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Middle East is in a state of flux

Image Credit: NIÑO JOSE HEREDIA/©Gulf News

By Abdullah Al Shayji | Gulf News | 28 May 2012

Last week major developments unfolded before our eyes. Some of those events were unprecedented, like the historic Egyptian presidential election that has raised the bar for other Arab republics by emboldening ordinary Arabs.

The whole region is no doubt living in exciting times. The US State Department’s “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011” provides positive and encouraging signs about the Arab Spring’s impact on human rights. The annual report sounded both optimistic and cautious. “The yearning for change we have witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria is inspirational, and yet change often creates instability before it leads to greater respect for democracy and human rights … Transitions are times of uncertainty. They can be chaotic, unstable, and at times violent. And even when they succeed, they are rarely linear, quick or easy.”

The spillover of the Syrian uprising and the butchery of Syrians at the hands of the regime has finally impacted Lebanon, the country most affected by the Syrian crisis. Sectarian strife and killings prompted Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to warn of a possible return to civil war after four of the six GCC states asked their citizens to leave, and stop travelling to, Lebanon.

The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries in Baghdad have faltered and the high hopes of a breakthrough by the more pragmatist Iran and the more accommodating major powers were dashed. Once again we have to wait for another month for round three of the talks in Moscow to find out where all this charade will be taking Iran and the region. The more alarming development was the discovery by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of traces of uranium in one nuclear facility does not bode well for the showdown between Iran and the international community. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Europeans observed, significant differences still exist. This takes us back to square one.

As if these developments were not enough, Al Qaida in Yemen came under more attacks by US drones and Yemeni regime forces in the South of the country, Al Qaida retaliated with a suicide bombing against military cadets that killed close to 100 soldiers, and attacking the Al Houthis for the first time in the north. This is an ominous development, which could impact the GCC states.

Clearly, the region is in a state of flux. It is well known that whatever happens in Egypt trickles down to the rest of the Arab world. Not only were Egyptians mesmerised over the last few days with the first freely contested presidential elections but also the entire Arab world. It was just thrilling to follow the elections — the waiting in long queques to cast the ballot, braving the heat to wave the purple finger in the air and triumphantly declare: “My vote finally makes a difference and I am finally counted as a bona fide citizen of a country that goes back thousands of years.” One can imagine how would resonate in a region which has overcome fear and reached new highs. Not since the pharoahs have the Egyptians felt as elated and liberated as they feel today. It was a milestone achievement and a huge step not only for Egyptians but for the region as a whole.

Introducing the US State Department’s report, Clinton said the presidential election in Egypt showed “in real time those demands are making a difference as Egyptians are going to the polls to determine for the first time in their history who their leaders will be”. That is, if the right candidate who embraces change comes on top.

But the result of the first round of the Egyptian presidential election was mixed. It confirmed that not everyone is onboard regarding the Arab Spring. How else can we explain the fact that a figure from the old regime, Ahmad Shafiq, who was the last Prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak, came second, with 24 per cent of the votes and will be pitted in a run-off next month against the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammad Mursi. If we add to Shafiq’s tally the votes bagged by Amr Mousa, the Foreign Minister under Mubarak and the former Arab League Secretary General, it translates into 35 per cent of the votes.

Now the fight in Egypt and much of the Arab Spring republics is between the revolutionary and the counter-revolutionary forces. This has compelled the Muslim Brotherhood to call for all political groups to unite to map out the run-off strategy. The Muslim Brotherhood is warning against a Shafiq victory; the military establishment candidate and a “remnant” of the old regime. They warn Shafiq’s win would pose a grave threat and “put the nation at risk”.

There are serious negotiations underway to form a coherent front by three of the main vote getters: Mursi, Abdul Monaem Aboul Fatouh, a former senior Muslim Brotherhood figure who ran as independent, and the dark horse candidate Hamdeen Sabahi a Nasserite. They want to unify their efforts and push their supporters to vote for Mursi against the anti-revolution candidate and symbol of the Mubarak regime.

These developments are pushing and pulling the region in different directions. Clearly, the region and its people are at a crossroads and counter revolutionary movements are trying to derail the progress. But that should motivate those who champion change to double their efforts in order to ensure that their dreams are fulfilled.

Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is the Chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at



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