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The Arab Spring

Challenges, Obstacles and Dilemmas

Release Date:

December 2011

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On the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union, long-standing authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have fallen, Libya is in the final stages of a civil war that toppled the forty-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi, and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria may be tottering on the brink of implosion. Through 2011, demonstrations in Bahrain and Iran have been met with force, while Morocco, Jordan, Djibouti, Iraq, Oman, and Algeria have all reported protests.

The Arab Spring has not been confi ned to the Middle East and North Africa; rather, its effects have gone global, with analysts drawing attention to its ripples, ramifi cations, and the potential of “revolutionary contagion” through the greater Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Russia and Eurasia, as well as China and East and South East Asia.

Although there is broad agreement among experts and commentators who have studied the Arab Spring itself as to the scale and importance of revolutionary change in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, its causes are contested, and there is little consensus as to its likely consequences and strategic effects.

As Prince Hassan of Jordan noted, “The outcome of this tectonic realignment is not just unpredictable, but unknowable.” Nevertheless, we can contend that the Arab Spring is in the process of challenging many of the attitudes, values, norms, and interests that have underpinned Russian, Eurasian, U.S. and European strategic approaches to the MENA region.

These transformational events have forced fundamental questions concerning the basic tenets of international relations to the fore. How stable are authoritarian regimes, how brittle and fragile? What are the limits of humanitarian intervention?

Is the set of assumptions that have governed Western strategy towards the MENA region—the balance between strategic interests, norms, and values—still relevant, or should some recalibration take place? This essay will attempt to answer some of these questions.

In Connections, The Quarterly Journal, Volume X Number 4, Fall 2011
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