Writing in Agence France Presse, Rana Moussaoui examines the long run impact of the Arab Spring, especially on Iran, and reaches some interesting conclusions. Here’s a few tasty excerpts:
The Arab uprisings (herald)…the rise of a Sunni Islamist bloc against a waning Shiite axis led by Iran, analysts say…
“The Arab world will never be the same,” said recently Amr Mussa, an Egyptian presidential hopeful and former head of the 22-member Arab League….a region once ruled by seemingly unshakable autocracies is witnessing the birth of governments with some semblance of popular support….Governments that have popular legitimacy… are empowered to play a more active and more independent role abroad.”
With its economic success, pro-Palestinian stand, and growing role as an indispensable regional mediator, Turkey’s position in the Arab world for years has been on the rise. But the majority Sunni Muslim country’s popularity rocketed after it threw its weight behind anti-regime protesters across the region — particularly neighbouring Syria…”The Turks are coming out on the side of democracy… on the right side of history,” said Hamid. “Turkey is no longer a regional power, but a regional superpower.”…
“There is a strong desire to dismantle the Shiite axis that links Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, particularly among the Sunni Gulf monarchies,” Levallois explained. Such a collapse would be tantamount to a political earthquake for the embattled Syrian regime and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. “The era of Iranian ascendancy is over…”
Faced with the possibility of more Islamic states in its vicinity, Israel has chosen to “hunker down and isolate itself” rather than face reality, he added. This will likely affect the already-dismal prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal…
“Saudi Arabia is very much a status quo power,” said Hamid. “It is stuck in the past, using old paradigms in a rapidly changing region,” he added. “You don’t see their leadership having the same vision as Turkey.”
And as 2011 winds to an end, and unrest escalates in Syria, experts say the international community will likely adopt a more aggressive approach in dealing with Damascus. “There is a chance that the international community will… perhaps decide to intervene militarily in Syria,” said Hamid.
Any government can claim that it enjoys the people’s consent. Everything we see suggests clearly the Iranian people would dump their ruling mullahs in a heartbeat if given the chance and the latter know it all too well. Popular governments (see Turkey) don’t need bribes, censorship, pre-vetting or vote rigging to win elections. Nor must they rely heavily on troops, jails and torture to survive afterwards.
Until 2009 Iran’s ruling mullahs could thrive regionally by exalting alleged popularity at home and exploiting the lack same for nearby authoritarian dictators. As 2012 approaches who is deeply unpopular now and who isn’t? By his own policies, Khamenei has exposed exposed his low domestic status. Meanwhile, post-Arab Spring governments managed what was impossible for Khamenei–winning real elections honestly. Today Khamenei has lost all popular legitimacy while post Arab Spring governments have scooped up a ton by comparison.
Post-election Arab Spring governments start with a central advantage Iran’s regime has lost for good–widespread public consent. Such consent is conditional in a democracy and always depends on subsequent performance. At least winning parties can be voted out. That’s “impermissable” in Iran regardless of bad performance or repulsive behavior.
So far the most successful Arab parties have been democratic Islamists based on Erdogan model. They know what they must to survive the next “people check.” For Khamenei, Arab election results are actually worse than if secular democratic parties had won. His intended strategy, posing as “defender of Islam,” and painting the winners as total western stooges won’t work so easily now.
Iran’s preferred election results–a victory by extreme Islamists–would have been only a marginal improvement–worse in some ways they retaining the old-time easy targets. Extreme Sunni Islamists are just as strongly opinionated and hardly likely to kowtow to Khamenei as a recognized authority. Sectarian attacks as in Iraq and Pakistan would have higher probablity than “friendship with Iran.”
The slogan “Islam is the answer” has one major weakness: It works better when used an an “answer” to a Mubarek or Saddam then when used as an “answer” to democracy. In practice that approach is always less pleasing than in theory–especially if target population is more sophisticated than tribes in northwest Pakistan or Somalia. By the time people come to recognize the horrors they’ve let themselves, the only way out may be a nasty and unwanted civil war.
It beats the alternative: Oppression Forever.