Tides of the Arab revolutions
As calls for intervention increase, ask not who will replace dictators and
when, ask what replaces the regimes and how.
> Marwan Bishara Last
Modified: 27 Nov 2011 12:19
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The ebb and flow of the Arab revolutions is revealing political storms that
could flood the Arab world with chaos. The people and their organised
opposition groups mustn't fall prey to the dictators' ultimatums of "me or
It is a false choice. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have shown a
third way forward; one that no longer considers dictatorships as a fait
accomplis, nor a spiralling descent into civil war, nor to become dependent
on international protection.
This is not to say that all situations and challenges are one and the same,
and revolutions must evolve like carbon copies of each other. Circumstances
are, of course, different among Arab states.
But behind the specifics of each Arab society and polity there are also
commonalities worth considering, without generalisation.
Three dimensions or general guidelines should, in particular, be examined.
Numbers speak louder than words
Some of the regimes, as in Libya or Syria, have had bloody records during
the years, and their violent crackdown in recent months has pushed people to
arm themselves or to ask for international intervention or protection.
But the militarisation of the Libyan revolution and the international
intervention in Libya has proven costly. Before the intervention started,
estimated deaths stood at one to two thousand people.
By the time it ended several months later, tens of thousands were dead. Some
put the figure at 20,000, others more than
h-toll-at-50000-2346590.html> double that.
The huge difference in the estimates underlines just how bad and messy
things have become.
Those Syrians asking for international intervention must consider the
terrible cost paid by the Libyans.
Moreover, the oil-rich North African nation might be able to pay for
reconstruction, but it won't recover the terrible "collateral damage" in
human losses and injuries.
Syria, meanwhile, is not only poor, it's also a complicated society with
growing ethnic tensions and deep societal polarisation. It's not clear how
imposing a no-fly-zone in Syria could ease the regime's crackdown. The
Syrian military is heavily deployed among the population centres and would
be hard to hit without terrible cost to citizens.
Short of costly foreign military intervention with boots on the ground that
would also cripple Syria's national security capabilities for decades to
come, with dangerous regional and international ramifications, it's not
clear how any foreign military intervention could help.
Furthermore, NATO, the only international military alliance capable of such
operation as in Libya or the Balkans, has made clear they have no appetite
for another mission. They also emphasised they wouldn't act in any way
without a UN Security Council mandate.
In addition, Russia and China have already made clear their rejection of any
such military scenario in Syria or a repeat of Libya.
Short history, shorter memory
People have every right to defend themselves - and I am in no position to
ask people to suffer at the hands of their oppressors. However, those
advocating the militarisation of the Arab revolutions as a strategy and
asking for international intervention to support the growing insurgency have
either lapsed or selective memory.
In the not so distant past, a generation of young officers between the ages
of 26-36 took the reins of power and went on to rule for decades with iron
fist - in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Algeria.
No domestic military answer succeeded in resolving any Arab or Middle
Eastern problems in recent decades - except in terms of ridding people of
colonialism. And even that has come with a very heavy price - as in the case
Certainly, the international corollary is also correct. No international
military intervention/adventure in the region has succeeded in resolving
central issues of governance, development and freedom either.
Western and other interference over the past century has not only failed to
resolve any problem, foreign powers have mostly complicated the national and
political situations and compounded the region's problems.
The seeds of the current ethnic and sectarian divisions facing the likes of
Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine/Israel were planted by European
colonialism in the hope of dividing and ruling the area.
Syrians asking for international intervention need to reflect calmly, not
only upon NATO's intervention in Libya, but also over the intervention in
Iraq - where hundreds of thousands have been killed, and where the sectarian
tensions continue to cripple the nation, leaving it at the mercy of the US
In short, the likes of Syria and Yemen cannot afford to be dragged into
civil wars by dictators or into total dependency on Western/international
For their own
It's quite ironic that Moscow and Beijing that have long claimed to speak on
behalf of the people are now transparently siding with the autocracies, and
those who long stood with dictators are now claiming to stand with the
At the heart of their disagreement lies a far more sinister calculus than
BRICS powers such as China and Russia insist on the stability of an
inter-state system that respects national sovereignties that secures their
interests - regardless of what happens inside these states.
Meanwhile, western powers - speaking in the name of "the international
community" - are advancing a more globalised international system that gives
them greater access to independent nations on economic, security and
The Arabs need to remember that regional and international powers have
"interests" - not "friends" - in this region.
On their own
For their part, Egyptians have returned to the streets and public squares of
their major cities in recent days, forcing the military to apologise for its
policies, to appoint a new government with full authority and to promise to
vacate its executive role after presidential elections by the middle of next
And even that has fallen short of peoples' demands - after tens have died in
the protests at the hands of vengeful security forces. Yet the revolution
has made important strides.
The week's balance sheet, like the year's in total, has been in favour of
the revolution that continues to show a restless and vibrant public eager to
open a new page in the history of their country.
wrote in February, the question for Egypt is not who replaces Mubarak -
rather what replaces the Mubarak regime.
The generals' backing of the revolution against Mubarak and company might
have quickened his downfall and eventual imprisonment, but it also delayed a
serious change in the country's operating system.
This meant that change would be slow and short of the expectations of the
people - who feel there hasn't been a sufficient enough political and
institutional break with the past.
True, the revolution did help dissolve the former ruling national democratic
party and put its leaders on trial, but the system that incubated the party
and military remained intact.
But as the Egyptians and the Tunisians successfully pursue their
revolutionary goals peacefully - albeit slowly breaking with the past, the
complications stemming from militarising the revolutions in Libya, and
potentially in Yemen and Syria, would not only slow down those revolutions,
but would also backfire.
Attaining their goals through peaceful means is far more productive and
constructive for the Arabs in both the short and long term than pursuing
military solutions with outside military help, campaigns that, in all
likelihood, would take even longer and be more destructive.
Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst and a former
professor of international relations at the American University of Paris.
His latest book, The Invisible Arab: The promise and peril of the Arab
2> hits bookstores in January.
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Received on Sun Nov 27 2011 - 17:20:33 EST