First Published: 2012-03-05

 

The “Arab Spring” and the Decline of the Arab Nation-State

 

The "Arab Spring" is fomenting a breakdown of Arab states through the forces of sectarianism and radical Islam, notes Daniel Brode.

 

Middle East Online

The genesis of Arab states is in mandates maintained by European powers, Britain and France, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War One. The Sykes-Picot Agreement carved up zones of influence for the two colonial powers in the Middle East. As a result, newly independent Arab states were hastily crafted without much consideration for outstanding sectarian conflicts. Concepts of sovereign nation-states are foreign to the region, thus a lack of unifying narratives, combined with outstanding internal sectarian conflicts, destined Arab states to be plagued with a myriad of seemingly irreversible problems. On top of all that, the rise of radical Islam further jeopardizes the future of the Arab nation-state.

Sectarianism is part of the Middle East and North African reality. Under ruthless dictators it often lay dormant or was harnessed for political advantage. But the gradual weakening of dictators has unleashed deadly sectarianism throughout the region and likely to foment prolonged conflicts in the Arab world. For instance, while many cheered Libya's rebel army as it pushed towards Tripoli to oust Gaddafi, the tribalism of the rebel forces and the lack of unifying narratives were overlooked. Then with their common enemy of Gaddafi gone, most of Libya's some 140 tribes focused their attention on capitalizing upon their successes, thereby refusing to abandon their weapons, withdraw from captured territories, or support the Western backed central government. Consequently, Libya’s central government is left largely incapable of reigning in its tribal militias, which could result in the “Balkanization” of Libya if this situation persists.

Similar sectarian unrest is occurring in other Arab states. For example, Yemen is likely on its way to being a failed state, with a Shiite Houthis rebellion in the northwest, an al-Qaeda insurgency in the south, and a reform movement in between. Sudan split into two-states, but with a myriad of outstanding disputes, war with the nascent South Sudan seems inevitable. Continued war in Syria could lead to the creation of warring autonomous regions, new entities, or the ethnic cleansing of certain minorities altogether. Iraq’s government is finding it increasingly hard, if not impossible to reestablish direct control over its ethnic provinces. This inability is leading to a geopolitical conundrum, with a Kurdish entity in the north, the Shiite government drawing strength from Baghdad to Basra in the south, and the Sunni-Arab population scrambling to pick up the pieces in between. Most notably, Lebanon has already lost its sovereignty as a consequence of the Iranian-Shiite proxy, Hezbollah’s domination. Meanwhile, if violence in Syria persists, fighting between Lebanon’s numerous sects becomes ever more likely. Chiefly, Arab states are losing the essence of what it means to be a state, the monopoly over the legitimate use of arms.

The Arab nation state is also threatened by the increasing rise of radical Islam, which conceptually contradicts the nature of nationalism. For decades, Arab states have attempted to establish a variety of political platforms to ensure economic growth, security, and increase sovereign power. The political concepts of Arab socialism (Baathism), pan-Arabism, and secular-nationalism have failed. Then the Arab defeat in the Six Day War compelled many Muslims to seek a new sociopolitical answer to the Jewish State and the West. Their defeat, in addition to other factors, was one catalyst for the Islamic awakening in those nations. The more moderate political Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, endured decades of modest, yet solid beginnings as a result of suppressive secular dictatorships. But with the weakening or ousting of these leaders, the political Islamists have seized the initiative and are ascending to power. Most surprising are the unprecedented gains by more radical Salafist sects throughout the region - at the expense of inept liberal parties - which has propelled them to lead the new opposition against their rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is important to note that Salafist Islam comes in various degrees, but their burgeoning influence results from the work of the most radical sects. This surge has become one of the most important consequences of the “Arab Spring,” which now appears to be the primary obstacle for political Islamists, embodied in parties such as the Freedom and Justice in Egypt, or the Ennahda Party in Tunisia.

The narrative of the "Arab Spring" as a regional movement, led by young, educated, and moderate revolutionaries seeking greater human rights, has captured the world’s attention. While true in some instances - especially in Egypt and Tunisia - the aforementioned have little influence, are becoming increasingly divided, or have yet to present agendas capable of ascending them to power. Their well-organized and motivated Islamist opponents, on the other hand, are ascending throughout the region; hence the ideological battles between religious parties will likely determine the region’s sociopolitical future.

For example, the nations who spawned the "Arab Spring," Tunisia and Egypt, have witnessed landslide victories by Islamists. In Egypt - the heart of the Arab world - the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP won 40% of the votes, while the more radical Salafist Al-Nour Party secured some 25% of the vote for Parliament. Generally, unlike the more pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist surge is a direct threat to Arab nation-states given their outright contempt for concepts such as democracy, nationalism, or sovereignty. Rather, they prioritize the betterment of the umma and establishment of a caliphate. Consequently, their rise, coupled with, and often fueled by violent sectarianism, is fracturing Arab nation-states and destining them for years of violent conflicts.

Under these circumstances, the "Arab Spring" may foment a breakdown of Arab states through the forces of sectarianism and radical Islam. The liberal activists who ignited the current tumult in the region are failing to advance their agendas onto the "Arab street." On the other hand, political and radical Islamists are on the rise with little standing in their way. In the end, it is sectarianism and the ideological battles between political and radical Islamists that will spearhead the future Arab world, rather than freedom and democracy.

Daniel Brode is an Intelligence Analyst at Max-Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm based in the Middle East

 

Jordan bows to IS demand

Israel retaliates against Hezbollah attack

Nine killed in luxury Tripoli hotel attack

Obama, Saudi king discuss IS fight, Iran

Can Iraqis trust their government to rebuild their country?

African Union sees no military solution to Libya crisis

Yemen powerful militia prevents fresh protest in Sanaa

Iran appoints new UN ambassador after US visa refusal

Pentagon confirms US involvement in talks with Yemen Huthis

Hezbollah missiles threaten to spark new war in volatile region

In new website, France warns would-be jihadists: You will die alone

Sheikh Ali Salman rejects charges as trial opens in Bahrain

Protesters try to storm UN headquarters in Gaza

UN peacekeeper killed in southern Lebanon amid border clash

Kobane in ruins after symbolic blow to jihadists

Hezbollah claims attack on Israeli military convoy

Somali PM proposes new cabinet list

Syria opposition groups, Assad representatives meet in Moscow

Yemen’s Huthis free top presidential aide

French FM urges international cooperation against extremism

Clock ticking towards 24-hour IS deadline to kill hostages

Three killed in Tripoli luxury hotel attack

UN harshly criticises Turkey for deterioration of human rights

‘Islamic State’ gives Jordan 24 hours before execution of hostages

Ex-Shebab chief urges others to surrender in first public appearance

Bomb kills and wounds three terrorists in Egypt's Alexandria

Three killed in protest against MINUSMA in Mali

Humanitarian crisis looms for thousands of families in southern Iraq

Rockets fired from Syria explode in Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

Egypt Grand Mufti condemns actions of Muslim Brotherhood

Residents trickle back to Kobane after expulsion of jihadists

Obama comes to Saudi with heavyweight delegation

Cash-strapped UNRWA halts Gaza house repairs

Saudis pledge allegiance to new king on Twitter

Erdogan says Turkey opposed to Syrian Kurdistan

Baghdad flights suspended after ‘arms fire’ hits flydubai jet

'Constructive spirit' at Libya peace talks

US says Syria’s Kobane not fully liberated from IS

Egypt court orders release of Mubarak sons pending retrial

Drone targets Qaeda suspects in crisis-hit Yemen

Saudi Arabia seeks greater American role in Middle East crises

Iraq army announces liberation of Diyala from ‘Islamic State’

Tunisia parliament delays confidence vote on new government

After 4 months of fighting, Kurds expel ‘Islamic State’ from Kobane

Libya warring factions meet in Geneva to resume peace talks