Just Peace Diplomacy Journal Volume 12 has been published by IPSC. 
February 4, 2016 – 10:32 | No Comment

Just Peace Diplomacy Journal Volume 12 has been published in 112 pages and 7 articles in  English by the International Peace Studies Centre (IPSC).
 

To download the Electronic version of the journal click here.
To order a hardcopy email …

Read the full story »
Journal

Just Peace Diplomacy Journal

Articles

Home » Articles, Middle East

Middle East Uprisings: Impact on US Regional Influence

Submitted by on June 7, 2011 – 19:04No Comment
Middle East Uprisings: Impact on US Regional Influence

 

Shireen T. Hunter

IPSC, Washington D.C

Abstract

 

 

               Since January 2011 the countries of the Middle East and North Africa have experienced popular uprisings. In two countries Egypt and Tunisia these have led to the unseating of the ruling elites and departure of long ruling autocrats Bin Ali and Mubarak. The Yemen dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh who clung to power also has gone to Saudi Arabia after being wounded.

               Meanwhile, the uprisings in Libya against Mu’amar Qadhafi have led to western military intervention and the onset of a civil war without Qadhafi still clinging to power. In Syria, Basher Al Assad’s rule is also being threatened by large scale protests which have led to the death more than a 1000 civilians by the government forces and have raised the possibility of external intervention in Syria as well.

In Bahrain popular uprisings were brutally suppressed by the government with the help of Saudi Arabia, and a tense calm has returned.

            Meanwhile, the US unwillingness to defend its allies to the end has upset its other key allies, notably Saudi Arabia and has undermined its confidence in US reliability. Because of this and the fact that most of the departing leaders were supported by the US and the West, most observes have predicted a significant decline in US regional influence. Yet, while a degree of erosion of US and western influence is likely because of recent changes, its extent is not clear as of yet. Much will depend on the type of governments that come to power in these countries. A victory for Islamist forces would be more damaging to US position. But even Islamist governments would face many economic and other challenges and would need US, Western and international support. This fact most likely would moderate their foreign policies, including their approach to the US. Also successor governments in places like Libya and possibly Syria could be more pro-US than the current leadership and thus compensate in the diminishing influence in places like Egypt.

               Moreover, a degree of the erosion of US influence has been the result of systemic changes triggered by the Soviet collapse, notably a greater degree of asymmetries in interests of great powers and their regional allies, as well as the improvements in the power of regional countries and the emergence of new actors on the international scene.

In short, it is very unlikely that the US will remain as the sole hegemon in the region, but it will still be key player.

 

 

Key Concepts

 

 

1)                     Middle East Uprisings have changed the dynamics of regional politics and affected  the balance of power and influence in the region, including the US position.

2)                     The ultimate state of regional politics and the position of various international and regional actors in the Middle East are not yet clear, and will depend to a large degree on the shape of successor governments and leaders.

3)                     All successor governments irrespective of their ideological proclivities, Islamic, liberal, nationalist, will face daunting economic and social challenges and rising popular expectations for better conditions.

4)                     Successor governments’ economic needs most likely will exercise a moderating influence on their foreign policies.

5)                     US position will likely suffer from these events. However, the US will continue to be a key player in the region if no longer the sole hegemon.

Keywords: Middle East, US, popular uprisings, Islamist, successor governments.

 

 

Since January 2011, a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa have experienced large scale popular uprisings, demanding change and political and economic reforms and, in some cases, the departure of the ruling heads of states. This was the case in Egypt and Tunisia and is now in Yemen and possibly also in Syria. In fact, after being injured in early June 2011 Yemen’s president went to Saudi Arabia and is unlikely to return other countries, such as Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria, demands have been for reform rather than toppling of the regime. In Libya, popular uprisings and the Qadhafi’s regime’s unwillingness to submit to peoples’ demands has led to foreign intervention in the form of attacks by NATO airstrikes. Bahrain, meanwhile, is a special case. Initially, most of the protesters were demanding reforms, with only a minority asking for the departure of the Al Khalifas, the ruling family. Initially, the government seemed willing to accede to some of the opposition’s demands and begin some reforms. However, elements within the Al Khalifa family, notably the country’s foreign minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, supported militarily by Saudi Arabia, opposed any compromise and brutally suppressed the opposition.

This, however, might prove to have been a pyrrhic victory for the leadership, and, by deepening the chasm between the Al Khalifas and a large segment of the Bahraini population, might prevent future compromises.

These uprisings have already generated considerable changes in the leadership and political dynamics of a number of countries, most notably Egypt, and have caused considerable shifts in regional politics. For example, since President Hosni Mubarak’s departure, Egypt has changed its approach towards the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel. In fact, on 28 May 2011 Egypt opened the Refah crossing, a move that has caused anxiety on the part of Israel and its Western allies.[1] However, later it had to impose a limit on the number of Palestinians who could cross into Egypt every day.

Egypt has also indicated a desire to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran. This declared Egyptian willingness for better ties with Iran in turn has also generated anxieties in the West and Israel and has caused tensions in its relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Meanwhile, changes generated by events in the Middle East and North Africa have led to analyses and speculations about the long-term effects of these developments on regional and international balances of power. Some analysts have also begun speculating on the likely winners and losers of the changes already produced by recent events and those which could take place in the future. In view of the fact that both Egypt and Tunisia were close US and Western allies and Bahrain and Yemen still  remain allies of the West, much of the speculation has been focused on the impact of these events on America’s strategic position in the region and its regional influence.

Most commentary thus far has tended to suggest a considerable deterioration of US position in the region. As evidence, these commentaries point to the recently signed agreement between HAMAS and the Palestinian authority, with the help of Egyptian mediation, despite the fact that the US does not favor such an agreement, as well as certain statements by some Egyptian officials to the effect that aspects of the 1979 Camp David Agreement should be revised. Others point to Saudi Arabia’s unhappiness with the US because of America’s unwillingness to stand by President Hosni Mubarak, which supposedly has caused some erosion of Saudi confidence in the value of its alliance with America. They even argue that Saudi Arabia’s decision to send troops to Bahrain stemmed from its lack of confidence that the US would stand by the Al Khalifas, notwithstanding the basing of the US Fifth fleet in the island.

Meanwhile, for those who have seen the US as the principal loser of these changes, Iran has been named as the clear winner. Yet, to what extent are these sweeping judgments about the impact of the recent events on America’s standing and influence in the region justified? This question is important, especially in light of the fact that the final outcome of these events, in terms of the identity and nature of the governments which will succeed the previous regimes, are not yet clear. Yet, to a considerable extent, the degree to which America’s influence might suffer in these countries will depend on the character of the succeeding governments. For example, the coming to power of Islamist governments in Egypt and Tunisia would clearly undermine the US position more than would the coming to power of secular democratic governments. An equally important question is whether successor governments will be capable of resolving their economic and social problems, a major cause of uprisings, without international assistance and through a policy of defiance and hostility toward the US and the broader international community?  If successor regimes could not respond to the people’s needs without outside help, which countries would be willing or capable of filling the financial and other gaps that a rupture with US could cause for them? For instance, would China be willing to perform the role that the USSR played in the 1950s and ‘60s, by offering to fill the gap left, say, by the loss of US aid to Egypt? Also, would it be far fetched to suggest that, while some of the recent changes could have undermined US position, other changes, such as the fall of the Assad regime in Syria, might compensate for them?

Finally, it is important to ask to what extent an undeniable decline in US standing in the region is due to recent events, and to what degree it is the result of both America’s past foreign policy mistakes and a reflection of more fundamental shifts, resulting from the fall of the USSR and changes in the global economic and political balances of power and hence the character of the international political system.

The Future Shape of Successor Governments

 

 

The extent of the loss of US influence in the region to a considerable extent will depend on the character of governments which come to power in places such as Egypt and Tunisia and perhaps also others. In particular, this factor will determine whether these countries turn into active opponents of the US, bent on undermining its positions and policies in the region and internationally, or merely less pliable partners.

Until presidential and parliamentary elections take place in Tunisia and Egypt, it will be impossible to predict the character of governments which will come power and hence the direction of these countries’ post-uprising foreign policies in general and the nature of their new relations with the US in particular.

 However, some preliminary judgments on the possible shape of future governments and their policies and hence their approach to the US can be made.

The Islamist Challenge

 

A major characteristic of Middle East and North African countries is a significant degree of cultural duality and cleavage along secular- Islamist line. This ideological duality to a considerable extent also corresponds to economic and class differences and an urban–rural split in these countries. For example, in Tunisia the majority of the population in coastal areas, which are more developed and prosperous, is secular. By contrast, the Islamists’ sympathizers are mostly concentrated in the poor, underdeveloped   rural interior in the north. In Egypt, too, the Ikhvan Al Muslimin’s main popular base is in the rural areas, although it also has a presence in poor areas of urban centers. However, in the last several years, the Ikhvan’s position in these areas has been challenged by Salafists, whose ideology is influenced by Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism, and are supporters of Saudi Arabia.  They also receive financial and other assistance form the Kingdom.[2]

In Tunisia, too, the Al Nahda’s influence is being challenged by new Islamist groups, including the Salafists, the Hizb ul Tahrir, and splinter groups from Nahda.[3]

What this means is that, although Islamists were not in the forefront of popular Arab uprisings, in the forthcoming elections both in Egypt and Tunisia, there will be a fierce competition between Islamist and secular/democratic forces, and much will depend on the outcome of this contest and how well the Islamists do in the elections. Partly because of the Ikhvan’s decision not seek an absolute majority in the Parliament, it is unlikely that an Islamist government will come to power in Egypt. Rather, the most likely outcome will be the emergence of a few parties, including the Ikwan, which then, at least initially, would have to form some kind of coalition within largely secular parameters. What this outcome means is that a future government in Egypt, even with the participation of the Ikhvan, would not embark immediately on a drastic Islamization of Egyptian politics and impose a government based on the Shari’a. Moreover, the Ikwan have indicated that they have no intention of doing so, partly because they are aware that fears of an Islamist government bent on radically transforming Egypt could frighten secular forces and non-Muslims in Egypt, and possibly even derail the democratic trend. This may be the reason why the Ikhvan have named their newly formed political party Freedom and Justice and have included Egyptian Christians (Copts) in it. According to its head, Mohammed Al Mursi, the party “ is not an Islamist party in the old understanding, it is not theocratic.”[4] However, statements by some other leaders of the brotherhood  and the news that the Ikhvan and the Salafists could form a coalition to contest the elections have created fears and misgivings about their commitment to a civil and democratic government and society.[5]

In Tunisia, the likelihood of Al Nahda winning an absolute majority is higher. The party itself also appears to be willing to assume the leadership of Tunisia. But in Tunisia, too, the Islamist party, in order to make itself acceptable to more secular-minded voters, has moderated its discourse. For example, the Al Nahda leaders in recent weeks have likened themselves to Turkey’s Justice and Development party (Adalat VA Kalkinma Partisi-AKP).[6]  However, mistrust of the Al Nahda is strong among Tunisia’s secular segments. They fear that, should Nahda win a majority, it would try to use its parliamentary majority and push for an Islamic government.

Because of these fears, some commentators have indicated that it is conceivable that, in the case of an Islamist victory in Tunisia, the secular elite, with the help of the army, could launch a coup d’état. These fears were exacerbated when a former Minister of Interior in Tunisia’s provisional government, which came to power after Bin Ali’s fall, Farhat Rajhi, accused the interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebi together with a small “clique of Sahelians of running a shadow government bent on using whatever means possible to win power in July 24 elections”.[7] It could be because of these concerns that there have been calls to postpone elections in Tunisia until October 2011.

The situation in places like Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and Libya remain even murkier. It appears that there will be no quick end to Libya’s problems, and even if Qadhafi is toppled, the country would most likely become submerged in civil war, which could even result in its disintegration. The fears of such a scenario’s materializing were increased when news of revenge killings of pro-Qadhafi elements by rebels were reported. In Bahrain, the Al Khalifas are highly unlikely to relinquish power and they will be supported by Saudi money and military assistance plus personnel from Pakistan and other Arab countries, such as Jordan. In fact, it seems that Bahrain is returning to an oppressive quiet, with the bloodied Shi’a community unlikely of being capable of launching a credible challenge to the ruling family.

            In Syria, the Assad regime is coming under greater pressure both from its internal opponents and Western and regional countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and of course Israel.[8] Assad’s departure could also lead to civil and sectarian war in Syria with regional implications. Even if the Assad regime were to survive, it would be in a much weaker position in terms of its regional and international relations. This is so because, to stay in power and to avoid Western pressures and possibly even military strikes, Assad will have to democratize, and within such a system his ability to determine the direction of Syria’s foreign policy single-handedly would greatly diminish.

Foreign Policy Options of Emerging Governments

As noted earlier, much speculation has been made about drastic shifts in the region’s political alliances, both internationally and regionally. A considerable number of analysts have interpreted these events and their consequences as signaling a dramatic erosion of US and Western influence. Yet how correct are these speculations?

To answer this question, first the foreign policy options of successor governments in Egypt and Tunisia, and perhaps in those countries which are also faced with popular protests, such as Syria, should be examined.

In this respect, it should first be mentioned that successor governments in Egypt and Tunisia, irrespective of their composition and the relative balance of power between the secular and Islamist forces, will face tremendous economic and financial challenges. Already, both Tunisia and Egypt, which depend on tourism for the bulk of their foreign exchange earnings and considerable portion of heir employment, have been hit very hard. Meanwhile, turmoil, instability, and uncertainty about the future have scared off potential investors in Egypt. Meanwhile, turmoil in Libya has led to the return home of nearly 300,000 Egyptian workers, exacerbating already high unemployment. The expected economic growth rate of Egypt for 2011 has been reduced to 1.5%. And Egypt’s foreign reserves have been reduced to a mere $28 billion.[9]

This deteriorating economic situation has led Egypt to appeal to international institutions and Persian Gulf Arab states. Thus Egypt has sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, which has already supported the Al Khalifas in Bahrain with both money and military forces,  also intends to help Egypt. Following a meeting between the head of the Egyptian Armed Forces, General Tantawi, and King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide Egypt with $ 4 billion in soft loans and other assistance.[10] Similarly, there were reports that Qatar will provide $10 billion in investment and other assistance to Egypt.[11]

The US has also pledged billions in economic assistance and investment in the next several years for the Middle East countries experiencing democratic transition.[12] Other assistance will be provided by the EU and the World Bank. In fact, Lady Aston, the EU’s foreign policy head, announced that the EU will provide assistance to Tunisia, which has already a partnership agreement with the EU, and Egypt.[13] The World Bank has also announced that it will provide up to $6 billion in aid and investment to Tunisia and Egypt.[14]

Economic needs of these countries and their peoples’ expectations that, after the fall of corrupt governments, there will be a rapid improvement in their living conditions, will have a tremendous impact on their foreign policy choices and even to some degree on the domestic choices of governments. Even if the Islamists came to power or held  strong positions in the parliaments, they would have to keep these economic conditions and needs in mind while making policies on domestic and foreign fronts.

 Domestically, for example, in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, a strict adherence to Islamic rules such as the banning of alcohol or requiring Islamic dress for foreigners and other similar restrictions would amount to the near death of their tourist industries, because it is highly unlikely that tourists from Muslim countries would be able to replace those from the non-Muslim world. Moreover, even some Muslim tourists , notably those form the Persian Gulf Arab states used to come to Egypt and Tunisia partly to escape the more restrictive atmosphere of their own countries. It is perhaps in light of these considerations that a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was reported to have said that one reason they decided not to run a candidate for presidency was not scare the West. He said

“ we have relations with western governments-they give[Egypt] financing and we don’t want people in Egypt to be punished.”[15]

In the foreign policy area, too, economic needs will act as a break on fundamental shifts. For example, the adoption of a confrontational stand on the Arab-Israeli front, similar to that of the Nasser era, would dry up Western and international, and even Arab, financial assistance. Moreover, it is useful to remember that a major motivation for Egypt under Sadat to sign the Camp David peace accord was financial and economic because the Egyptian economy could no longer sustain the military burden of conflict with Israel. The situation has not changed since that time, and the economic logic of Egyptian–Israeli peace is still valid today. Given Egypt’s deteriorating economic situation, the country can hardly afford the cost of a confrontational stand vis à vis Israel.

 Moreover, unlike the time of Nasser, when the USSR was eager to provide Egypt with economic and military assistance, thus enabling Nasser to pursue an aggressive policy towards Israel and the West, there are no powers which would be willing to meet Egypt’s enormous economic needs or make up for the shortfall in US military aid, which would happen if Egypt reneged on its agreements with Israel. Certainly, China will not be willing to perform the function that the USSR played in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Clearly, Egypt under a new government will be less pliable to the Israeli and Western demands on issues regarding Palestine and perhaps some other issues, such as campaigning for an anti-Iran coalition. This attitude is already apparent in Egypt’s decision to open the Refah crossing into Gaza. However, Egypt cannot go too far in either respect. For example, it is extremely unlikely that even an Islamist-dominated government in Egypt would want to form an anti-US coalition, say, with Iran, even if it were so inclined, because of the economic and other costs involved, especially given that Iran lacks financial resources which could enable it to provide Egypt with substantial assistance. Moreover, such policies would also incur costs for Egypt in terms of relations with key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, another source of assistance for Egypt. This is one reason why, despite expectations of a quick resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Egypt and not withstanding Iran’s eagerness for these ties, so far Egypt has shied away from moving forward on this front, largely because of US concerns but perhaps more importantly complaints from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.[16] More fundamentally, it must be remembered that neither the Egyptian nationalists nor the Ikhvan are particularly fond of Iran. Egypt has always seen Iran as a potential rival and this will not change with change of government. In fact, a more independent Egypt will become a more formidable rival for Iran for the affections of the Palestinians and other Arabs. Already Egypt has accomplished a feat – reconciliation between HAMAS and the PA that Iran could never do.

It is also useful to remember that the Salafists in both Egypt and Tunisia are pro-Saudi and can be manipulated by Riyadh against these countries, whereas Iran lacks any significant constituency in Egypt and Tunisia.[17] These are the reasons why the Egyptians have gone out of their way to point out that Iran will not become a strategic partner for Egypt, nor even a close friend. The same logic applies equally to Tunisia.[18] In fact, some Islamists in Tunisia accuse Iran of having maintained reasonable relations with the Bin Ali regime.

Lastly, most  mainstream Arab Islamists do not share the militant anti-westernism or so-called ant-Imperialism of Iran’s Islamists. This is so because the Iranian Islamism is heavily influenced by Marxist notions and the militant Third Worldism of the 1960s and 70s which was also a hallmark of the Arab socialists of the era.

It is partly in realization of their limitations in terms of dealing with the US and other key countries that leaders of Islamist parties, notably the spokesman of Tunisia’s Al Nahda , Hamadi Jebali, have in recent months visited the US in order to reassure the Americans of their commitment to democracy.

What the above means is that, while the successor regimes in Tunisia and Egypt might not be as responsive to US wishes as in the past, it is highly unlikely that they will adopt an actively hostile policy towards America or other Western countries. This, in turn, would limit the damage done to the US position. Meanwhile, a successor regime in Libya might actually be friendly towards the US, and even if Assad survives, wounded and chastened, he would also have to tread more carefully and be mindful of US regional concerns, such as those in Lebanon.

The situation in Yemen could have the most damaging effect on the US position and interests, not because of the coming to power of an overly hostile government there, but because of the turmoil and perhaps civil war which could erupt in the country and thus create a ripe place for extremist activities. Should this outcome be avoided, a successor regime in Yemen, too, would need the economic and other aid of the US, international organizations, and the Gulf Arabs and hence would be unlikely to pursue a hostile policy toward them.

US and Its Old Allies: Crisis of Confidence?

            Recent developments, most notably America’s willingness to see its old allies, such as Mubarak and Bin Ali, toppled, has created a crisis of confidence between the US and some of its staunchest allies, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and has raised doubts about US reliability as a source of support in difficult times.[19] These doubts, in turn, according to some analysts, have led them to try to chart their own way and to lessen reliance on America. For instance, some analysts have pointed out that Saudi Arabia’s decision to move military personnel to Bahrain in order to prevent the fall of the Al Khalifas was out of concern that the US might be willing to come to terms with the opposition and support radical changes in the island which, according to them, would set a dangerous precedence for Saudi Arabia’s own dissidents. These concerns are said also to have been behind the decision to accept Jordan and Morocco as associate members of the GCC.

Similarly, King Abdullah of Jordan has also been very concerned about US willingness to see its allies go, fearing that, should a similar situation develop in Jordan, he might face the same fate as Mubarak and Bin-Ali. However, Saudi Arabia and certainly  Jordan are in no position to pursue a hostile policy toward the US. Despite its oil wealth and sophisticated military hardware, Saudi Arabia still needs US cooperation in the military field. It is a well known fact that changing the source of one’s military hardware and training from one country to another at initial stages could undermine one’s defense capability. Therefore, even if ,say, Russia was willing to sell the Saudis all the arms they wanted, switching to Russian hardware and personnel would be extremely difficult. This is why amid talk of  estrangement, various reports point to growing US-Saudi defense cooperation.[20] Meanwhile, the US has tried to reassure Jordan with high-level visits and promises of financial aid.        

            Yet the above does not mean that the US ability to get everything it wants from key allies such as Saudi Arabia has not suffered. It has. But this has not been the result of recent developments and has not been a sudden phenomenon. Rather this process has been underway for some time and has been more because of systemic developments following the fall of the USSR and the increase in the economic and military power of countries such as Saudi Arabia following decades of development.

The End of Bipolarity and Growing Asymmetry of Interests among Allies

            In general, there always is a degree of tension between great powers with global interests and their regional allies, whose interests are more regional and in some cases domestic. For example, often great powers face difficulties and problems because of conflicts of interests and ambitions between two allies. This has been the case between the US and Pakistan whenever US has tried to pursue close relations with India, as has been the case in the last decade or so.

During the age of bipolarity and East-West confrontation, local conflicts and rivalries were often subordinated to the broader East-West rivalry. This meant that the greater fear of Communism and the Soviet threat led regional countries largely to follow the lead of their great power ally, despite differences on regional issues. Even those regional countries which shared a fear of communism tried to minimize their rivalry in other matters. This was for example the case of Iran and Saudi Arabia until the 1979 revolution.

Since the end of the Cold War and even before the collapse of the USSR, the trend has been towards growing asymmetries between the regional and domestic interests of great powers’ allies with the concerns and interests of their more powerful partner. For example, since 1989 when the USSR withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, there has been a clear conflict of interest in that country between the US and its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. After 1994, because of its preoccupation with Iran, America ignored these basic conflicts of interests and closed its eyes to such Pakistani and Saudi policies as organizing and promoting the Taliban, which ultimately led ton 9/11 and the US war on the Taliban. Yet even after the war, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have pursued their own strategic plans for Afghanistan, a fact which has been partly responsible for the current situation and US-Pakistan rifts.[21] Similarly, Saudi Arabia has pursued policies in Iraq which have created difficulties for the US, such as helping the Sunni insurgents.

The same, albeit to a lesser degree, has also been true of Turkey which, at least since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, has seen aspects of US regional policy to conflict with its national and regional interests and ambitions. For example, Turley is deeply unhappy with Shi’a influence in post-Saddam Iraq. Consequently, Turkey, whose improved economic situation has given it more ability to act independently, has pursued its own regional policies in Iraq. On Iran, too, Turkey has been concerned about the impact of a US-Iran military conflict on its own security, Thus to prevent such an outcome, it has engaged in policies vis à vis Iran which have displeased the US. This was  the case when Turkey, together with Brazil, tried to mediate between Iran and the West regarding Iran’s nuclear dossier. Yet so far, the fundamentals of US-Turkey relations have not changed.

Last but not least, some US policies in the last decade, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have not gone according to expectations, have undermined the perception of US power and also sapped its financial resources.

Conclusions

            This discussion has demonstrated that it is too early to determine the extent of the  negative impact of recent events on US influence and position in the Middle East. There are several reasons for this: To begin with, the nature of the successor governments in Egypt and Tunisia is not yet clear. Much will depend on the character of governments which emerge following parliamentary and presidential elections in places like Tunisia and Egypt. The emergence of Islamist governments would, of course, be more detrimental to US influence than the coming to power of democratic and secular forces. Second, all new governments, including Islamist governments, would face serious economic and other challenges that would argue against adventurous external behavior. Third, changes of regime in some countries, such as Libya and possibly Syria, most likely would benefit the US. In Syria, for example, a successor regime to Assad most probably would not support Iran and the Hizbullah, something which would please America.

More fundamentally, however, the erosion of US influence has been a gradual process and the function of first: regional countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia acquiring more economic and military power and hence becoming more capable of acting on their own perceived interests without due consideration to US concerns; second the result of systemic changes triggered by the end of the Cold War and the growing asymmetry of interests among allies and; third the effects of certain US policies.

This trend is likely to continue in the future, as new powers emerge internationally and challenge the US –and Western—economic and military supremacy, and as the regional powers adjust their policies and positions to the new circumstances. However, the process is likely to be fairly long, and certainly the US will remain a key player in the region even if no longer the sole hegemon. Additionally, what is certain is that recent events will not lead to the emergence of a solid anti-US bloc in the region, or a so-called “ Middle East without America”, largely because of sharply different outlooks and objectives of key regional players such as Turkey, Egypt , Iran and of course of Gulf Arabs. Rather they could exacerbate regional rivalries thus providing new opportunities for the US to influence events.


[1] “Gaza: Egypt ‘to open Rafah crossing to Palestinians’”, BBC NES, MIDDLE EAST, 25 May 2011, at :

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13552685?print=true

[2] See: “ Egypt’s Violence heightens Concern About Growing Salafi Role”, Christian Science Monitor, 10 May 2011, at: http://www.csmonotor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0510/Egypt-violence.heightens-conc

[3] “The Future of al- Nahda in Tunisia”,  Arab Reform Bulletin, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, 20 April ,2011 at : http://www.carnegieendowment.org/arab/?fa=show&article=43675  The leader of Tunisia’s Salafist movement is Sheikh Khatib  Al Idrissi, who had been for years in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested in 2006 after clashes with the security forces. See:Farag Ismail “ Tunisia Islamist Trends Back to the Forefront, AL Arabiya News, 20 January 2011, at: http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/01/20/13429.html

[4] “ Muslim Brotherhood Forms Political Party” United Press International , 30 April,2011, at :

http://upi.com/Top_News/World-news/2011/04/30/Muslim-Brotherhood-forms-poli

[5] “ Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Brotherhood and Salafists to Form Election Coalition” The Wire, 11 may 2011,at:

 http://justjournalism.com/the-wire/muslim-brotherhood-in-egypt-brotherhood-and-salafists…
here it should be mentioned that Salafi thinking has also made inroads in the Ikhvan and even in the thinking of the Al Azhar Sheikhs. In Egypt those who are most concerned about the Salafis are the Sufis, the small Shi’a community and the Christians.

[6] Roula Khalaf, “ Tunisian Islamists Seek Poll Majority” Financial Times, 27 April , 2011, at:  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/)/20208be6-70e1-11e0-9bld-00144feadbc0.html

[7] For background for Rajhi’s remarks see: Rob Prince, “ Tunisia: Election Democracy Blues, 12 May 2011 at:  http://robertjprince.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/tunisia-election-democracy-blues

[8] Katherine D. Marsh, “ Syria Sanctions Declared As Violent Crackdown Continues”, The Guardian, 6May 2011 at: www.guaridn.co.uk/world/2011…/syria-sanctions-crackdown-eu  , also “ US Imposes Sanctions on Syria” PRI’s The World, 18May2011 at: www.theworld.org/2011/05/us-syria-sanctions

[9] David Schenker, “ Egypt and the Arab Fall”, Los Angeles Times, 1June ,2011

[10] “ Saudi Arabia Pledges $ 4 billion aid to Egypt” Agence France Press (AFP), 21 May 2011 at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article.ALeqM5hr1Vr99WKzWv719AtsRRD-Y

[11] Tarek El-Tablawy, “ Qatar to invest up to $10billion in Egypt”, Ararabnews.com, 24May 2011, at: http://arabnews.com/economy/article427155.ece

[12] “ Clinton Pledges to Aid Tunisia Reforms” ALJAZEERA.NET, 17 March 2011, also  Ewen  MacAskill, “ Barack Obama to Back Middle East Democracy With Billions in Aid”, The Guardian, 19 May 2011 at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/19/barack-obama-middle-east-aid/print

[13]Volodymir Chuiko, “ EU Aid For Democratic Changes In Egypt And Tunisia To Avoid Extremism” Chuiko  News.com , 19 February 2011 at : http://www.chuiko.com/3534-the-eu-intends-to-provide-assistance-to-Egyptand Tunisia.html

[14] “ World Bank Sends Billions to Aid Egypt, Tunisia” The Journal, VOA News, 24 May 2011, at: www.voanews.com/english/news/Africa/WorldBank-Sends-Billions-to-Aid-Egypt-Tunisia

122523734-html

[15] Roula Khalaf “A Determined Stand” , Financial Times, 2 June 2011, p.7

[16] Jim Lobe, “Egypt’s Moves Raising Anxiety in Washington”, Anti War.com, 4 May 2011, at : http://original.antiwar,com/lobe.2011/05/04/egyptes-moves-raising-anxiety-in-washingto/pr

[17] “ Egyptian Violence heightens Concern About Growing Salafi Role” Christian Science Monitor, 10 May 2011, at:  http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0510/Egypt-violence-heightensconc

[18] In fact, the political adviser of Egypt’s Prime Minister Moatz bellah Abdul Fattah in an interview with Al Ahram said that Iran will not become Egypt’s strategic ally. “ Moshavver e Nakhost Vazir Mesr: Iran Hampeyman Strategic Mesr Nakhahad Bood” AftabNews,  17 May 2011, at: http://www.aftabnews.ir/prtb8zh8grhb5fp.uiur.html

 

[19] “ Response to Arab Uprising Caused U.S.- Saudi Rift” NPR, 6April 2011,at:  www.vpr.net/npr/135183927

[20] Robert Burns, “ U.S. Quietly Expanding Defense Ties With Saudis” Navy Times, 19 May 2011, at: www.navytimes.com/…/ap-us-quietly-expanding-defense-ties-with-saudis-o5/1911

[21] See: Shireen T. Hunter, “ Failure in Afghanistan: Blame US Allies”, Huffington Post, 5 July 2010, at: www.huffingtonpost.com/shireen…hunter/fialure-in-afghanistan-bl_b_635740html

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Leave your comments!

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.