markets for natural resources could turn highly volatile.
Israel’s security is a core concern for the US. The election of an Islamist Egyptian president backed by the Muslim Brotherhood puts into question the US relationship with Egypt. It also creates uncertainty over the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
“The [uprisings have] called into question Israel’s relative stability of the past several years. In Egypt, the prospect now is for a popular government more critical of Israel. There is no question that the Egyptian public is hostile to Israel, believing that Israel has not maintained its part of the treaty.”
The US faces a dilemma with a new Egyptian government that will not be as compliant as the Hosni Mubarak regime. The diplomatic relationship with Egypt has been thrown into question. As President Barack Obama declared: “I don’t think that we would consider [the new Egyptian government] an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.” The relationship between the US and Egypt has so far not faltered and it is in the best interests of both countries to maintain stable diplomatic ties. However, as stated by former Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, “the era of ‘yes sir’ has to come to an end.”
Counterterrorism in the region is an ongoing policy goal for the US. Drone attacks targeting Al-Qaeda members continue in Yemen. Bahrain is a key ally for Washington because it allows the US to counter Iranian influence. It is for this reason that, for all the talk of supporting democratic reform, the US continues to support the Bahraini Sunni monarchy despite its repression of the Shi’a population.
Read the final excerpt from The Arab Uprisings: An Introduction on February 4, 2013.