The Arab Spring that Wasn’t aka Peace in our Time with the Palestinians.

The Israel government and hence the domestic press that quotes it have remained stoically silent about the Arab Spring. The events have been presented to the Israeli population through the eyes of the foreign media. A survey of the current status in these countries is needed; as the Arab Spring has failed because they lack a middle class. Israel alone succeeds as a liberal democratic regime because it has one; the Palestinians need one; as a prerequisite to ensure that a peace treaty with the Fatah leadership is also an agreement with the Palestinian population.

The Arab Spring that Wasn’t

Tunisia was the source of the Arab Spring. It was a beacon of hope as an oasis in the Muslim world. Two years after the first democratic elections stability has been undermined by the rise of Islamist extremists in the forms of the Salafis to the right of the Islamist Ennahda Movement. Ennahda has also undermined its own legitimacy by continuing the politics of cronyism from the ousted Ben Ali regime. The recent killing of a prominent political opposition figure and the subsequent resignation of the Prime Minister has not helped prospects for peace and stability either. Indeed, intolerance is on the rise.

Closer to Israel’s borders is Egypt where once again demonstrators congregate regularly at Tahrir Square calling for the ouster of Cairo’s new Pharaoh – Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood; the elected rulers of the New Egypt. For the demonstrators Morsi and the Brotherhood have lost much of their allure on account of their close relationship to the military; and them seeking to acquire ever more political power as opposed to creating a more democratic and inclusive polity and society. Bigotry,  prejudice, and narrow-mindedness are on the rise.

Further along the Mediterranean Coast Libyans last week gathered for the second anniversary since the start of the revolution which ousted the Gaddafi regime. Many saw it as a funeral snack rather than a birthday commemoration. Prospects for peace and security remain even more bleak than in Egypt and Tunisia. NATO and its member states who played a major role in ousting the Gaddafi regime are nowhere to be seen. Indeed the country has witnessed the rise of clan identities with its concomitant militias loyal to the clan as opposed to the state, coupled with demands for secession. The possibility remains that Libya might well disintegrate into many states; as occurred in Yemen. Al Qaeda has declared an Islamic Emirate in the Southern Abyan Governorate. Considering the revolution in Yemen as part of the Arab Spring is a blunder.

On Israel’s northern borders the Syrian President Bashar Assad, the discredited “butcher of Damascus” and scion of a small minority religious grouping perpetuates the Sunni-Shiite power struggle; as just one of many key variables in the struggle between the minority Alawite clan and the mass of Syrians. There is a strong possibility that the longer the conflict in Syria lasts, the greater the ascendancy of the Islamists will be within rebel ranks.Syria, of course, has not only witnessed the machinations of Iran,Qatar,Saudi Arabia and Turkey but also the United States,France, Russia and China. The future of Lebanon is linked to the future of Syria.

Peace in our Time with the Palestinians

So much so for those in the international community and numerous think-tanks who assumed that the Arab Spring would bring about liberal democratic regimes; the disappointment is palpable. Yet, this was to be expected. In these countries the enduring culture is one of the bullet as opposed to the ballot box; changing this dynamic will take time; party politics and episodic elected change of government is an unheard of phenomenon.

After the Israel elections last month I sought a reason as to why the Arab Spring has failed and why a liberal democratic regime succeeds in Israel and nowhere else in the region. Israel has a sufficiently large and independent middle class. It is the middle class which are the custodians of liberal democratic values such as moderation and tolerance. It is the middle class which seeks to improve itself and the subsequent generation demanding and voting for better education, health care, housing and all other issues associated with an enhanced standard of living. It is the middle class who are willing to take risks and it is the middle class to whom politicians appeal to during elections.

The major cause and hence the major problem, in my view, as to why politics will remain chaotic in the Arab Spring countries is the dearth of a sufficiently large and independent middle class. For those know-alls in the international community and think-tanks who wish to see peace and stability evolve in the Middle East, they need to turn their efforts to a vibrant and independent Muslim middle class; especially within the Palestinian population. This is the only way to ensure that a peace treaty with the Fatah leadership is also an agreement with the Palestinian population.

The alternative is to construct a north-south wall along the Tel-Aviv / Gush Dan border with Shomron; and the stationing of the Iron Dome in Ramat Gan, Ramat Aviv and Bnei Brak; subsequent to an ephemeral treaty with the Fatah leadership.

Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication. 

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.