Editor's Note: Christopher R. Hill, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Ambassador to Iraq and numerous other countries.He is now Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. For more from Christopher R. Hill, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.
By Christopher R. Hill, Project Syndicate
Yemen’s renewed violence is just the latest sign that the Arab Spring may be joining the list of those historical contagions that, in the fullness of time, did not turn out well. Indeed, its effect may be reaching countries in ways that we did not expect.
Israel, in particular, can be forgiven for curbing its enthusiasm over the effect of the Arab Spring on its own security. On August 19, Israel absorbed an attack in the Negev Desert, through an increasingly dangerous border with Egypt, which left eight civilians dead. Just a few weeks later, a mob attacked Israel’s embassy in Cairo, forcing the evacuation of Israeli diplomats and creating a major row with Egypt’s fragile interim government. In Syria, nobody is prepared to predict the outcome of what is turning into a bloody battle with sectarian overtones. And in Libya, while getting rid of Moammar Gadhafi is a good first step, democracy and the rule of law are, to be optimistic, years away.
Meanwhile in Shia-led Iraq, the black sheep of the Arab world, attention has focused on the question of a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States to replace the one that expires on December 31. Negotiations are proceeding on a post-2011 agreement to ensure some kind of US military presence that contributes to Iraq’s continued (relative) political and social stability and economic growth. After all, Iraq now truly has something to protect: 11 oil contracts, with more to come, hold out the possibility that within a decade, oil production could be on par with that of Saudi Arabia.
This year has seen an increase in violence – Sunni attacks on the government and on Shia civilians, and, more rarely, but also deadly, Shia extremist attacks on US soldiers. Indeed, while the latter is rare compared to the former, such attacks have made this year one of the costliest years for US troops since the “surge” of 2007-2008.
Read: Gaza shrugs.
Many Middle East observers see Iranian support behind the attacks by Shia militant groups. The Iran-Iraq border – like many borders in the region – is long and porous. The weapons confiscated from militant groups are very often Iranian-made, and recently exported. Shia militants, supplied by Iran and egged on by Iranian propaganda, are likely unconvinced that US forces are indeed leaving.
But what about the more frequent Sunni attacks? Where is their support coming from?
Think-tank pundits, obsessed with the permutations of issues surrounding US forces’ deployment in the world’s trouble spots, have concluded that the rising Sunni violence, too, is related to the US troop withdrawal. Sunni groups are supposedly trying to prove that they still matter, that they have been neither defeated nor deterred by US troops.
Americans, not unlike many people outside the Middle East, regard the struggle in Iraq as one pitting those who supported democracy against those who somehow supported the dictatorship (“dead-enders,” as then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld described them at a Pentagon press conference). But, for many people in the region, the Iraq war involved something else: the transfer of power in what had been a Sunni-led country to the Shia majority. Shia-ruled Iraq has not been well received in the Sunni Arab world. Indeed, some extreme Sunnis in the Arab world consider Shia power a mortal threat.
The 1,300-year-old Sunni/Shia divide was not what the US had in mind when it invaded in 2003. After all, such sectarian identities are not the sort of basis for politics that a twenty-first-century democracy should embrace. The US had high hopes that identities would be forged on some other, more secular ground. It is hard to say what that ground was supposed to be – the welfare state? Taxation? Regulation? – but somehow, in the US mindset, secular political identities would emerge, and Iraq would be welcomed and perhaps emulated in the Arab world.
Of course, that did not happen, and when Sunni and Shia alike came to understand de-Baathification as vengeance against the Sunni, the insurgency was on.
Today, the insurgency, violent as it can be from time to time, is not supported by anything close to a majority of Iraqis, if it ever was. Insurgents hold no land or cities, unlike before, and, while many Sunnis chafe at life under a prime minister who leads a Shia-based political party, they have for the most part accepted the new reality and have focused on getting as much as they can from it. Can this be said of all Sunnis in the rest of the Arab world?
Read: India's wounded state.
Indeed, in the rest of the Arab Middle East, where Sunni governments or monarchs prevail, the unprecedented “Shiafication” of Iraq has never gone down well. Many countries in the region have refused to open embassies in Baghdad, often citing “security concerns” as the reason.
The Saudis have been particularly unimpressed by progress in Shia-led Iraq to date, and have taken the lead in sounding the alarm about the danger that Iran poses to the Arab world’s only Shia-led country. Indeed, one wonders how much more progress Iraq would have made had the Saudis had spent more time and money supporting Iraq rather than denouncing it.
During the height of the Sunni insurrection, US forces devoted considerable efforts to closing borders and otherwise seeking to monitor and interdict elicit money flows from extremist groups in Sunni states to Iraq. Perhaps, given the ongoing turmoil in the Arab world, security services that had previously – though sometimes reluctantly – shut down these money flows are now distracted by other, more immediate, problems. It might be worth checking again.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Christopher R. Hill. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.
This review rambles, and mostly focuses on Iraq. The arguments are essentially: sectarian divide, bad relations with Israel, and stable governments are a long way off.
While an adequate read of the environment in the Middle East, it has little to support the lofty assertion that the Arab Spring will fail.
It has already failed. Without a rational policy ready at hand, all these Muslim "rebels" always fall back on Q'uran-oriented governance. They aren't fixing anything. All they are doing is changing one set of dirty diapers for another.
I would say to give them some more time before we judge. So far nobody burned american flags in the demonstrations for a change!
The biggest failure is Saudi Arabia. Why would the Saudi king want democracy all around him to expose his minions to freedom of thought. He wouldn't! And that is why we get very little if any Saudi assistance in the neighborhood.
Democracy cannot take hold in countries with blasphemy laws. Pakistan is a prime example in the breakdown of justice thanks to blasphemy laws.
These countries are their own worst enemies. They will insist on Islam being the foundation of their states and with that broad stroke, democracy will never stand a chance. Don't tell me to look to Turkey as an example of a state where both can exist because Turkey is itching for a more Islamic state and inching its way in that direction with every ounce of energy its religious community can muster. Included in that approach is a new jaundiced eye turned toward Israel by Erdogan for blocking the Turkish flotilla. His populist stance plays directly into the hands of the Islamists within his country.
It will take another 50 years of educating this highly illiterate population before cooler heads prevail within these countries. The illiteracy rates alone were enough to send these dictators to the bowels of hell.
True the Arab Spring had only an impact on the Shia/Sunni divide in Syria and Bahrain.
In Iraq the Sunnis didn't take to the streets in Bagdad and protested against the Shia-led government. Instead they attack the government and the Shia population and the Shia hit back. The Arab world has to deal with Iraq, if it wants peace in the region.
You missed the point of the article Kar.
Didn't say Arab Spring "Failed" (though what yardstick one would use to gauge success I have no idea), said there would be unintended consequences....Like an explosion of sectarian violence that's going to erupt once we're gone. Arabs don't want democracy, they never asked for democracy, and they don't need democracy. What they need is the greedy United States to stop dropping bombs on their heads to "Protect Our Interests In The Middle East (Read : Oil)".
"""What they need is the greedy United States to stop dropping bombs on their heads to "Protect Our Interests In The Middle East (Read : Oil)"."""
True. They also need to drag their collective populations into the 21st century.
The Arab Spring was, in principle, a mediocre idea that, given the psychological and ideological mentality of the arab world was never going to work.
In reality, you don't give a bunch of kids a box of knives and expect them NOT to cut themselves. At least not without thinking it through and having a plan on how you're going to manage the situation.
If it WASN'T about oil, how come America isn't helping stop the genocide in Africa and elsewhere? Sorry but the question has to be asked AND answeres.
I knew the Egyptians would fail at democracy when one of the first things the transitional council there did was create a new law saying that the wife of the next Egyptian president must be Egyptian. Much to the chagrin of the Egyptian nationalists, Mubarek's wife was not Egyptian. Seems like just a little petty law right? Until you begin to wonder if the female gender is qualified for running for president in Egypt with this new law. My inclination is to say NO. They will not be allowed to run for this office.
Yes ramble, ramble. Iraq is a bit of a mess, but more of a democracy than it was. It is too bad that the parties are along religious lines. But so be it. Just like this, the Arab Spring should be looked at as a positive thing. Yes it is going to take time both in Egypt and Libya to get to a democracy, but at least it is not dictators.
It's too bad the parties are run on religious lines" !!!!!!! What kind of a simplistic comment is that? That's the whole problem – religion! That's why the mighty USofA can't manage it. Give me strength.
Barry Duke on September 15th, 2011
A CONTROVERSIAL plan to build a mega-mosque in Athens – at taxpayers’ expense – was given approval last week
The move, according to this report, was driven by the fear of an uprising by thousands of Muslim residents of the city. Rather than face a violent situation, the Greek Parliament voted on September 7 to meet Muslim demands for the mosque. The vote as supported by 198 out of 300 deputies from the left, right and centre.
Angry Muslims pictured at a protest in Athens
The plan commits the Greek government (by way of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs) to pay for the construction of a temporary mosque which will be built within the next six months. A larger 1,000 square meter (3,300 square feet) mosque with enough space for 500 worshipers at a time will be built in the same area by the end of 2012, at an estimated cost of around €16 million ($21 million).
Analysts say the Papandreou government is pushing the mosque project out of fear that Muslim demands will become violent sooner rather than later.
Like many other European cities, Athens has experienced Muslim-related violence in recent years. In May 2009, for example, more than 1,000 Muslims clashed with police in downtown Athens after Muslims accused a police officer stepping on a Koran at a coffee shop during a police check.
Nearly 50 protesters were arrested during the uprising, while seven Muslim immigrants and seven policemen were hospitalized. More than 70 cars were torched and around a dozen businesses were destroyed in the clashes. A day earlier, an even larger crowd of around 1,500 Muslim immigrants rallied before the march degenerated into violence. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Muslims say the violence proves they need an official mosque. But recent polls show that more than half of Greeks are opposed to the mosque plan and say their government should not be financing religious insti.tutions.
The announcement comes as massively indebted Greece battles a growing recession that has left nearly one million Greeks out of work. Greece recently needed a €110 billion ($146 billion) three-year bail-out package to rescue the embattled economy from bankruptcy.
Officially, Greece has a Muslim population of around 500,000, mostly of Turkish origin. But in recent years, tens of thousands of Muslims have migrated to Greece from Africa, the Maghreb [North Africa], the Middle East and Central and Southeast Asia.
Many of the estimated 200,000 Muslims living in Athens are illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Greece now belongs to Germany. Evrybody else please buzz off.
and the Greeks will sing their new national anthem on October 3, (am Tag der Einheit):
Deutschland, Deutschland über alles. Über alles in der Welt!
No! You must be mistaken. What? Muslims rioting in a country OUTSIDE Arabia to get their own way and force their wishes on another sovereign nation? Nah! Any Muslim on here, or anywhere else, will tell you that theirs is a religion of peace and harmony!!!!! In a pig's eye.
You people are missing the point. Why don't u ask who ignited the war in the first place. didn't the crisis in the middleeast begin with the treachery perpetrated by the west through the masterminding of nationalism and the ill-motivated establishment of the zionist state . Used the ppl of the region at will and later dumped them to be castigated as terrorists. Invaded their territory in search of a phoney WMD and leaving the ppl more divided than they were.
According to your logic, WWII was ignited by the Poles who dared to establish their state in the German land... Sorry, my friend, but Israel has no less right to exist (and defend itself) than any Arab state. As long as the Arabs are unable and/or unwilling to live in peace they'll have what they're asking for, A WAR.
Arab peace initiative. Heard of it?
@Thinker23 "Israel has no less right to exist (and defend itself) than any Arab state"...Why is that??
Because an ancient "God" told them Palestine was theirs?? What total GARBAGE for reasoning that is! The Arabs have a god too and they say HE gave THEM the Holy Land!. The Israeli State was arbitrarily created because the West (rightfully) felt sorry for the Jews, but never felt anything for Arabs so we gave them part of Palestine...
Meanwhile the Jews INSIST they are not of Arabic origin, yet DNA proves conclusively that they are! They just have a lot of European genes mixed in...and many of those Jews are conservative fundies just like we have of christians here in the US that WANT WAR!
Peace as defined by Israel, that isn't peace, that is a blueprint for the annihilation of the Palestinian people.
Yeah....gotta agree with Brent and Keith......
The Jews have had Israel and have been kicked out and returned there for over 5000 years. Now think about this, the Palestinian people elect some leaders who don't want to destroy Israel. Then they ask Israel to help them get the quality of life that Israel has. Both peoples get peace and one of the best qualities of life in the region. Now lets turn our attention into doing something good with it.
Well said. And absolutely true.
@Kar – "Arab Peace Initiative" We've all heard it and understood it. The arabs promise peace as long as Israel are removed from the face of the planet.
There is no use presenting an initiative while their collective manifesto says quite the opposite. The arab is well versed at speaking out of both sides of his mouth to manipulate others!
On the contrary, the Arab Spring has in one way been a great success. It has planted a seed, which over time should grow to fruition. Children are the epitomy of human nature and are born free of laws and religion, exactly as God intended. So, if you want to suppress human nature, simple ; create laws and religion, and throw in a few other psyho-social conditions, and voila, you have a civilized society. But underneath it all, there's still the undeniable, ever present, unammendable, intrinsic laws of human nature. And the Arab Spring, like many other comparable events throughout history, is fine example of what happens when you try to suppress human nature too much. It will always come back, sometimes gradually, and sometimes with a vengeance.
"""the Arab Spring, like many other comparable events throughout history, is fine example of what happens when you try to suppress human nature too much. It will always come back, sometimes gradually, and sometimes with a vengeance."""
And, hopefully, there will be an improvement.
I'm afraid the Arab Spring is focusing too much on democracy and not enough on liberty. If they enact democracy without first protecting liberty, then they may well end up with more oppression than they had before. Without liberty protected by law, democracy runs the risk of becoming tyranny by the majority.
The united states has been so keen to spread "democracy" around the world and we may just get what we asked for, but I'm afraid it won't be anything like we expected. America has forgotten that we are a REPUBLIC based on individual liberty, and perhaps the failures of the Arab Spring will remind us that it is liberty not democracy that creates a truly free society.
As of now there are 22 Arab states in the Middle East. None of them are democracies and non of them offer liberty. More probable than not when the dust will settle we'll discover that he "Arab Spring" will result in new dictators replacing the old ones.
You mean the "Arab Spring" will establish disctatorships if we are lucky. If we are not lucky, they will lead to a decade of secular, religious, cultural, political civil war that will overflow the borders.
The Arab Spring has led to uncertainty, but don't forget: it has the potential to give people representative government. Everyone there has been living under dictatorships for decades; those of us posting on this blog are likely from liberal democracies. It's perverse to wish oppression on others in exchange for stability for ourselves.
The United States has never had a true democracy, a democracy defined here as 'a government OF all the People, BY all the People, and FOR all the People' with People being further defined as 'males, females and children'. There has never been a male-orientated, patriarchal democratic government anywhere on the planet. Nor is it even possible to have one given the human males insistence on dominating, owning, controlling and enslaving the human female and their children. We males were never needed by, nor important to, the human female and their children.
The founding fathers did not want pure democracy and never claimed to. They wanted and created a republic usinf democratic principles. Huge difference. And those who complain about it always appear to me to be like spoiled children complaining when they get a BMW at 16 when they wanted a Rolls.
eh, I could write it bteter than Friedman. I should really open my own blog.Does it pay the bills Mr. Simon?Is there any profit from it?
One thing that's not entirely clear is what everyone was fighting for. As far as I could gather, the unifying force behind the Arab revolutions was the desire to oust the current corrupt regime and its leader. The West couched it as a move to liberal democracy, but I think the issue's more complicated. In any case, you can't expect a region that's been under dictatorship since before most of it's inhabitants were born to suddenly spring into perfect democracies. Ultimately, it'll be engagement from the international community, patience, time, and optimism that'll increase chances of a successful transition.
Beautifully said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, without a desire, understanding, and respect for liberty, true democracy is not possible or will flop. Perfect – this is the difference between the Ron Paul and George Soros-Obama. The latter speaks of so called democracy without ever mentioning liberty. Without reading the Koran or using their own FREE WILL, Americans do not seem to have the common sense to understand Islam. Islam is a political ideology – there is absolutely no separation of church and state. Hence, liberty in its entirety is definied by the Koran. This is the only reason the dictators are being secretly deposed by the US – that is to make way for the extreme leaders who will beleive sharia law in its purity. Dictators like Mubarak will be very missed by the Americans once they realize what the US government did to the Middle East – that is to radicalize Islam. Some call it unintended consequences, others will say that the true, hidden agenda of the US Gov't for several decades now has been to radicalize Islam – clearly, they believe sharia law and radical Islam is of benefit to the entire world, including US, Europe, and Asian countries like India. No wonder Obama has such strong support despite dismantling the US economy.
Michelle G likes to babble like a "scholar" which doesn't have that criteria.
The bomb attacks and the suicide bombing in Iraq are all done by Saddam supporters against the shiat government. they can't stand to see the majority shias running the government of Iraq. Iran is already happy and satisfied with the current government in Iraq, why would they support militant attacks against it.
The suicide attackers in the North may be Sunni, but they are not forer Bathist who were very secular. They are akin to Al Quida and are radicals. The suicide attackers from the south most certainly are shia and most certainly are supported by Iran.
Perhaps the author should look up what unintended consequence means. I don't hink he knows. Everyone knew the "Arab Spring" was not what CNN and the mainstream media was calling it for a lot of not objective reasons. Anyone who knows the Middle East knew what the results of it would be. These are not "unintended consequences" of this, they are the natural and predictable evolution. Worse to come.
Unintended only to dumb liberals like Obama and CNN. The rest of us saw attacks against Israel as only a matter of time. "Arab Spring" is just a brand, like "Summer of Recovery."
The arab world has been ruled by dictators for the last six decades. The results of this arab spring can't be realized right a way. It needs time. And we need to realize that nobody is burning american flags for a change. So they are not against the west. They want to be free and are paying deerly for it. What is great about it, is that people over their are fighting for their freedom against brutal regimes with no real international help and so far they are succeeding. The success of this spring will send a strong message across the globe that if you really want to be free you will find strength in you to get it. This will help to free people in countries like north korea.
The author has gotten his springs mixed-up.
The African Spring produced change, while the Arab Spring produced nothing.
I was hoping for some sort of original anlysis outside of the obvious state of Iraqi affairs. Affect on US-Saudi relations? The US role in Iraq moving forward? etc. This is not opinion or analysis it is regurgitation of headlines.
Mostly the same reactionary hand wringing I've grown to expect. As the author is part of the professional class which has lead Iraq from the American side, he is (or was) part of the problem. While he may not be explicitly culpable, it's a common supposition that Bush Administration paper pushers were promoted only when pushing intel considered politically advantageous.
September 30, 2011 snudos amazing! i'm gonna try with beans!Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean recently posted..
Found out that the scriptures told the truth. The Alien Species who is the invasion of "person' (s) life. ...found out "it" is dumb!
The west does not behave in such a way that would indicate they are aware these peoples of the Middle East are locked into religion, and things like human rights, and justice come secondary if at all. You cannot change them no matter how much blood and money you spend.
I think all that has happened with Arab spring etc. Is a good start for the Arabs. It is going to take a really long time though before things get stable other there. But I think what has happened in Arab spring is good for the entire world in some small ways. Lets just hope it is more about peace then war in the years to come. Things will continue to be unstable in the area for the next 10 plus years. Once things begin to stablize I think there will be a lot of good to come from all this. Then again I could be wrong and nukes could go off. If this happens I really feel sorry for the middle east. Radioactive Wasteland may be the result.
Unintended consequences? According to whom? I posted, at the time of Mubarak's downfall months ago, all bets are off as to what will now ensue in the Mid East. And anyone attempting to assure what the outcome will eventually be, is on a fool's errand. However, I will guarantee one thing, a return to the status quo ante of a faux peace, is not only unlikely, but a virtual impossibility. There are too many jockeying for domestic prominence to be concerned for one minute about what the US/Israel proposal(s) for peace and stability will or ought to be. The typical response will be, "go away, we're busy, stay out of our business and mind you own." We had our turn. And, as they see it, installed and insured the presence of the people they threw out. Just as happened in 1959 in Cuba. They see that Cuba has been able to not only survive a blockade, but has signed an agreement with other (excluding US) international oil producers in a consortium to drill for oil off the Cuban coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The first drilling platform is now in place, and predictions are it will not only produce enough for Cuba's energy needs, but eventually enough for export. It's no longer the 19th century. Get it?
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