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Middle East Snapshot of Arab Upheavals

Israel Experts: 'Low Probability That Current Developments Will Lead To Democractic Governments'

'Upheavals Could Lead To Fracturing Of Arab Societies

In Evolving Situation'

Daniel Pipes: 'How Will U.S. President Barack Obama Defend West's Interests Against Possibility Of Radical Islamists Increasing Their Power In Arab Counties?'

Tahrir Square, Egypt (photo: Jonathan Rashad)

Israel's political and security leaderships have been trying to forecast the outcome of the historic events now sweeping through the Arab states of the Middle East. In the Knesset, the Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, has convened 'a brain storming session' with some top Israeli experts to discuss the Arab 'democratic movement' to force regime changes in the neighboring states, the Gulf and North Africa. At the same time Daniel Pipes, a prominent American Arabist, has also presented his snapshot of the Middle East upheavals. Analyst David Essing sums up some of the assessments presented by the experts.

The prevailing view of the Israeli experts cast doubt that the current rebellion and upheavals in the Arab world will lead to democratic governments taking power. Participating in the brain storming sesssion were political scientist Shlomo Avineri, Arabists Shlomo Shamir, who has served as ambassador to Cairo and Amman, Eyal Zisser and Dan Scheuftan. The military perspective was presented by two IDF generals(res.) Aharon Zeevi-Farkash and Giora Eiland. Former senior diplomat Oded Eran and Middle East media pundits Oded Granot and Yonni Ben Menahem rounded out the round table discussion. The panelists felt there was only a 'low probability' that the current developments would produce democratic societies. Primarily this was due to the lack of a cultural and historical background for Arab citizens cooperating within a democratic society. This is obviously a condition for democratic governance and one that cannot be created overnight. In this context, it was unlikely the Egyptian military leadership, that is tasked with overseeing the transition to a democratic election, will agree to relinquish its influence over the incoming regime that is due to replace that of the ousted President Hosni Mubarak. And throughout the region, there was now the possibility that current developments could lead to a 'fracturing of society within the Arab states'. The experts were of the view that although this is only the initial stage, it was already apparent that conditions differed in every state and the final outcome would differ from country to country.


Reactions by Arab states:

Saudi Arabia: The decision by Saudi leaders to send forces into neighboring Bahrain was prompted by their sense that in this moment of truth they cannot count on the Obama administration.

Iran: Tehran believes that if Libya had persisted in its nuclear weapons program, the Western countries would not be bombing it today. This is one of the reasons that Iran will not abandon its nuclear option.

In general, the Israeli experts were of the view that although the Arab world was interested in acquiring democratic principles, it refuses to pay the necessary price. It appears that the radical axis led by Iran will likely grow stronger as a result of the current upheaval. To date, the events do not necessarily constitute a revolution but rather a change in the regime leaderships. In Egypt a coalition is emerging between the Egyptian Army and the Muslim Brothers and the enhanced influence of the radical Islamlist movement is already apparent in that country.

The recent events have underlined the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the basic cause responsible for unrest and instability in the Middle East, as many observers have contended in the past.

Writing in the Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom, American expert Daniel Pipes presented a snap shot of the current situation that also included a warning that the Islamists now have a better prospect of enhancing their power and influence in several Arab countries.

Egypt: The stronger forces are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of Mubarak's former party, while the secular young people, who demonstrated in Cairo's Freedom Square, have been pushed aside. The new military leadership has confirmed its intention to cooperate with the Islamists. The spirit that blew from the city square was genuine and may prevail at the end of the process, but at present the Egyptian government with the army's backing, is continuing the Mubarak line while exhibiting more openness to the Islamists.

Syria: Hafez Assad, the father, who ruled Syria for thirty years with unimaginable brutality, bequeathed power to his son Bashar, at age 34, who has succeeded solely in continuing the oppression, while doing nothing for the impoverished population. The spirit of change has now reached Syria where the panic- stricken Bashar has reacted with violence. If the Assad dynasty is toppled, the consequences will be horrendous for the ruling Alewite minority. If Sunni Muslems take power, they may cut Syria's ties with Shiite Iran which could have ramifications for Syria's future relations with the West and Israel.

Yemen: This is the country where the Islamists have the best chance of taking control. The wily President Ali Abdullah Salah, was a good ally of the West who fought al Qaeda despite his ties with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and with Iran. If he falls (and recently even his former fellow army officers have turned against him) then this could result in Islamist anarchy which will exacerbated by the state's problematic geography.

The conclusion of Daniel Pipes: 'In Libya, Syria, Yemen and to a lesser extent in Egypt, the radical Islamists now have a chance to increase their power. The question is how will President Obama, who so wanted to improve mutual relations with Arab states, succeed in defending the West's interests against this threat.

David Essing

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