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these countries sorts itself out. That
is the price of our commitment to
Recent develop-
ments in the region have under-
scored the bankruptcy of the Islamic
extremist philosophy that sanctions
violence as the only way to achieve
societal change. Oriented toward
universal values and rooted in the
demand for jobs, justice and dignity,
these nascent democratic move-
ments are not far in spirit from our
Declaration of Independence’s invocation of “life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.”
Nevertheless, the current upheavals offer opportunities,
exemplified by the situation in Yemen, for Islamic terrorists
to gain ground in the midst of chaos. As new leaders cope
with the demands of governing, mounting frustrations over
unfulfilled promises could provide fertile ground for a
restyled terrorismwith an anti-American bent to take root.
The new U.S. administration should consider whether de-
velopments justify a more watchful and less operational pri-
ority for counterterrorism.
Factors Driving Further Change
The paramount driver of the Arab Spring has been the
mobilization of the masses, particularly young people who
use social media and communications technology. At the
same time, military and security forces and intervention by
outside players also continue to be determining factors.
For years, the former regimes of the Arab Spring states
thwarted the development of alternative leadership. But
now that technology has empowered citizens to challenge
repressive security forces, it no longer takes established
leaders to mobilize the masses — just savvy techies who
have organizational skills, along with the presence of live
media coverage, such as Al-Jazeera’s. In addition, the
longevity of the leadership in all of the Arab Spring states
has left no doubt as to who has been responsible for each
country’s plight. The result has been revolutions from the
street, with new political leadership struggling to emerge
amid the protest and fighting,
In all these countries, military and security forces have
been key players. In the Egyptian and Tunisian cases, the
military’s largely neutral role deprived the old regimes of
an essential tool of suppression and thus sealed the fate of
Hosni Mubarak and Zine El
Abidine Ben Ali, respectively. In
Yemen, as well, sharply divided
military and security forces helped
establish the conditions for a nego-
tiated settlement and the departure
of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
But in Syria, their backing forms
the core of President Bashar al-
Assad’s base.
The effects of outside involve-
ment in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen
suggest alternative models. In
Libya, NATO and Arab forces committed to the protection
of civilians took a broad view of their mission and provided
the firepower and the technological and training assistance
that enabled the Libyan-led resistance to succeed. A
strongly worded United Nations Security Council resolu-
tion, backed by the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation
Council, conferred political legitimacy on outside inter-
vention, which paved the way for regime change.
In Bahrain, deployment of the GCC forces evinced the
strong regional support, in particular from the Saudis, for
the regime of King Hamad Al Khalifah, even though gov-
ernment troops numbered only a couple of thousand and
were largely deployed to remote areas to protect infra-
structure. At the same time, Bahraini leaders have heeded
to some extent calls for reform by the U.S. and other coun-
tries to ameliorate grievances. Thus, at least in part because
of outside intervention, the Bahraini approach blends re-
form with coercive strength.
In Yemen, the fragmentation of the military and security
establishments, reflecting tribal loyalties and personal ani-
mosities, has left room for a decisive mediation by the
GCC, strongly supported by the U.S. and other outside
As the situations in these countries continue to unfold,
the roles of the masses, the military and security establish-
ments, as well as outside involvement, will continue to drive
events. But they will be conjoined with another key factor:
the success of political and economic reform.
Patterns of Political and Economic Reform
Despite similarities among the entrenched, repressive
regimes and among the newly energized masses, the polit-
ical and economic baselines of countries across the Arab
world vary widely. What is obviously true is that the sweep-
Technology has empowered
citizens of these countries to
challenge repressive security
forces, when wielded by
savvy techies with
organizational skills.
F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A Y 2 0 1 2