Page 17 - FSJ_May12

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M A Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
ing reforms sparked by the Arab
Spring will take years and perhaps
decades to implement — and
progress will be checkered if not
In the Arab Spring countries
themselves, the easy part may well
prove to be the overthrow of the old
regimes. The real challenge is the
requirement for skilled political leadership to guide reforms
and buy the patience of the public while they take effect.
Elections so far have enfranchised Islamists in large num-
bers, many of whom face the realities of governing for the
first time.
Tunisia has the best chance of effecting democratic and
liberalizing economic reforms. It has had free and fair elec-
tions in which moderate Islamists emerged as the largest
bloc; its economic problems can be fixed with relatively
small amounts of money with a prospective payoff not that
far away; and its society has not been severely traumatized
by Arab Spring events.
Prospects for Bahrain may also be positive once it sorts
out its governance issues, for the “pearl of the Gulf” has a
relatively educated, cosmopolitan population whose skills
are already competitive in the world market. It has begun
the process of political reform, but it is hard to envision any
lasting peace that does not involve even more substantial
changes to give the Shia majority greater political and eco-
nomic rights. Yet fears of Iranian inroads, as well as Sunni
self-interest, constrain steps in that regard.
Libya has the advantages of oil wealth and a small pop-
ulation. But it suffers from a lack of institutional structure
on which to build, complex tribal and regional rivalries, and
the challenge of being a “post-conflict” state where the rev-
olution has been bloody and destructive.
Egypt has a large population (83 million), ethnic andmi-
nority divisions, and no great oil income on which to rely.
The bulk of the resources required to revive its economy,
totaling hundreds of billions of dollars, must come from the
Persian Gulf states and other governments that are not mo-
tivated by promoting democracy. In addition, such funda-
mental questions as the structure of government, the role
of the military and security forces, the rights of minorities,
and the relationship of Islam to the state are all unresolved.
Islamist parties have a strong majority in the newly elected
parliament and are testing their political sinews. Prospects
are murky.
Lacking both effective gover-
nance and significant resources,
Yemen may be best described as a
failed state but not a failed society,
because of its pattern of weak cen-
tral government but strong tribal au-
thority going back centuries. The
Gulf Cooperation Council-negoti-
ated transition offers hope for
change, but the new government faces a host of daunting
challenges: a predominantly youthful population with few
prospects; dwindling natural resources; an incipient seces-
sionmovement in the south; the on-again, off-againHouthi
rebellion in the north; al-Qaeda; and a growing refugee in-
flux from the failed state of Somalia. For all these reasons,
Yemen’s prospects are grim.
Beyond the Core
Beyond the core Arab Spring countries, the predomi-
nant pattern among the oil-rich GCC states is the use of
largesse to facilitate incremental reforms without game-
changing upsets. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah has de-
creed programs to provide housing, jobs and other basic
needs totaling $136 billion, and announced that women can
participate in municipal elections and in the Majlas as-
Shura (Consultative Council). While there may be a rapid
change in the Saudi leadership in the next few years, the
stability of the kingdomwill not be affected. A similar pat-
tern applies to Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and
Qatar, as well.
The United Nations has singled out Oman, where the
Arab Spring found unexpected resonance, for praise as a
model of economic development. Sultan Qaboos oversaw
recent elections to the Omani Consultative Council, and
has announced reforms underwritten in part by a GCC
grant of $10 billion.
In Algeria, another oil-rich state, memories of a robust
Islamist uprising against the ruling autocracy in the 1990s
have blunted the enthusiasm for regime change. The
regime has put down protests and promised reform, but
enough grievances remain that incremental reforms may
not maintain the peace.
Morocco and Jordan’s monarchs have instituted some
political reforms in response to calls for a more democratic,
accountable political system. Both countries suffer from
high unemployment, large youth populations and scarce
resources (particularly Jordan). Widespread discontent will
The need for these new
governments to consider
the popular will is likely to
complicate U.S. diplomacy.