Has the Arab Spring Stalled? Autocrats Gain Ground in Middle East


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Part 3: Preventative Measures

Preventative Measures

Meanwhile, the Arab nations that have been spared major unrest until now are trying out yet another approach: the path of preventive counterrevolution.

More and more surveillance cameras are now being installed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, citizens are being asked to report any sign of extremist thought to the police. In both countries, as well as in Oman and Algeria, the government has announced costly housing construction and job creation programs.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an increasingly powerful self-help group of six concerned monarchs, has developed into the center of this enlightened counterrevolution in recent weeks.

At its meeting in Riyadh last week, the council approved aid programs for Oman and Bahrain, battered after protests, and accepted the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan's application for membership, as well as proposing membership to the Kingdom of Morocco.

This could have far-reaching consequences and split the Arab world into new camps -- the influential, elite club of Arab monarchies, and the countries in which young democracy movements have already replaced or are still trying to replace corrupt dictatorships.

Power Built on Sand?

Morocco is more than 5,000 kilometers (3,125 miles) away from the shores of the Persian Gulf. By accepting this kingdom as a new member, the GCC is snubbing two much closer nations with central importance: the 24 million Yemenis, who are far more dependent on economic and political support than the Moroccans; and the 85 million Egyptians, of which at least 2 million guest workers are earning their money in the Gulf monarchies today, reducing the burden on the chronically strained Egyptian economy.

The formation of new blocs downgrades the Arab League, which will exacerbate the political confrontation with poor, densely populated countries, which have either shaken off their anciens régimes (like Tunisia and Egypt) or are still trying to get rid of them (Syria, Yemen), but in either case face an uncertain future.

The House of Saud and the ruling families in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE, at any rate, are determined to distribute power to the people only in homeopathic doses, if at all.

In Dubai, known for its cosmopolitanism, five human rights activists are in prison for having dared to sign a petition demanding a greater say in political affairs.

This alone is suspect to the sheikhs and emirs. They fear Egyptian conditions and, according to commentator Sultan al-Qasimi of the Emirate of Sharjah, sense a "temporary marriage of convenience" taking shape between Islamists and liberal forces.

The images from the squares in Tunis, Cairo, Manama and Sana'a have the rulers along the Gulf scared stiff. They sense that their power could be built on sand and that not all protesters can be placated with strict surveillance and money.

There is a great deal of nervousness in the Arab world. Another clever comment on revolutionary progressions doesn't come from Lenin but from the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville. In 1856, he wrote: "The most dangerous moment for a bad government usually comes when it begins to reform itself."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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