Opening remarks before the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit Panel Middle East and Regional Dynamics Post-Arab Spring.
By David A. Andelman
Twenty-one months ago, a lone pushcart vendor in Tunisia touched off a revolution that swept across North Africa and onward to Egypt, then Syria, and is still resonating so profoundly today. We called it the Arab Spring, and we were under the apprehension that this would mean the arrival of real democracy in nations whose people had little or no first-hand experience in that concept, at least in any Western sense, and who we thought lusted after it.
How misinformed we all were. In fact, it seems as though we have simply swapped one proto-democratic system for another. Many of the same passions that energized those revolutionaries to turn on their leaders now seem to have turned on us in the West. Did we do something wrong? Have we in fact been backing the wrong individuals or forces? Above all, is it still within our powers to change any of these dynamics?
And then, there’s the wild card, as it has been for decades—Iran. I was in Paris in the early 1980s when Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iaran from France to change the nature of the Middle East, perhaps forever. Now, it is within the power of his successors to do the same again. Do these events of the Arab Spring give this nation newer, more potent opportunities?
This Spring, along with one of our panelists, Jonathan Tepperman, I spent a couple of weeks in Saudi Arabia, including one whole day at the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior. They were congratulating themselves by ridding their country of most of their internal terrorist threats—by shoving them across their borders to neighboring Yemen and Iraq. No solution, by a long shot.
It’s ironic that today, it would seem, after so much American blood has been shed, Saudi Arabia may wind up being our most enduring ally and friend in the Islamic world—yet another autocracy that is ours, perhaps not of choice but necessity.
So today, in the next 45 minutes, our distinguished panel should help us arrive at the best strategic choices to avoid a broader conflict. What new alliance systems do we construct? How can blood that’s shed against Americans from Benghazi to Cairo, or internally against their own people in Syria, be halted. And how can we avoid distractions from the ultimate threat—a nuclear Iran—as we respond to the more immediate crises of the moment.
David A. Andelman is Editor of World Policy Journal.
[Photo courtesy of Mosa'aberising]