Arab Spring 2.0 - What has changed (and what hasn't)?

By Col. (res.) Udi Evental | April 9-16, 2019

A crowded Arab street
Photo: Ömer Erdem - Anadolu Agency


Do the dramatic events in Sudan and Algeria reflect a new phase of the "Arab Spring" (or "regional upheaval" as Israeli experts preferred to call it)? Can we expect a new round of revolutions sparked by public protest in face of the core economic, social, governance, and demographic challenges, to which the regimes in the region are far from offering solutions? Under what circumstances does the likelihood of deep trends bursting out increase? It seems that the answers to these questions are different across the various arenas.


The events in Sudan can be viewed as an additional phase in the evolution of Arab Spring 1.0 that began in 2011. The public took to the streets to end al-Bashir's three-decades-long dictatorship. As the pressure mounted, the Army chose to stand by the demonstrators and position itself as an influential and neutral power-broker. These events are reminiscent of the Tahrir revolution's dynamics in Egypt


Will the Sudanese people and the civil society forces accept the Army's decision to establish a two-year interim regime? It seems not; they continue the protests demanding more rapid and radical changes and transition to a civilian rule. Their voice is heard. Under pressure the military council has replaced its leadership, and gradually softens its positions.


Affected by the ongoing protests in Sudan, and in turn inspiring the Sudanese people (the known catching and emulation effects), Algeria is a different story. The Algerians have already faced the abyss during the bloody civil war in the 1990s, from which they returned to relative stability, which they will not rush to risk. Therefore, a relatively peaceful political process through new elections (set for July 4) is a more likely scenario.


The events in Libya are a direct continuation of the turmoil unleashed there in 2011 and has never ended since. The internal war in Libya is a product of deep divisions – geographical, tribal, ethnic, social, economic, and religious. These divisions are there to remain and the instability, is therefore, likely to persist for the foreseeable future.


Powerful public protests turning into a tsunami that unseats long-ruling dictators, place leaders of the other countries in the region on alert. They are expected to tighten their grip on power and to expand monitoring and repression. Countries that have already experienced the regional turmoil at first hand have a better chance in preserving certain stability.


In this respect the regional monarchies seem to be a "risk group" and will have to demonstrate special vigilance. Among them, for Israel, Jordan's stability is a primary national interest. King Abdullah seems to cope with increased challenges and faces growing criticism among the Bedouin population, the backbone of the Monarchy. The kingdom is challenged economically (the burden of refugees, youth unemployment), does not receive sufficient support from the Arab Gulf countries, and worries that the "deal of the century" will come at the expense of its interests, eroding Jordan's position in Jerusalem and bringing back the concept of Jordan as an "alternative homeland" for the Palestinians.


In any case, Arab leaders are expected to be more prudent and risks-averse. This assessment should be taken into the American administration's considerations as they intend to go public with the "deal".


In the Palestinian arena - Gaza – where protests against the rule of Hamas were brutally repressed and economic indicators are dire - is more prone for instability. This condition might drive Hamas to a long-term arrangement with Israel as long as it provides significant improvements on the ground. Without any substantial improvements, violent escalation might better serve the interests of Hamas. The new government in Jerusalem should take note...


In the West Bank, there is no much longing to the years of uprising (Intifada). Israel's military presence provides stability and reduces the risks of the outbreak of large-scale public violent protests. The main challenge in the West Bank is different – the continuing weakening of the Palestinian Authority to the point of break that might place on Israel the responsibility of administrating millions of Palestinians.


In Lebanon, another country that experienced a protracted civil war and witnesses up close the horrors of the turmoil in neighboring Syria, the government seems stable. Lebanon's state system reflects its ethnic and religious divisions and has managed to overcome serious challenges of governance vacuum. The country's new government, formed in February, seems to be in a position that will allow it to focus on addressing the harsh economic and infrastructure problems in the foreseeable future.


Finally, Iran. The Ayatollahs should be worried in light of the events in the region. However, the regime has demonstrated in the past its effective control of power by allowing venting of public frustrations on one hand, and wielding vast and brutal measures of oppression, on the other.


In sum, the Middle East upheaval continues to evolve in different forms and shapes, but seems far from the running its historical course. Dictators and leaders of the old order are swept aside, but it is unclear what will replace them – democracy or more likely, according to past experience, new authoritative leaders. As recalled this was the outcome in Egypt, where, in a bad timing for Sisi, a referendum on constitutional amendments will be held next week, allowing him to prolong his term until 2034.


The instability is expected to put before Israel significant challenges, but might also create new opportunities…




Authored by Col. (res.) Udi Evental



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