The Arab Spring Hangovers

Neocons and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks thought Arab Spring “regime changes” in Libya and Syria (and a counterrevolution in Egypt) were great ideas, but the unleashed chaos has spread violence across the Mideast. A lone bright spot has been Tunisia, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Look across North Africa, and at three adjacent countries in particular, and one can see the best and some of the worst of what the Arab Spring has produced so far. Comparing the experiences of the three countries is a lesson in what helps move a country toward something resembling stable democracy, and what moves it in the opposite direction. History has determined some of the factors at play, but others are more amenable to being shaped by policy.

If there is any one bright spot after nearly four years of flux and upheaval in much of the Middle East, it is the place where the Arab Spring began: Tunisia. That country certainly has greater political liberty now than it did under the previous regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The road from Ben Ali’s ouster has not been smooth, but it has been pointing in a favorable direction.

Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shortly before he was murdered on Oct. 20, 2011.

Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shortly before he was murdered on Oct. 20, 2011.

This Sunday Tunisians voted freely for the second time since the revolution to elect a parliament. The election was scheduled after increased popular dissatisfaction with the performance, especially economic performance, of a coalition government led by the Ennahda Movement generated strikes and political gridlock. Ennahda did the responsible thing by stepping down and handing the reins of government to a caretaker cabinet.

Next door to Tunisia, Libya is in what can only be described as an awful mess. It may not be the very worst post-Arab Spring place in the Middle East, probably Syria deserves that distinction, but it comes close. Combat between dueling militias is far more prominent than anything that resembles a democratic political process.

Moving over one more country to the east brings one to Egypt, which is not as chaotic as Libya but has moved in a direction that may turn out to be at least as bad, for Egypt itself, and because of its greater size and weight in the region, for the Middle East. The regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi resembles the pre-Arab-Spring regime of Hosni Mubarak in that is led by a figure who rose to power through the military and for whom the military is still the critical source of support, while governing with the forms of a representative republic and even with some genuine popular support.

But Sisi has promptly become more harshly authoritarian than Mubarak ever was, and in that respect political change in Egypt over the past four years represents a step backward. Sisi’s regime has been mercilessly extinguishing all dissent and independent civil society. All political activity on university campuses is effectively banned.

One respect in which the repression is likely to spell an even worse future for Egypt is that the absence of peaceful channels for expressing opposition and pursuing political objectives means that much more resort to violent channels. Sisi’s Egypt already has become plagued by heightened terrorism, with a couple of attacks last week being recent and especially deadly demonstrations of this.

Some of the reasons for the widely varying results of upheaval in the Maghreb can be found in conditions that existed before the upheaval began. Tunisia, for example, has had the advantage of a relatively small and homogeneous population that has been a bit closer than the others to Europe not only geographically but probably in the mental habits of its citizens.

Libya had the disadvantage of four decades of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, after which there was hardly anything left in the way of independent institutions, and thus almost nothing on which to build once the regime was gone. Egypt has had a military that is used to getting its way, including deciding when presidents ought to come and go.

The varying results demonstrate a couple of other principles, however, that are more a matter of policy discretion. One is the principle that if sentiments are not permitted to be expressed in a normal and peaceful way, they will find abnormal and violent outlets. This principle is especially illustrated by the handling of the main Islamist movements in each country.

In Tunisia that movement is Ennahda. It has been treated as a responsible and legitimate political actor in a democratic process, and it has behaved as a responsible and legitimate actor. Its relinquishing of power to open the way for fresh elections, after Ennahda had lost too much public confidence to enable it to govern effectively, is an emphatic rebuttal to the “one man, one vote, one time” label that has routinely been placed on Islamist parties.

Here a useful contrast is with the next country to the west, Algeria, where, more than 20 years ago, a military coup that preempted a likely victory in a free election by the principal Islamist party there led to a ghastly civil war that may have killed upwards of 100,000 people.

Algeria has been conspicuously absent from the Arab Spring, and probably a major reason is the fear of Algerians that any upsetting of the status quo would mean a return to such butchery. And so Algeria muddles along under the undemocratic influence of the mostly military power structure known as le pouvoir.

The Sisi regime has treated the largest Islamist group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, far differently than Ennadha has been treated in Tunisia. The treatment of the Brotherhood is also much different from how it was handled under Mubarak, when, although officially outlawed, it was permitted to participate politically in various indirect ways.

The Sisi regime by contrast has been doing everything it can to smash the Brotherhood. What is left of the Brotherhood’s leadership says it remains committed to peaceful methods, but it is a safe bet that some former adherents of the Brotherhood are now being swayed by the extremist message that peaceful methods will always be smashed and that the only route to meaningful change is a violent one.

Another principle being illustrated is that getting rid of a disliked and distrusted leader is not necessarily a step toward democracy and stability. The United States and its European allies should have learned that lesson by now regarding their role in ousting Gaddafi.

Those Egyptians who were not favorably inclined toward the Muslim Brotherhood and who smiled upon the military’s coup that ousted the elected president, Mohamed Morsi, may also now be having some buyer’s remorse. If anyone in the Maghreb is apt to demonstrate what “one man, one vote, one time” means, it probably will be Sisi.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

19 comments for “The Arab Spring Hangovers

  1. Abe
    October 29, 2014 at 15:39

    The Commander of United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), General David M. Rodriguez, met with Prime Minister Mehdi Joma’a in Tunis on 26 August.

    Since the “Jasmine Revolution” in January 2011, the U.S. has provided over $100 million in assistance to the Tunisian military.

    Rodriguez offered Tunisia an additional $60 million of military aid in 2015.

    “Because Tunisia and the United States face a common enemy, we must co-operate together to confront and defeat the threat of terrorism,” Rodriguez said.

    Tunisia, US partner against terrorism

  2. Abe
    October 29, 2014 at 15:12

    Beginning in 1992, the sovereign Arab nation of Qatar has built intimate military ties with the United States.

    The Forward Headquarters of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) is located at Al Udeid Air Base, west of Doha, Qatar.

    The base serves as a logistics, command, and basing hub for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also serves as headquarters of United States Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT).

    As Sayliyah Army Base in Qatar houses significant U.S. military equipment pre-positioning and command facilities for the CENTCOM area of operations.

    The formal Area of Responsibility (AOR) of CENTCOM now extends to 20 countries: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Uzbekistan, and Yemen. Syria and Lebanon are the most recent addition, having been transferred from the United States European Command on 10 March 2004.

    Israel, which is now surrounded by CENTCOM countries remains in United States European Command (EUCOM), “because it is more politically, militarily and culturally aligned with Europe,” according to American military officials.

    The United States Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), the United States Navy element of CENTCOM, is located in the neighboring island nation of Bahrain. Consisting of the United States Fifth Fleet and several other subordinate task forces, NAVCENT directs naval operations in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea.

    In 2014, the United States sold $11 billion worth of arms to Qatar, including AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin defense systems. Qatar has also concur to invest in some NH90 helicopters from NH Industries for $2.76 billion.

    Clearly, the sovereign Arab nation of Qatar is pursuing its own regional interests in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

  3. Abe
    October 29, 2014 at 11:47

    “Say hello to my little friend”

    Stuck between Iran and Saudi Arabia is Qatar with the third largest natural gas deposit in the world. The gas gives the nearly quarter of a million Qatari citizens the highest per capita income on the planet and provides 70 percent of government revenue.

    How does an extremely wealthy midget with two potentially dangerous neighbors keep them from making an unwelcomed visit? Naturally, you have someone bigger and tougher to protect you.

    Of course, nothing is free. The price has been to allow the United States to have two military bases in a strategic location. According to Wikileak diplomatic cables, the Qataris are even paying sixty percent of the costs.

    No sooner had Qaddafi been caught and shot, Qatar approached Bashar Al-Assad to establish a transitional government with the Moslem Brotherhood. As you would expect, relinquishing power to the Brotherhood was an offer that he could refuse. It didn’t take long before he heard his sentence pronounced in January 2012 on the CBS television program, 60 Minutes by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

    The Emir declared that foreign troops should be sent into Syria. At the Friends of Syria conference in February, Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said, “We should do whatever necessary to help [the Syrian opposition], including giving them weapons to defend themselves.”

    Why would Qatar want to become involved in Syria where they have little invested? A map reveals that the kingdom is a geographic prisoner in a small enclave on the Persian Gulf coast.

    It relies upon the export of LNG, because it is restricted by Saudi Arabia from building pipelines to distant markets. In 2009, the proposal of a pipeline to Europe through Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the Nabucco pipeline was considered, but Saudi Arabia that is angered by its smaller and much louder brother has blocked any overland expansion.

    Already the largest LNG producer, Qatar will not increase the production of LNG. The market is becoming glutted with eight new facilities in Australia coming online between 2014 and 2020.

    A saturated North American gas market and a far more competitive Asian market leaves only Europe. The discovery in 2009 of a new gas field near Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria opened new possibilities to bypass the Saudi Barrier and to secure a new source of income. Pipelines are in place already in Turkey to receive the gas. Only Al-Assad is in the way.

    Qatar along with the Turks would like to remove Al-Assad and install the Syrian chapter of the Moslem Brotherhood. It is the best organized political movement in the chaotic society and can block Saudi Arabia’s efforts to install a more fanatical Wahhabi based regime. Once the Brotherhood is in power, the Emir’s broad connections with Brotherhood groups throughout the region should make it easy for him to find a friendly ear and an open hand in Damascus.

    Qatar: Rich and Dangerous
    By Felix Imonti

  4. Abe
    October 28, 2014 at 22:22

    Over the past decade the world has witnessed a series of ‘revolutions’ in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. The Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in 2004; the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Revolution in Kyrgyzstan; the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon; the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria; the Vinegar Revolution in Brazil; the protest movement in Venezuela, and the recent ‘revolution’ in Ukraine.

    All these ‘revolutions’ have one thing in common. They were all planned, funded and orchestrated by the US government in conjunction with its partners in the European Union, through the activities of NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House, Movements.Org, The Spirit of Democracy, the Centre for Non Violent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS) and many more.

    The aim? To overthrow governments Washington considers to be a hindrance to the furtherance of US/Israeli, NATO global hegemony, a project for ‘full spectrum dominance’ without borders that would put an end once and for all to that great creation of the 17th century, the “nation state”, replacing it with networks of trans-national corporations under the aegis of highly centralized global governance structures frequently referred to as the ‘New World Order.’

    Some of the countries on the regime change target list were already run by dictators installed by the Central Intelligence Agency such as Ben Ali of Tunisia, dictators who had served their purpose and reached their expiry date according to the calendar of the US State Department and the Council on Foreign Relations. Thus Tunisia and Egypt succumbed to NGO Youth Industry regime change programmes, backed by covert snipers. The role of the US government in planning and orchestrating the ‘Arab Spring’ has been openly admitted by the NGOs involved.

    Colored Revolutions, Covert Support to Al Qaeda: Is Algeria Next?
    The French press is openly advocating a military coup…
    By Gearóid Ó Colmáin

  5. Abe
    October 28, 2014 at 21:07

    After the US/NATO bloody bender in Libya, Syria and Iran were just supposed to be a little hair of the dog.

    Now your messin’ with a…

  6. Brendan
    October 28, 2014 at 17:12

    Tunisia has two advantages that have protected it from having its anti-government protests hijacked by outside interests. These advantages are not what Tunisia has but what it doesn’t have that outsiders would want to control.

    First, it doesn’t have a border with Israel, unlike Egypt and Syria, so the US doesn’t need total control over the Tunisian government.

    Secondly Tunisia is a relatively small oil and gas producer in comparison with other Middle East countries. The “curse of oil” doesn’t just create personal greed and corruption. It attracts interference from regional and global powers that want to control a country’s oil and gas exports and the wealth that it generates.

    Tunisia’s main importance in supplying hydrocarbons is as a transit route for gas from Algeria to Italy but this is far less important than the possibility of a gas pipeline to Europe through Syria from either Qatar or Iran.

    On the day that the Libyan leader Gaddafi was killed, the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked by a CBS interviewer “Did it have anything to do with your visit?” [to Libya a few days before that]. She replied “I’m sure it did”.

    ‘Hilarity’ was so happy about Gaddafi’s death that she laughed: “We came, we saw, he died!”.

    Of course, the original quotation by Julius Caesar ended with the words “we conquered”. That’s exactly what the US was trying to do in Libya. It succeeded in overthrowing the Libyan government but what has replaced it is outside of America’s control.

    Hopefuly the US and its allies are too preoccupied with the disasters they’ve created in other Middle Eastern countries that they’ll think twice before trying the same in Tunisia.

    • Hillary
      November 1, 2014 at 08:21

      “‘Hilarity’ was so happy about Gaddafi’s death that she laughed: “We came, we saw, he died!”.
      Brendan thank you for your excellent comments.
      As I remember it , when Hillary made that remark she smiled and sorta chuckled.
      Just amazing ! !

  7. F. G. Sanford
    October 28, 2014 at 16:07

    Tunisia and America have a lot in common. They get to choose between Qatari and Saudi political factions. Here at home, we’ll be choosing between Jebhat-al-Bushra and Hildebrandt von Klimpton. Our foreign policy experts have proven that National Socialism was the only way to stop Putin’s Stalinist agenda to expand his borders closer to NATO. As Professor Pillar points out, CIA orchestrated destabilizations aren’t foolproof. You just gotta take the good with the bad, and be thankful that they always benefit our defense industry. Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen are total disasters, but hey, Egypt is a paradise worthy of Juan Peron or Augusto Pinochet. And Tunisia is a third-world hellhole where I’d like to send child molesters and people who mistreat animals. But hey, “color revolutions” can’t all be a success. Can’t be too greedy, now can we? Jeez, that wee small voice in the back of my head telling me what to write sounds just like Gerald Celente. Just living a few years in New Jersey is a political education. Living near Newark gets you a Ph.D. Who do you think you’re kidding, Professor?

    • Abe
      October 28, 2014 at 18:01

      Had they “but world enough, and time,” these regime changers with their “color revolutions” would transform the planet into Gaza. Or New Jersey. Pick your hellhole.

      “And you should, if you please, refuse
      Till the conversion of the Jews.”

      • Abe
        October 28, 2014 at 20:40

        All apologies to author and politician Andrew Marvell and “To His Coy Mistress”

      • F. G. Sanford
        October 29, 2014 at 02:14

        Having unleashed unspeakable horrors on captive and defenseless populations for the past two hundred years which exponentially exceed any tales of Old Testament smiting, retribution, mutilation, enslavement, brutality or annihilation, you have to wonder. Was Jericho as bad as Hamburg? Were Hiroshima and Nagasaki as bad as Sodom and Gomorrah? Was the destruction of Babel as impressive as “Shock and Awe” in Baghdad? Is there really such a thing as a Christian or a Jew?

        Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.

        Inanna, Queen of the Night, with soft breasts, wide hips, wings of an eagle and claws to match is the Babylonian moral goddess we worship. War and fucking are the tributes she demands, and we obey. There is not a Jew or a Christian among us to convert – only amorous birds of prey, and hypocrisy beyond comprehension.

      • Abe
        October 29, 2014 at 12:20

        Also sprach der Königin der Nacht:

        Der Hölle Rache
        kocht in meinem Herzen,
        Tod und Verzweiflung
        flammet um mich her!

        – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,
        Die Zauberflöte

        • Abe
          October 29, 2014 at 12:21

          Sie verlangt.
          Wir gehorchen.

      • Abe
        October 29, 2014 at 12:33

        “You’ve got a problem
        with the way that I am.
        They say I’m trouble
        and I don’t give a damn.
        But when I’m bad,
        I know I’m better.
        I just wanna get loose
        And turn it up for you, baby.”

        We all know
        how the ride ends
        for the Queen of the Night: with no obvious signs
        of criminal intent.

  8. Abe
    October 28, 2014 at 14:50

    after losing ground in Syria and Egypt and finding itself entangled in a proxy war against the UAE in Libya, Qatar found in Ennahda one of its last surviving allies as it tries to extend its regional influence.

    With Tunisia’s legislative electoral campaign heating up, Ennahda feels it must demonstrate its closeness to Qatar to show voters that it has a rich ally, willing to invest in the country. Given that Qatar’s rival Gulf donors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have made clear their divergent views towards Islamists, Ennahda really has no other regional partner to which it could turn.

    Politically, as the party that claims to be behind the success of the transition, Ennahda also needs the Qatari propaganda machine to disseminate that positive image. Influential media outlets such as Al-Jazeera, Al-Araby al-Jadid, and Al-Quds al-Arabi are undoubtedly valuable assets to have on its side as the elections approach.

    The success of the Tunisian transition will also draw international recognition to supporting countries. Qatar, through its petrodollars, media industry, and diplomatic backing, will undoubtedly try to capitalize on such a victory. A successful transition in Tunisia would help boost the image of the small Gulf state, its reputation already suffering from accusations of funding terrorism.

  9. Abe
    October 28, 2014 at 14:22

    Why was Tunisia the birthplace of the “Arab Spring”?

    The answer is geographic placement, a suitably U.S.-compliant security state to dismantle, and resources (or the lack thereof).

    Tunisia was an important US strategic ally thanks to its location between resource rich Libya and Algeria.

    The economic and financial corruption of the Ben Ali regime was spectacular, yet the US actively supported the Tunisian security forces. A United Nations report on secret detention practices lists Tunisia as having secret detention facilities where prisoners are held without International Red Cross access. Intelligence services in Tunisia cooperated with the U.S. efforts in the War on Terror and have participated in interrogating prisoners at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan and in Tunisia.

    So let’s be clear. Isolated political kvetching aside, The U.S. government had no problem with Ben Ali, but he was expendable to the greater U.S. strategic agenda in Africa and the Middle East.

    Since the fall of Ben Ali, there has debate over whether Tunisia should host the United States Africa Command, also known as AFRICOM.

    The reason has very much to do with what Tunisia’s neighbors have in the ground.

    In a list of countries by oil production, Algeria ranks 15th with 1,885,000 barrels per day (2.52% of world production according to 2013 estimates), Libya ranks 27th with 700,000 barrels per day (0.85% of world production according to 2013 estimates, reduced significantly by the destruction of Libya in 2011), Tunisia ranks 55th with 91,380 barrels per day (0.11% of world production according to 2009 estimates).

    In terms of world oil reserve rankings, Libya ranks 9th (48,014 million barrels),
    Algeria ranks 16th (12,200 million barrels), and Tunisia ranks 52nd (425 million barrels)

    In a 2011 estimate of countries by annual natural gas production, Algeria ranked 9th with 82,760 million cubic metres, Libya ranked 45th with 7,855 million cubic metres Tunisia ranked 57th with 1,930 million cubic metres.

    In a January 2010 estimate of countries by natural gas proven reserves, Algeria ranked 9th with 4,502 billion cubic metres, Libya ranked 22nd with 1,539 billion cubic metres, and Tunisia ranked 61st with 65,130 million cubic metres.

    What do you when you’re sitting in the middle of a bonanza like that? Well, the first thing you do is bring in al-Qaeda.

    Surely no CIA analyst would fail to mention that.

  10. Abe
    October 28, 2014 at 13:33

    The west deliberately engineered the Arab Spring. The west deliberately engineered the rise of Islamists to destabilize the Middle East and create a united front against Iran and ultimately undermine RUSSIA and CHINA.

    Yes, the people in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere like Bahrain had every right to rise up and overthrow western-propped strongmen like Ben Ali and Mubarak but the political reality that succeeded them was one of western hegemony.

    In the case of Syria and Libya, regardless of political nuances that were present, the west deliberately empowered radical elements and opposition parties to overthrow the Libyan state and attempt the Balkanization of Syria but to no avail. Anything beyond the paradigm documented here on the psyop of the Arab Spring is disinformation, intentional or not. Unless this pivotal event in global geopolitics is accurate conveyed to later generations, we run the risk of basing our analysis of subsequent and inter-related events on a mythology crafted by the west and for the west through its characteristic means of compartmentalization and spin.

    Let us truly democratize our resistance and make it pragmatic by escaping the deadly chamber of the US’s “democracy theater” and realize that it is no hyperbole to note that there are puppet masters behind the scenes. Already, Americans are talking about the 2016 elections. Liberals want Hillary Clinton; conservatives are pondering everybody from Rand Paul to Marco Rubio and some even Jeb Bush.

    To do so would be to spit in the face of the truth; no matter who wins the elections, if the corporate-financier interests behind the scenes crafting the agenda are not exposed, boycotted, and replaced, who we vote for doesn’t matter and all the public will receive is the same objective regurgitated through the appropriate partisan spin. To tip the balance of power in our favor, we must reach out to our communities with information like this and work to develop local, pragmatic, and technological solutions to everyday problems.

    Color Revolutions. Getting Our Facts Straight on the “Arab Spring”
    By Sam Muhho

  11. dahoit
    October 28, 2014 at 12:46

    My crystal ball sees caliphate.
    And as a non resident of the area,it bothers me not at all,and is their business.
    The Angry Arab says the vote in Tunisia was between the Qatar candidate and the Saudi candidate,with the latter winning.Sigh,i see more dead people.

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