US Conspicuously Absent From Post-Arab Spring Mideast

Article Summary
The United States’ relative absence from current unrest in the Middle East may serve as an indicator of its own policy shortcomings.

Successive developments in Egypt have sparked several discussions and analyses. Some of them are an attempt to determine the trajectories of these developments from an event-based perspective, while others interpret these developments based on Egypt’s position not only with respect to the Arab world, but also to the broader regional environs and the Muslim world.

If it were true that the results of these developments and their political repercussions would draw the road map for the entire region, it goes without saying that the Arab Spring — launched by the Tunisian revolution at the end of 2010 — must imperatively be subject to broad discussions and analyses highlighted in this brief interpretation.

Some say that the current situation in the region represents one of the most important political events since the beginning of the 20th century. However, this importance may be seen from two perspectives:

According to the first perspective, the ongoing events are an attempt to bring the region back to the path of modernity and change, after the historical interruption and standstill that has been imposed on it since the middle of last century with its successive dictatorships.

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The second perspective is that these developments are a process of disintegration of the region’s problems that will only be reproduced once again in a way that may not necessarily lead toward modernity.


However, the Arab Spring revealed the following key contributing stages:

  • Political vacuums and intellectual desertion, which already accompanied the ongoing events in the Arab world and revealed the alienation of Arabs preventing them from coping with all of the contemporary problems and challenges.
  • The role and importance of the internal dynamic leading the region’s revolutions, which may have been more important than foreign powers in terms of influencing the course of the revolution in each country.
  • Political Islam attempted to appropriate the outcome of these revolutions, which soon placed it in direct confrontation with the majority of the objecting social forces. This led these countries to enter what has come to be called the second revolution.

In this respect, it is worth mentioning that even historically Islamic countries also objected to the policy of appropriating the outcomes of the revolution — a policy the Muslim Brotherhood practiced and continues to practice. Nevertheless, the discussion of the role of these countries in combating the official political Islam — represented by the Muslim Brotherhood — requires a special interpretation.

The events of the Arab Spring revealed the disparity between the Arab peoples and the irrationality of putting them all in one category, whether in interpreting their reactions and responses to the the dynamics of political movement or in terms of the peaceful and violent courses of the change process.

This applies to Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen on the one hand and Iraq, Syria and Libya on the other hand, with the situation in Syria being an exception due to the unprecedented and rising violence of the regime, which lured various types of foreign intervention.

This does not mean that foreign forces will not be in a position to intervene in those countries. Moreover, one cannot say for sure that the foreign influence on the current situation, whether in Egypt or in Tunisia, is ruled out at this stage.

The intransigence shown by the forces of political Islam in defending their new power likely harkens back to the foreign factor in a more drastic and stronger manner, which could have been avoided. This is coupled with growing fears of civil wars that open the door to questions about the West’s interest in re-flooding the region with political and social divisions, and once again hindering the emergence of healthy societies. On the other hand, the West seeks a political partnership with the forces of political Islam under the pretext of maintaining civil peace, democracy and the non-exclusion of others.

Within the same context, the West in general and the United States in particular may not be blamed for this historical period that our region is experiencing. These entities cannot directly influence the course of such a complex and compound event. Local causes, on the other hand, remain highly relevant.

Everyone is requesting Washington to assume its international responsibilities while the West stands helpless and revolutions expand out of bounds, in terms of the political and security aspects of domestic events.

This expansion and the subsequent threat to regional security surely carry risks for the US and Western interests. This threat may be the main driving force that will compel Washington to play a more efficient and positive role.

American reluctance

It is needless to say that the request of an American role would not come without several obstacles. Some believe that American reluctance stems from two issues: the unwillingness of President Barack Obama’s administration to get involved in the region’s problems and its incapacity or unwillingness to confront Israel and its multi-faceted intransigence.

Others argue that the US, under its current president, does not have any comprehensive policy for the Middle East or strategic objectives. The US sees the region as being out of control, beyond being controllable through unmanned drones as it does in Yemen and Libya. It is killing time by holding negotiations, such as those between Israel and Palestine, holding shuttle diplomacy tours — as is case with Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and even Syria, albeit the latter is done through meetings with Russian officials — or retaining a policy of imposing sanctions, as is the case with Iran.

Some believe that two key factors underlie current US policy, namely addressing economic problems and then dealing with problems of its relationship with China and the Pacific region. 

On the other hand, it is difficult to force Israel to make any significant compromises to resolve the conflict with Palestinians due to its stubbornness and inflexibility in light of the balance of power tilting in its favor, and its exploitation of the exploding political and structural problems in the region.

All of these factors lead to inequality in the relationship with the region and to the inability of Americans to read into the nature of the region’s problems, as well as to the lack of a deep motivation to develop a political strategy and act accordingly. This has led to the emergence of what can be described as a political vacuum that some international powers are seeking to fill.

Russia and the EU are trying to partially fill this vacuum within limits known and authorized by the Americans, as long as the situation does not reach the level of dangerousness that would require America to intervene according to its list of priorities to the detriment of Russia and EU’s interests, namely:

  • A rise in tensions regarding Iran’s nuclear issue.
  • Risks that could lead to a war involving Israel.
  • Threats to the security of oil supplies from the Persian Gulf.
  • Chaos in Egypt that could pose a threat to the Suez Canal’s shipping lines.
  • A massacre in Syria that is bigger than what has been seen so far.
  • A bloody uprising in the Palestinian territories that could affect Israel.

Toward a strategic framework

Apart from these reasons, one cannot find any motives that might lead to a shift in the American position for now. Therefore, it can be said that with the collapse of the region, America is absent and happy to deal with this “out of control region.”

Is this American policy permanent or can compromises be made in the region conforming to international ambitions in general, and more particularly to those of the West and the US?

The features of Western and American positions warning of the negative strategic implications of such policies can be observed. Some of them were issued by European and American research centers, alongside former and current security and political leaders. Under the headline of “What can the US do?” some have suggested determining a strategic framework for the region that establishes rules that help promote the course of relations between regional countries on the one hand and the US and Western interests on the other. Major Powers — including the EU, Russia and China — may be engaged in this framework, whose most prominent components are the following:

  • Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict by endorsing the Arab Peace Initiative.
  • Developing a regional security framework that prohibits the use of weapons of mass destruction, despite the expected Israeli rejection.
  • Adopting the principles of democracy that emanate from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The most important question is still the following: Can the US deal with Israel in accordance with these principles?

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Found in: libya, iran, yemen, syria crisis, protests, obama, foreign policy, egypt, barack obama, arab spring
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