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Growing Instability Challenges the Transatlantic Approach to the Arab Spring Countries

Growing Instability Challenges the Transatlantic Approach to the Arab Spring Countries

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This policy brief encourages a new analysis of the security environment in the Middle East and North Africa.
This policy brief encourages a new analysis of the security environment in the Middle East and North Africa.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Oct 14, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Two years after theonset of the Arab revolts, theongoing civil war in Syria, theextreme sectarian polarizationin Iraq, and the recent mili-tary takeover in Egypt make astrong case for the necessity of focusing more than ever on thestrategic context in the region.Since the beginning of the ArabRevolts, transatlantic powers,struggling with the legacy of theirsupport to authoritarian regimes,have been largely absent frominternal debates, having alsofailed to integrate new stra-tegic actors such as Qatar andChina in the discussions. Anew analysis of the securityenvironment in the Middle Eastand North Africa region should
therefore constitute the rst step
of renewed transatlantic engage-ment.
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brie 
Growing Instability Challenges the Transatlantic Approach to the Arab Spring Countries
by Sinan Ülgen
German Marshall Fund o theUnited States-Paris71 Boulevard Raspail75006 Paris: +33 1 47 23 47 18E:inoparis@gmus.org
October 2013
wo years aer the onset o the Arabrevolts, the ongoing civil war in Syria,the extreme sectarian polarization inIraq, and the recent military take-over in Egypt make a strong case orthe necessity o ocusing more thanever on the strategic context in theregion. Any realistic assessment o thepotential or a transatlantic approachto MENA security issues must startwith a sound analysis o the evolu-tion o the internal and externalsecurity ramework o the region. A vast majority o the changes that haveoccurred in the past year have tendedto accentuate the internal security challenges, thus creating clear impli-cations or the regional security order.At the beginning o the so-calledArab Spring, hope existed that theonset o the transition rom auto-cratic leaders to more accountableand legitimate regimes would helpto tackle some o the core security problems o the region. Tese transi-tions, it was believed, would help todeal with the maniold problems thathad bedeviled the political, economic,and social progress o these countries.Concurrently, the democratic transi-tions were also to alleviate one o themost rustrating conundrums or theWest. In the past, the Western powershad been orced to engage withauthoritarian leaders in the absenceo any real political alternative in theregion, an engagement that naturally gave rise to criticism o Westernbehavior and allegations o doublestandards. Te perceived tacit alli-ance between the West and the Arabregimes undermined the so powero the transatlantic allies. Te ensuingheritage o popular sentiment havecertainly also made it more dicultor the transatlantic allies to reach outto civil society and establish a moredurable partnership with societalstakeholders.wo years down the road, however,the optimistic expectations rom theArab revolts are due to be revisited.Democratic transitions in the regionare proving to be more dicult, moreuncertain, and doubtlessly morecomplicated than initially envisaged.It is also becoming clear that a stableoutcome is not pre-ordained. Tedomestic dynamics unleashed by theaspiration or regime change cannotbe channeled toward a consensus view about the uture order o thesesocieties. What we see is a gradualdissolution o the internal coalitionthat had come into being or accom-plishing regime change, whose railty 
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief 
The deciencies in the
institutional development of thesesocieties have been laid bareby the political vacuum createdby the exit of the authoritarianleaders.
represents the biggest danger or the long term stability o these nations.In the Middle East, the biggest threat to domestic stability is the ongoing polarization uelled by sectarianism.Although the Sunni-Shiite schism has existed or morethan 14 centuries in this region, autocratic regimes o thepost-colonial era have been able to paper over these dier-ences on account o their secularism. Te principle o secu-larism managed to keep at bay the sectarian proclivitieso a religiously heterogeneous population or whom Arabnationalism was the cement o the eort o nation building.Te U.S. intervention in Iraq can be seen as the preview o the currently unolding sectarian dynamics in thewhole region. Iraq was the rst country where an externalintervention that deposed an autocratic leader unleashedultimately destabilizing domestic dynamics. Instead o coalescing around a pluralistic political ramework thatwould have guaranteed undamental rights to all, Iraqisociety ell prey to an increasing sectarianism, which isunavoidably dominated by a “zero-sum” mentality. Teemerging ruling coalition has been unable to eliminatethe prospect o increasing sectarian strie. Te threat o aprotracted sectarian war is very real in Syria as well, withthe danger o this strie spreading to multi-ethnic andmulti-conessional states such as Lebanon and Jordanbecoming increasingly palpable.In North Arica, where societies are more homogenous andwhere the Sunni-Shiite divide is less prevalent, the problemhas had more to do with the (im)maturity o the politicalsystem. As the current events in Egypt demonstrate, thenew ruling elites have been unable to embrace a more openand inclusive interpretation o democracy. Te dividinglines in North Arica are to be ound on the secular/Islamist dimension instead o the sectarian dimension.However, in both regions, the deciencies in the institu-tional development o these societies have been laid bareby the political vacuum created by the exit o the authori-tarian leaders. Political institutions o consensus buildingand confict management have proven to be ineective anddemocratic instincts and tolerance to dierences super-cial. As a result, societies became increasingly polarized.In the MENA region, the post-Ottoman order based onnation states is collapsing. Te nation building eortso the last century are losing out to the atavistic trendso tribalism, sectarianism, and Islamism. Te emergingsecurity order in the Middle East and North Arica is morelikely to be dened by ailed and ailing states than stablenation states. It is this disturbing reality that any clear-headed assessment o the role o transatlantic interests inurthering peace and prosperity in the region should takeinto account.Tere are three undamental lessons that can be drawnrom the standpoint o the transatlantic partnership romthis recent experience o witnessing the Arab transorma-tions.Te rst lesson is that the transatlantic partners have, by and large, been sidelined rom the internal developmentsin the Arab world. Tey have been generally absent romthe domestic debates and unable to steer the events. Tisis partly the result o the heritage o past relations withormer regimes that have handicapped the relations withthe new Islamist elites. But it is also due to the emergenceo other international actors such as China, the Gul Cooperation Council countries, and urkey, which havebeen willing to engage the new elites without the inherentconditionality approach o the West. Te willingness o these new actors to heavily invest politically and economi-cally in their relationship with the Arab governments hasgiven these client states the luxury o a more selectiveapproach to their international partnerships. For instance,it can easily be asserted that Qatar’s $5 billion and urkey’s$2 billion yearly aid to Egypt allowed Egyptian authoritiesto become less compelled to reach a politically challengingdeal with the IMF. Tere is no reason to believe that theconditions that constitute the basis o eective transatlanticengagement in the MENA region are likely to change inthe near term. As a result, the rst lesson to draw rom the

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