Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy. It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.
Is the Arab Spring over? Or are there other countries that might rise up in the year ahead? Wikistrat asked its global community of analysts to consider this question. Here’s what they came up with:
Up to now the regimes that have fallen - Libya, Tunisia, Egypt - have been led by strongman dictators who kept a lid on religious extremism. With Syria in flames and Yemen undergoing gradual reforms, that leaves only Algeria’s strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Yes, last year street protests erupted in Algeria first - before protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya toppled those regimes - but the modestly oil-rich regime was able to buy off some protesters, crackdown on others, and use the fear of returning to 1990s civil war as a way to dampen the momentum of the opposition.
Over the past year, the regime of Bouteflika has not taken steps to address the issues raised by demonstrators. It even went so far as to support Moammar Gadhafi. So keep your eye on Algeria. Parliamentary elections are coming up on March 10 and if there is any sign of fraud by the ruling regime, the Arab Spring may return to its birthplace.
The Arab Spring to date has seen a number of politically oppressed Sunni majorities rise up and reclaim their Islamic identity. We’re running out of those situations. Now the Shia uprisings could commence – most notably in Bahrain.
However, the Persian Gulf royal families are likely to go all out to protect one of their own from instability. Within the Gulf Cooperation Council ranks, there is more than enough oil wealth and military hardware (provided mostly by the U.S.) to keep a firm grip on things.
3) “Greater Kurdistan”?
How things unfold in Syria could easily trigger follow-on crises in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Jordan, and Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Toss in the fact that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is allegedly ill and the Syrian dynamic could easily mushroom into a wider regional crisis, perhaps one triggering a push by Syria and Turkey’s Kurdish minorities to connect up with the KRG in the eternal dream of Greater Kurdistan. It’s not clear, however, that any of this would constitute an expansion of the Arab Spring democratization wave. Instead, much of it could easily devolve into simple sectarian violence.
4) Saudi Arabia
The most likely way Syria’s civil war goes super-critical is for the region’s primary rivals (Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran) to ramp up their existing meddling. But, in truth, all that would do is re-purpose Syria as a full-blown proxy conflict - a time-honored regional game typically centered on Palestine-v-Israel. In the end, the serious game remains Iran’s reach for the bomb and the rest of the regional kingpins’ loosely collective efforts to stave off that development.
Against that strategic backdrop, every regime presumably vulnerable to the Arab Spring’s dynamics is highly incentivized to crush any such domestic rumblings, lest they divert regime attention from what really matters.
For example, as recently as last October, Saudis were openly accusing Iran of fomenting Shiia unrest in their Eastern Province, so it's clear that Riyadh considers Tehran pre-approved for a hostile response if anything actually erupts - Arab Spring style - within its borders. Add in the sudden targeting of Saudi diplomats around the world - tied directly to Iran in the recent U.S.-based plot - and it's not hard to imagine the Kingdom deciding to press the matter more directly. Recent Saudi and Qatari decisions to arm Syrian rebels play into this growing hostility.
So yes, one can always imagine Iran doing its best to stir up trouble among its oppressed co-religionists on the other side of the Gulf, but - again - that’s a manipulation of the Arab Spring and not its natural unfolding. Sadly, the same thing would be true about any outside efforts to support Iran’s Green Movement, which is likewise captive to this overarching strategic struggle.
5) North Sudan or Ethiopia
Finally, if we’re looking for a potential regional breakout from the Middle East and North Africa, we might logically turn our strategic gaze to East Africa, where either (now North) Sudan or Ethiopia could soon fall victim to some serious bottom-up political unrest that takes its cue from the Arab Spring.
As is the geo-strategic norm these days, China and America are tangentially involved as patrons to the authoritarian regimes in, respectively, Khartoum and Addis Ababa, but neither superpower is particularly wedded to the leaders in question. China will buy Sudanese oil one way or the other, and American drones will hunt Al Shaabab terrorists one way or the other. So, while most everyone would like to see nicer regimes in both states, they are simply no great strategic relationships put at risk here – unlike the case of Syria.
The bottom line is this: Other trees may threaten to fall in this forest, but nobody will hear them as long as Syria rages on, especially with the Iranian bomb dynamic hanging in the background. The Arab Spring may just have met its “Gettysburg” moment, meaning its high-water mark. It might just be counter-revolutions from here on out.
That’s Wikistrat's somewhat depressing “wisdom of the crowd” for this week.
Now tell us which path you find most plausible, or what other countries you can envision rising up in the comments section below. And be sure to check out more at Wikistrat.com, a cutting-edge global consultancy.