Lack of political savvy sends Arab Spring states into turmoil

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DUBAI: Bloodbath in Egypt, civil war in Syria, stalemate in Tunisia: the Arab Spring has stoked turmoil because of a lack of maturity among the region’s new political class, analysts say.

When popular uprisings swept away long-standing dictators in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia in 2011, hopes were running high for a smooth transition and a fresh start.

But this year’s violence in Egypt and Tunisia, along with Syria’s bloody civil war, shows that the Arab world is still plagued by often deadly political unrest.

“Arab countries are entering a turbulent period of change, which will likely see even more domestic violence, polarisation and regional competition,” said Emile Hokayem, Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.


Nearly 900 people, mostly supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, have been killed in a crackdown across Egypt since August 14 when security forces moved to clear two Islamist protest camps in Cairo.

Unrest escalated further with a deadly attack by suspected Islamist militants in the restive Sinai peninsula on Monday that killed 25 members of the security forces.

The crisis has swept away most of the gains from the uprising against long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, “especially the multi-party system with the entry of the Islamists into politics and the first democratic elections,” said Sophie Pommier, an expert on the Arab world at Sciences-Po university in Paris.

“Egypt is going to the wall. The actors are incapable of political compromise,” Pommier said.

The army chief and Egypt’s new de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday hammered home in a speech that his country “will not bend” before “terrorists,” and the Muslim Brotherhood head, Mohamed Badie, was arrested.

“If the Muslim Brotherhood is dissolved, they will cross a red line,” Pommier warned.

“The big question is whether the international community is also going to repeat its errors out of its fear of Islamism, or bang its fists on the table to show the army that no one is fooled by this kind of strategy,” she added.

For Hokayem, the region’s uprisings “have exposed the political immaturity of every major faction in the Arab world,” which, he says, is clear from the example of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

In the year-long presidency of Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, the Islamist group “alienated” parts of society that they should have been able to count on.

If the crisis in Egypt seems intractable, the situation is even worse in Syria.

That country’s conflict has killed more than 100,000 people since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that broke out in March 2011 degenerated into a full-blown civil war.

“No one can win in Syria. Assad can survive in the medium term and hope that his enemies will weaken enough to never be able to mount that decisive challenge,” said Hokayem, who has published a book on the conflict in Syria.

For him, “a formal dismembering of Syria remains unlikely, but a de facto soft partition of the country, whereby several small entities fight but also cooperate and trade on a need-basis, alongside some ungoverned spaces, is shaping up”.

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