As the Arab Spring enters its third year, the contours of a new strategic landscape are taking shape in the Middle East. Reflecting the disordered state of regional politics, this landscape is far from stable. Yet it contains features that will pose significant challenges for U.S. diplomacy.
The complexity of Arab attitudes toward Iran before and after the start of the Arab uprisings is reflected not only in the gap of perception between the Arab people and Arab governments, but also in important differences on Iran across those governments. Even among Arab governments most threatened by Iran and most inclined to see it weakened, their sense of threat and how to address it differs substantially from Israel’s sense of threat.
The uprisings that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa region have unleashed new or reenergized existing movements expressing deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. Popular demands for change have ranged from the clearly political to the strictly economic. Economic crises, unreformed security sectors, and corruption continue periodically to draw people into the streets to reassert the power that forced initial regime changes two years ago. Brand examines developments in Egypt and Jordan to explore both the forms of greater mass participation and their implications for regional foreign policy.
During the 2011 uprisings, Arab protesters channeled decades of discontent with failed economic policy. However, the demise of leaders will not be enough to answer this discontent nor ensure productive development. Scholarship on the political determinants of economic development finds that the common recipe of expanding the private sector and increasing trade openness may be valuable but is not sufficient on its own for successful development. The Arab world’s economic path to 2011 included implementation in these areas, yet reform in underlying socio-economic structures and interests lagged. Addressing these conditions constitutes one of the most serious challenges facing Arab economies and politics.
While some experts predicted that the Arab rebellions of spring 2011 (and beyond) would widen the strategic, political, and even ideological gap between Arab states undergoing dramatic change and those defending the status quo, in fact, no such clear breach has occurred. Instead, Dawisha argues that economic crisis, escalating Shi’i-Sunni tensions, and the associated realpolitik concerns of the Western powers have dampened the potentially incendiary demonstration effect of Arab political revolts on the course of both domestic political change and regional politics.