The Russian version of this text appeared first in Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
The Arab spring has given way to the Arab summer, and the fall promises to be no cooler. It seems Muammar Gaddafi will hold out against NATO’s bombing campaign for some time. However, according to recent reports, the colonel is seeking a way to step down that will allow him to save face and keep the frozen Libyan assets that Western governments have not yet given to the rebels.
Bashar Assad is keeping a lid on the situation in Syria with tough repressive measures and an information blockade (foreign journalists are barred from Syria). It is clear Syrian cities are in the throes of a popular uprising. It is also clear that too much blood has been shed and the people will not forgive their president for that. Therefore, a national dialogue will not be possible in the near future. Assad has the upper hand on the poorly organized and weak opposition. He also enjoys – for now – the financial support of Iran, the main sponsor of the Syrian regime. Iran needs Syria as a foothold for influencing the radicals in the region, primarily Hezbollah in Lebanon, and as a potential channel for smuggling components for its nuclear missile program. The Iranians want to forestall the downfall of the minority Allawite regime in Damascus, fearing a majority Sunni government that will most likely become a client of Iran’s worst enemy, Saudi Arabia. This is also Assad’s main headache. He does not have support in the Arab world. No one will stand in the way of his inevitable downfall.
The Iranian factor is playing no small role in two other countries with a predominantly Shiite population: Bahrain and Iraq. The tragic paradox of Bahrain is that free democratic elections will bring to power Iranian agents who will immediately abolish the Sunni monarchy and install an Iranian-style republic on the island. Tehran wants not only to help its fellow Shias but also to shut down the base of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. For the time being, it seems impossible to have a democracy in Bahrain that is free of Iranian influence.
Iraq is not facing a popular uprising, despite periodic acts of terror perpetrated predominantly by the Iranian-backed fifth column. The reason is clear: as a result of the U.S. invasion in 2003, Iraq is one of the most politically free countries in the Middle East. Political parties act as valves venting the steam of popular discontent. There is no need to take to the streets. This does not mean that the country’s future is cloudless. It will have to go through years of stabilization and normalization. Iraq is plagued by corruption, and this combined with religious and clan-based strife could be an explosive mix. However, as of summer 2011, Iraq is more stable than many of its neighbors.
The monarchies of Jordan and Morocco have proved to be better prepared to handle the wave of social and political unrest that has swept the Middle East. King Abdullah II of Jordan and Morocco's King Mohammed VI both have responded to the popular call for political reforms in their countries, albeit in different ways and not without reservations. So far, the Gulf monarchies (with the exception of Bahrain) have avoided mass unrest altogether. Strangely, monarchs are seen as more legitimate than presidents. Actually, this makes perfect sense, as king or emir is a lifelong position by nature; a lifelong president is another matter. Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Yemen’s Saleh and Egypt’s Mubarak were let down by their lack of political acumen. Aspiring dictators in the Middle East will have to adopt new methods.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What is Russia's place in this world? Unashamed and unreconstructed Atlanticist, Konstantin von Eggert believes his country to be part and parcel of the "global West." And while this is a minority view in Russia, the author is prepared to fight from his corner.
Konstantin Eggert is an independent Russian journalist and political analyst. In the 1990s he was Diplomatic Correspondent for “Izvestia” and later the BBC Russian Service Moscow Bureau Editor. Konstantin has also spent some time working as ExxonMobil Vice-President in Russia. He was made Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.