Sunday, July 31, 2016

After the Turkish Coup - Democracy, Development and the Struggle against the "Islamic State"

It has been 2 weeks since the attempted military coup in Turkey was aborted.  What will be its long term impact?  Clearly, the coup and its aftermath have degraded the quality of the once vaunted Turkish military, after Israel, the second most powerful in the Middle East.  The US coalition’s ability to defeat Da’ish has also been undermined.  However, the consequences of the coup go far beyond its military implications.

Much analysis of the failed coup has focused on the culpability of the Gulenist Movement, led by the exiled Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen.  Once an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Gulenists have come to be viewed, over the past several years, as the AKP’s mortal enemy.
US General J.F. Campbell, Ret.,who AKP magazine, Yeni Safak, accused of supporting coup
What has been particularly galling to Erdogan and the AKP is that Gulen lives in exile in Pennsylvania.  Not an insignificant number of Turkish politicians, and military and intelligence personnel, have (irresponsibly) implied that the US was sympathetic, if not involved, in the coup. Academics sympathetic to the Erdogan government have described the coup attempt as part of an ”international imperialist Zionist plot.”  In short, much rhetoric and hot air have been expended in an effort to explain the coup, but relatively little serious analysis.

The United States, the international community and even Fethullah Gulen have condemned the coup attempt for its effort to overthrow a democratically elected government.  Nevertheless, the international community has expressed its serious concern at the manner in which President Erdogan has used the coup to eliminate large numbers of Turks, whose loyalty he suspects, removing them from their positions in the military, intelligence services, state bureaucracy and secondary school system.
Turkish soldiers who purportedly participated in failed coup being beaten by civilians
What has been especially disturbing has been the arrest of large numbers of Turks immediately after the coup was suppressed.  To analysts of Turkish politics and society, this indicated that lists of suspected dissidents had been compiled long before the coup attempt, which provided a perfect pretext for mass arrests and dismissals of Turks from their government positions who the Erdogan regime suspected of disloyalty.

Since the coup, over 15000 Turks have been arrested and more than 60,000 Turks fired or suspended.  The purge of government positions has gone far beyond the military and intelligence services.  It includes large numbers of secondary school teachers, judges, and bureaucrats.  Further, Erdogan has labeled all newspapers and television stations, which do not tow his line on interpreting the coup, as part a Gulenist and foreign plot anti-Turkish and has suspended their licenses.
Turkish officers arrested after failed coup attempt-center former Air Force Commander Akin Ozturk
The following is a list of those suspended or detained after the coup (  The list is striking in the breadth of those who have been implicated in some manner in the failed coup attempt, even though, by the Erdogan government’s own indication, only 1.5% of the military joined the coup attempt:

·       42,767 people in the Ministry of Education including 21,738 suspended government workers and 21,029 public staff education members
·       8,777 Ministry of Interior personnel
·       2,745 judges and prosecutors have been listed for detention
·       1,700 soldiers -- including 87 generals
·       1,577 university deans have been asked to resign
·       1,389 military personnel from the Turkish Armed Forces
·       1,112 officials removed in the Presidency of Religious Affairs
·       673 staff members at the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Stockbreeding
·       599 officials from the Family and Social Policies Ministry
·       560 Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology personnel
·       529 Ministry of Transportation officials
·       500 officials at the Ministry of Finance
·       300 Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources staff
·       300 TRT employees
·       257 officials removed from duty in the Prime Minister's Office
·       265 Ministry of Youth and Sports workers
·       262 military judges and prosecutors
·       221 officials Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs
·       211 Turkish Airlines contracts have been terminated
·       184 Ministry of Customs and Commerce officials
·       180 Ministry of Labor and Social Security personnel
·       167 staff members at the Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation
·       110 Ministry of Culture and Tourism employees
·       100 Turkish intelligence service personnel
·       86 people removed at the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency
·       86 staff dismissed at Ministry of Foreign Affairs including removal of Central Ambassadors Gurcan Balik and Tuncay Babali
·       82 Development Ministry workers
·       51 people at the Istanbul Stock Exchange while 36 have been terminated at the Capital Market Council
·       36 Energy Market Regulatory employees
·       29 Radio and Television Supreme Council workers
·       22 employees at the Housing Development Administration of Turkey
·       21 Turkish Statistical Institute workers
·       15 Ministry of Economy staff members
·       2 general directors, 1 deputy director general, and 5 department heads at Treasury

While the suppression of the coup has allowed Erdogan and the AKP to extend their control over Turkey as never before, the short-term benefits in increased political power will be far outweighed by long term losses.  What will these losses look like? 

First, the secondary school and higher education systems will be denuded of critical thought, already undermined by the "Islamization" of the Turkish education system.  Students will receive an education which, while perhaps continuing to be strong in STEM, will suffer in the social sciences arts and humanities.  This will alienate many urban, secular Turks and will foster emigration of many to Europe, the United States and other more liberal countries.  Creativity in all aspects of Turkish life will be a casuality.

The dumbing down of the quality of Turkey's school system and prestigious universities will be exacerbated by a muzzled press and mass media.  Only newspapers, television channels and official social media which support the AKP political line will be allowed to function.  The access of ordinary Turks to alternative perspectives on important political, social, economic and cultural issues will be severely curtailed.  Because freedom of expression represents a core component of democracy, Turkey will continue the process of becoming a thoroughly authoritarian state.  Already in 2013, at least two people were sentenced in to prison on “blasphemy” charges.

Turks who disagree with the AKP government of President Erdogan will have few avenues of redress because judges who disagree with the AKP regime have been or are in the process of being dismissed.  This effort to politicize the judicial system will not only undermine the rule of law – already severely comprised by policies enacted by Erdogan prior to the coup attempt – but discourage peaceful efforts to resolve political conflicts in Turkey, espocially the 30 year old war with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).  

In other words, the state takeover of the judiciary will make it easier for those advocating violence to silence those calling for peaceful change and resolution of conflicts confronting Turkey.  This effort will strengthen radical elements involved in the conflict between Turkey’s large and growing Kurdish minority.  Indeed, we can predict that the events following the coup will play into the hands of those who advocate violence rather than negotiation in addressing the Kurd's discontent resulting from their treatment by the central government in Ankara.

From the US perspective, the most ominous development following in the coup is the possibility that Turkey will reduce its commitment to NATO.  With the arrest of the former Turkish commander of the Incirlik Airbase, a vital facility for US airstrikes on Da’ish targets in Syria and Iraq, the US was temporarily suspended from flying sorties from the base.

Erdogan has never been an enthusiastic supporter in the fight against Da’ish – the so-called "Islamic State."  A bitter enemy of the regime of Bashar al-Asad, and sympathetic to Islamist sentiments, Erdogan has had to been cajoled by the US and its allies to fight the terrorist Da’ish and then only after Da'ish attacks on Turkey.

Over the past several years, thousands of Da’ish fighters have crossed the Turkish border to join the terrorist organization in Syria and large amounts of crude oil has been smuggled across the Syrian-Turkish border providing Da’ish with a large amount of monthly revenues.

The US can expect less cooperation from the Turkish military in the future. The Turkish military no longer enjoys the capacity as a highly effective fighting force which it enjoyed before the Erdogan government began purges of its ranks, beginning in 2011.  Indeed, the Turkish president is trying to convince opposition parties to support a constitutional amendment which would have the military and security forces to report directly to him (

Erdogan is also organizing his security forces in such a manner that they will exercise tight oversight of the Turkish armed forces.  Indications are that he will use the Iranian Revolutionary Guard model whereby "commissars" loyal to him will attempt to "coup-proof" the AKP regime ( .

The undermining of the quality of the military can be sees in structural efforts to organize the branches of the military in such a way as to encourage competition between them.  By dividing the reporting structure of the chief of staff  (to Erdogan), the army, air force, and navy (to the minister of defense) and the gendarmerie, police and coast guard (to the minister of the interior),  the organization of the security sector promotes inter-service rivalry, while placing security forces under more direct AKP control.  Indeed, following the coup attempt, generals sympathetic to NATO and "Atlanticistrs" have been fired, and those with Islamist and "Eurasian " proclivities have been promoted.

When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power in 2002, expectations that it would try to put Turkey on a road to an authoritarian form of Islamist rule did not occur.  After initial optimistic projections that AKP Islamism would try and resolve the 30 year conflict with Turkey’s Kurdish population, led by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the situation changed.   

Once the left-leaning Democratic People’s Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi), founded in 2012, attracted support, especially through creating a coalition between secular Turks and Kurds, Erdogan viewed this development with great trepidation and threat to continued AKP rule. If Turks and Kurds could find common ground, and outside AKP Islamism, which sought to bridge the Turkish-Kurdish divide, Erdogan might be outmaneuvered (

Compounding the problem were the elections of 2015 which demonstrated the power of the new coalition when it won a significant number of seats in national parliamentary elections. Even though the Democratic People's Party's support declined once violence between the central government and the PKK erupted once again, Erdogan always distrusted the negotiations which took place between 2013 and 2015 designed to find a peaceful solution to the violence.  

What most observers have failed to note is the role state corruption played in the efforts to find a solution to the 30 year old war with the PKK. The investigation, which began in 2013 into alleged corrupt practices of AKP officials in the Erdogan government, particularly when it implicated the Turkish leader’s son, Bilal, and the weakening of the Turkish economy, exacerbated Erdogan's anxieties, making him much less amenable to making concessions to Turkey's Kurdish community which would end the conflict.

The Turkish economy's decline in 2009 undercut Erdogan’s image as a leader who was bringing prosperity to Turkey.  Much of the economic development fostered by the AKP was concentrated in real estate and was speculative in nature, namely not built on a strong foundation. The corruption scandal of 2013 cast aspersions on the “Islamic” character of the AKP.  How could a party of devout Muslims be stealing from the public purse?
Highways pass towers under construction in Istanbul's Zincirlikuyu district  
Another outcome of the coup and Erdogan's response to it will be to create further impediments to Turkish economic growth.  Foreign investors will be much more cautious about investing in an unstable political environment and Erdogan's post-coup rhetoric and behavior has further dampened economic ties between Turkey and the European Union.

Recently, Erdogan apologized to Russia for Turkey's downing of a Russian air force jet near the Syrian-Turkish border in November 2015.  But will Turkey be able to reestablish the trade relations with Russia - the main supporter of Bashar al-Asad's Ba'thist regime - and will Russian tourists return en masse to Turkey?  Because Iran is likewise a strong support of al-Asad, it is not easy to see how Erdogan can turn to Turkey's historical geopolitical rival in the Middle East for economic support.
In a subsequent post, I will analyze the broader issues suggested by the current political crisis in Turkey.  The core questions relate to how the citizens of Turkey, and many other countries around the world, define their sense of political identity and community.  Unless secularists and Islamists, Turks and Kurds, and Sunnis and Alevis, just to name some of the cleavages confronting Turkey, can be addressed in a non-confrontational manner, we can predict increased political and social instability in a country which was, just a few years ago, seen as on the road to a transition to democratic governance and the MENA region's emerging superpower.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Twilight of the Dictators: the End of Authoritarianism as We Know It in the Contemporary Middle East أفول عصر الطغاة.. نهاية الاستبداد كما نعرفه في الشرق الاوسط المعاصر

A funny thing happened on the way to the Arab Spring.  Arab citizens gained their first taste of freedom.  More importantly, they learned what it means to break down the “barrier of fear.”  It was an exhilarating moment, but one which did not produce the democratic reforms which the protesters had sought.   But was the Arab Spring, as many analysts have concluded, really a failure?  More to the point, what is its legacy for authoritarian rule in the Middle East?

One of the Arab Spring‘s lasting impacts is to have brought about the end of authoritarianism as we have known it since the 1950s.  We have entered a new era - the “Twilight of the Dictators” - because none of them is secure in their rule.  No authoritarian ruler, whether Egypt’s 'Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, Syria’s Bashar al-Asad, Sudan’s 'Umar al-Bashir, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, or Iran’s Ayatollah Khamane’i, is self-confident and able to offer  a vision of the future. 

Instead, these rulers increasingly rely on brute force and repression, as lashings, torture, executions, imprisonment  and cyber surveillance spread.  These regimes are bereft of ideology.  Neither the secular authoritarianism of the pre-Arab Spring, nor the vacuous and increasingly hollow Islamism – whether Sunni Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism, or Shi’i Iran’s State of the Supreme Jurisprudent – hold any promise for the future.

The impact and legacy of the Arab Spring by no means suggests that democracy is anywhere close to coming to fruition in the Arab world or the broader Middle East.  But its legacy does suggest that the continued ability of dictators throughout the Middle East to rule in a way that assures the outcomes they seek has come to an end.  Further, it suggests that the Arab world and larger Middle East can expect significantly more turmoil and political instability in the decades to come.
Cairo's Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring uprisings
What has caused the Twilight of the Dictators?  I offer 5 arguments to explain why traditional forms of authoritarian rule are no longer tenable.  These 5 clusters of variables do not constitute discrete causal factors, but are interdependent.  Thus they need to be combined and integrated as part of a holistic explanation. 

The first variable is the ideological fragmentation which has beset the Arab world and the broader Middle East.  Authoritarian regimes are no longer able to offer a coherent legitimation of their rule. They increasingly appear for what they are – predatory, corrupt and repressive regimes which serve nepotistic and narrowly defined elite interests.  

The second factor is the lack of political institutions which fail to offer participation, accountability, transparency or the rule of law.  Instead, Middle East regimes are highly personalistic.  In no way do they function in the manner designated by the nation-state’s ostensible constitution.  Likewise state institutions fail to provide social services, education, or physical security. 

A third factor is the lack of economic growth.  This set of variables combines three elements.  First, the Arab Spring adversely affected FDI by undermining investor confidence in large parts of the MENA region. (   In 2011, 666 projects were announced at a total of 27 billion Euros, the lowest level since 2004.  In 2012, the rate increased to 37 billion Euros but this only matched the FDI rate of 2005.   

Second, corruption has increased throughout the MENA region since the Arab Spring. Third, most regimes in MENA region have sought to “liberalize” their economies.  This does not at all indicate the spread of free markets, but rather the reduction of state subsides of food and energy to attract foreign investors.  

The fourth factor undermining authoritarian rule is the end of the monopoly of information controlled by the state.  The spread of new forms of media, from channels such as al-Jazeera, which covered political and social topics heretofore considered taboo, and the spread of satellite television, to the proliferation of social media, has flooded the citizenry of MENA states with opportunities to obtain information formerly forbidden and unavailable. 
Libyan protestors during the Arab Spring
Finally, the development of a “youth bulge” in most countries of the Middle East, where large numbers of youth have been unable to find employment, has created a large, disaffected demographic.  With 70% of the population under the age of 30 in many MENA states, the inability of youth to obtain a quality education, find appropriate employment and express themselves politically provides a “perfect storm” for recruitment to criminal and extremist organizations, hence enhancing the region’s instability.

Exacerbating all these regional challenges facing the dictators of the Middle East is the recent contraction of the world market followed by the international collapse of oil and commodity prices.
Authoritarian regimes can no longer count on the implicit social contract which they were able to establish when they first seized power.  While citizens, especially the educated middle classes, were not pleased to lose their personal freedoms, especially the freedom of expression, the promise of economic security, and law and order offset this concern.  However, once economic development stalled, and state corruption and nepotism became obvious, authoritarian states found it more difficult to force citizens to behave in ways that conformed to their desires.  

Secular regimes, often populated by former army officers, who promoted a corporatism which denied social difference and subsumed the entire populace under an all-encompassing “revolutionary” ideology, have successively undermined their ideological message.  By the 1980s, the revolutionary narrative of Arab nationalism, and variants such as Algerian “socialism,” had run its course, having failed to fulfill the promise of “unity, freedom and socialism.”   Nationalized industries became a drag on the national economy and top-heavy and inefficient Soviet-inspired heavy industry failed to bring about economic growth.

Following the defeat of Arab armies in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, one response of secular dictatorships was to invoke religious tropes to augment their declining legitimacy.   This process began with Anwar Sadat’s efforts to break with the leftist tilt of Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir’s (Nasser) regime as he dispensed with the United Arab Republic, which once again became Egypt, and called for a state built on “science and faith” (al-cilm wa-l-iman).  This trend continued with Saddam Husayn’s shift to “religion” after the onset of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980 when it became clear that the lightening victory over Iran he had expected failed to materialize.

To understand the development of an ideological vacuum which began during the 1970s, and accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s, requires an examination not only of the rise of Islamism, whether in the form of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and more radical variants of Islam, but a focus political economy as well.  

The Middle East has known three forms of ideology and political organization since 1916 Sykes-Picot Treaty and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918.  The first ideological modality, the “ersatz” liberalism imposed on the region by British and French colonialism after WWI, was not as bad as subsequent authoritarian regimes claimed it to be.

Under monarchical rule in Egypt and Iraq, for example, there was a modicum of civility which included extensive associational life, including a rich urban culture of coffeehouses and salons, a press and literary production which saw relatively limited control by the state, and a cultural and religious diversity which saw different sects and ethnic groups live together in relative harmony.  While elections were manipulated to bring about the desired ends of rapacious elites, there were urban electoral districts where they were largely free and fair.

The authoritarian regimes which gradually took over the Middle East following WWII were largely the response to the unwillingness of pre-War political and economic elites to address the rising social problems of the region.  Large scale rural-urban migration during the first half of the 20th century, lack of jobs, and increased political participation of the lower middle and lower classes, spreading unrest in urban areas (think of the burning of Cairo in 1952), spelled the end of colonially constituted “liberal” regimes.  

The new post-WW II dictatorships, such as those which seized power under the aegis of the Syrian, Egyptian, Iraqi Yemeni, and Libyan military, along with the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria, offered their citizenry a new social contract which exchanged personal freedoms for security and material well-being.  

 Education would now be free, government jobs would be guaranteed to those with university degrees, food subsidies would protect the poor and Western imperialism would end through the nationalization of foreign assets.  The laissez-faire monarchies, which offered considerable personal freedoms to the small middle and upper classes persisted in Jordan and Morocco, but elsewhere became a thing of the past.

The corporatist ideology of military-based dictatorships emphasized binary thinking.  Only two types of sociopolitical groups were recognized, “reactionaries” and “revolutionaries.”  Except in Lebanon, a state built on confessionalism, diversity in the Arab world was subsumed under the category “Arab” or “revolutionary.”  Political pluralism went by the wayside, as did the respect for multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural tolerance which had characterized the “liberal” regimes of the inter-war era.

The problem with the ideological rhetoric of the second or post-1945 phase of rule in the Middle East was its inability to deliver on its promises of material well-being.  The public sector which emerged from the nationalization of foreign enterprise was inefficient.  It provided fertile ground for nepotism and corruption.  In short, it was unable to sustain meaningful economic growth in face of population increases, especially among the young, for whom the promised economic future – stable jobs and income - was not to be.

By the 1970s, economic constraints led the Egyptian regime of Anwar al-Sadat to proclaim the so-called Economic Opening (al-Infitah).  Other authoritarian regimes approached the problem of economic stagnation in less dramatic fashion.  Nevertheless, both the Syrian Bacthist and Saddam Husayn’s regimes likewise began a process of “liberalization” of the economy.   Only Algeria remained true to the failed Soviet model of development, resulting in large scale migration of its citizenry abroad, especially to France, due to lack of jobs. 

What this development meant was a backing away from the economic promises of the Social Contract.  In Egypt in 1977, this led to food riots in Egypt when the state reduced subsidies for basic goods in an effort to obtain an IMF loan. These riots foreshadowed the peaceful protests of Tunisians, Egyptians, and Syrians which later would initiate the Arab Spring.

Arab Socialist Ba'th Party emblem
During the 1970s, Syria began its own “Open Door.”  Efforts were made to give the economy greater dynamism, including efforts by the Alawite dominated Bacthist regime to create ties to powerful Sunni Muslim merchant families in Damascus and Aleppo.  In Iraq, the 8th Congress of the Arab Socialist Bacth Party in 1974 turned away from its anti-imperialist rhetoric and put the economy on a much more traditional basis, albeit still dominated by the state.  Collective farms were dispensed with and foreign capital, e.g., the American Bechtel and the French Creusot-Loire corporations, was invited into the country to assist in the process of translating oil wealth into industrialization.

Of course, ideology in the MENA region was not the sole property of secular corporatist nationalist regimes. Islamism had always been waiting in the wings to pick up the political pieces should secular nationalism fail.  Islamism had many similarities with corporatist nationalism in its reliance on unitary and binary thinking.  In reducing all problems to the oft repeated formula: “Islam is the solution” (Islam al-hall), and dividing the world into “believers” and “non-believers,” or even worse, “apostates,” Islamism offers no better path to solving the pressing problems facing MENA nation-states.

In the Islamist state par excellence , the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran (whose constitution Olivier Roy has demonstrated in, The Failure of Political Islam, is derived largely from the French constitutional model, not from al-Sharcia), simple slogans such as “Death to the Great Satan” (Marg bar Shaytân-e Bozorg) have done little to improve the standards of living of most Iranians.  Instead, the Islamic Republic’s ruling elite has produced massive corruption, repression, especially of youth and intellectuals, and, until recently, led to Iran’s isolation as a pariah state.

Political Institutions
The political institutions imposed by the colonial powers after WWI never sprouted deep routes. As in many former colonial states, the constitutions which structured the form of these institutions bore little relationship to the country’s history or traditions.  The political elites privileged by colonial rule undermined what little support had existed for parliamentary rule and Western style judiciaries by rigging elections and excluding the bulk of the populace from political participation.

The close alliance of post-WWI political elites with the colonial powers, especially Great Britain and France, further delegitimized the political systems established by colonial rule following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.  Democracy came to be associated with corruption, lack of caring about the interests of the populace at large, and a willingness to subordinate national interests to those of Great Britain and France and, after WWII, the United States.

The establishment of one-party states by “revolutionary” regimes, whether dominated by the Bacth Party and/or the military, reduced opportunities for political participation still further.  National elections became farcical spectacles of dictators who invariably received 98% or more the popular vote.  The degradation of politics meant that youth had no education in, or understanding of, how democratic political institutions function.

The lack of economic growth
The first decade of authoritarian rule produced a distribution of income through generous state-sponsored subsidies of basic necessities, such as bread, cooking oil, sugar and propane gas.  The nationalization of foreign industry provide a windfall for the state in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran as did the seizure of domestically owned agricultural land, banks and businesses.

Two factors quickly undermined this “economic development model.”  First, there was a no ability or incentive for public sector managers to innovate or employ entrepreneurial strategies.  Instead, these managers used their position to enrich themselves, their families and their clients.

Second, the authoritarian states which had national foreign and domestic holdings lacked the capacity to make the enterprises and land which they had seized profitable.  Their ability to technologically innovate to modernize and make them more efficient was severely limited.  Egypt, the most economically pressed of the authoritarian regimes, given its rapid population growth and limited resources, realized that, without foreign capital and the technology such investment would bring, the economy would continue to stagnate.

However, the opening up of economies dominated by the state public sectors only strengthened this form of economic organization.  “Liberalization” was not synonymous to promoting market forces, as quite the opposite was true.  As the state public sector gained access to additional foreign capital, its managers had even less incentive to open up the economy to entrepreneurs who were outside the political elite.

The downside of “liberalization” has been the state’s efforts to cut subsidies on which large segments of the less well off in the populace depend upon.  To attract FDI, authoritarian states need to convince investors that the economies in which they are investing are being run according the desired financial discipline.  With economies in the MENA region facing serious declines in growth rates – even former power houses like Saudi Arabia (which has an estimated poverty rate of 25%) – the reduction in subsidies had only further undermined regime legitimacy.

The end of the monopoly of information
One of the key factors in the success of the Arab Spring was the role of social media.  Not only did social media play a key factor within the countries which were involved in the Arab Spring but among all countries of the MENA region.  Not only did social media allow organizers of the Arab Spring to efficiently mobilize and situate demonstrators for maximum impact in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, but information disseminated through the MENA region was critical in encouraging demonstrators to persist in their efforts, seeing the success of demonstrators in other countries.

While the impact of social media in the Arab Spring has been exaggerated, there is no doubt that opposition elements gained a sense of power in their ability to use it to mobilize against authoritarian regimes. What has become clear is the inability of authoritarian regimes to control social media, despite Egypt having literally shut down the Internet during late January 2011 during the Arab Spring uprisings.  Other Arab Spring states tried to block Facebook and other social media platforms.

While in Iraq during the recent peaceful demonstrations at Iraq’s Green Zone in Baghdad in mid-March 2016, I saw live feeds as police and local security forces facilitated demonstrators’ ability to approach the Green Zone and pitch tents there.  Eventually the demonstrations forced the resignation of the entire cabinet of 22 ministers from Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi’s government. Clearly Iraq has come a long way from Saddam Husayn’s regime when owning a typewriter without a state license was a capital offense.

In light of the increasing sophistication of youth in the MENA region to use social media, authoritarian regime are finding it difficult if not impossible to prevent their populaces from gaining access to information which they regimes consider sensitive and a threat to their rule.

The “youth bulge”
In most countries of the MENA region, 60-70% of the populace is under the age of 30.  What demographers have referred to as a “youth bulge” need not constitute a negative phenomenon.  In East Asia, in many of the so-called “Asian Tigers,” a youth bulge was beneficial to economic growth as young people provided labor and often professional technological skills.

However, in the MENA region, for reasons described above, local economies have not generated jobs, and those which have been created are frequently reserved for the youth of families connected to the ruling political elite.  As the number of youth throughout the region without hope of stable employment increases, the ability of criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations to find recruits increases.

The Twilight of the Dictators is the tip of the “perfect storm” which is about to hit Middle East.  Ruling political elites are devoid of ideological legitimation.   To paraphrase Antonio Gramsci, authoritarian regimes in the MENA region lack a hegemonic political culture through which to generalize their interests to those of the public at large,   They lack credible “organic intellectuals”- those in the media, the religious community, and the higher education system  who promote the idea that the masses and the ruling elites share the same political social and economic interests.

With the lack of functioning political institutions, the personalistic rule of authoritarian rulers becomes all the more apparent.  Corruption and nepotism become more glaring in economies which cannot meet even the basic needs of their citizens.  Violence is spreading.  Indeed, in Syria, civil strife has resulted in the displacement of half the country’s population.

Youth are becoming ever more restless.  Frustrated, many are turning to extremism.  With the global downturn in commodity prices, and stagnant t economies in the EU and Japan, FDI in the MENA region is declining.  This trend has become a self-fueling downward spiral. Less economic growth leads to more unrest and violence.  Greater instability, in turn, hampers foreign investment and local economic growth.

What is the projected outcome of the Twilight of the Dictators?  The most likely scenario is not a turn to radical Islamism or more repressive military dictatorships, but rather an increase in the number of failed states. Already, we can count Libya, Yemen and Syria as members of this category.

In the category of semi-failed states, we can count Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon, because large parts of these countries are engrossed in civil strife and not under the control of the central government. The outcome in both cases - failed and semi-failed states - is not only domestic instability in the states in question, but the "spillover" effect on neighboring states, e.g., to Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia. 

Unfortunately, more failed states seem in the offing in the decades to come.  Egypt and Jordan could fall into this category.  What is needed is a comprehensive international strategy to address the crisis of political stability in the MENA region.  Will the US take on the role of bringing the key stakeholders together to seek a solution to the crisis, or will it continue to view Middle East politics as a "spectator sport"?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

السلطة المهزومة والمستباحة في عقر دارها، لا تعرف شيئا عن ديناميات الاحتجاج وجدلياته العاصفة The Defeated and Illegitmate Government in its own House Doesn't Comprehend Anything about the Dynamics of the Demonstrations and the Anger which They Represent

Guest Contributor, Dr. Faris Kamal Nadhmi, is Professor of Social Psychology at Salahaddin University in Arbil, the KRG, Iraq. 
Demonstrators pass under Saddam's so-called Swords of Qadissiya" monument
بدءً، وبعيداً عن أي تفيقهات دستورية وقانونية لها مشروعيتها النسبية في أذهان أصحابها، فإن أي تحليل علمي لما يحدث في العراق بعد مرحلة 30 نيسان 2016 يجدر به أن يأخذ بالحسبان أولاً أن تلك الواقعة الدراماتيكية الحاسمة – سواء كانت تسمى خرقاً لهيبة الدولة أو تمرداً شعبياً مشروعاً- ما كان لها أن تقع لولا أن نظام الإسلام السياسي الحالي أعلن جهاراً وسراً، علانية وضمناً، قانوناً 
Youth raise the Iraqi flag
وعرفاً، أنه انتهك – بل خان- العقد الاجتماعي المبرم مع المجتمع حد التفريط بكرامة المواطنين وأمنهم وسلامتهم وثرواتهم ومستقبلهم دون أي مؤشر على شعور بذنب أو محاولة لإصلاح. وهكذا لا يصحّ ولا يستقيم أن ينادي هذا النظام بعد اليوم بـ"شرعية دستورية" هو من قام بوأدها سلفاً عن سبق وإصرار على مدى 13 عاماً، بالرغم من كل المناشدات المستميتة للرأي العام بأنماطه الثقافية والإعلامية والاحتجاجية السلمية

وطبقاً لهذا الرؤية، فمنذ يوم أمس 20 أيار 2016، انتقل الوعي الاجتماعي المعارض في العراق إلى مرحلة التحضير الذهني لما بعد نظام الاثنيات السياسي الرث الحالي. فالقطيعة النفسية مع هذا النظام اكتملت، وبدأ البديل السياسي الواقعي بالنمو على نحو أسرع من كل المراحل التي انقضت. لكن سرعة نضج هذا البديل تبقى أمراً مرهوناً بقدرة الشارع الاحتجاجي على تفعيل غطاء سياسي ينبثق منه ميدانياً، ويمتلك حاضنة مجتمعية متعاظمة، ومقبولية خارجية ضمن الشرعية الدولية. وهذا الغطاء السياسي سيتجاوز وظيفياً بالضرورة التصنيفات الحالية: (مدني/ صدري)، دون أن يلغيها أو ينكرها، إذ تبقى بوصفها هويات بنائية وليست غائية.
فأيُّ سلطة تعاني من تآكل شرعيتها في المخيال الشعبي العام لأي بلد، ما أن تلجأ للعنف الدموي العلني ضد معارضيها السلميين، حتى يزداد اعتقادهم - أي المعارضين- بقدرتهم على حسم الصراع لصالحهم، إذ يعد هذا العنف السلطوي غير المبرر إشارة ضعف يتلقفها الوعي المعارض شديد الحساسية والنباهة في لحظات التغيير الكبرى

ولذلك، فالعيارات النارية والغازات التي أطلقت يوم أمس ضد المتظاهرين السلميين وسط بغداد، وأسقطت قتلى وجرحى بالعشرات، سترفع – سيكولوجياً- سقفَ المطالب الاحتجاجية من إصلاح النظام الى إنهائه، ولا شيء أقل من انهائه. غير أن النزعة السلمية الآسرة والفريدة للحركة الاحتجاجية سوف تستمر وتتعمق في الوقت ذاته، لأنها تستمد طاقتها المتجددة من وعيها بفكرة المستقبل الآمن الذي يجب أن يُصنع أخلاقياً اليوم وهنا؛ فيما ستتصاعد حشرجاتُ "التخوين" ورفساتُ العنف اليائس من جثة السلطة القابعة في الماضي والآيلة إلى التعفن السريع!
Physically challenged demonstrator joins the protests
ومثلما حدث خلال العشرين يوماً الماضية التي أعقبت 30 نيسان يوم دخول المحتجين إلى مبنى البرلمان، فإن الأيام القادمة أيضاً لن يبدر فيها من السلطة الموهومة أيُّ فعل يشير إلى كونها تمتلك حداً أدنى من الحس أو البصيرة أو رد الفعل للتعامل الواقعي مع الأزمة الكبرى الحالية وكأنه أمر يخص بلداً آخر . وهي بذلك تفترض ضمناً "أبديتها" و"استعصائها" على الزوال، وأن "قدرة قادر ستنقذها في نهاية المطاف
Demonstrators at the Green Zone, May 20, 2016
إنهم لا يستطيعون أو لا يريدون أن يفهموا، أن الوعي السيكوسياسي للناس قد بدأ باتخاذ توجهات مدنياتية عدالوية في إطارها العام رغم كل الإرث الاستبدادي الثقيل، إذ تجاوزَ بمراحل وعيَ السلطة الغرائزي القائم على مبدأ الغنيمة والاستئثار وعُصاب الامتلاك. وأمام هذا الاستعصاء على الفهم، يتجه التطور السوسيوسياسي في العراق إلى نقطة الاحتدام الراديكالي، ومن بعدها الحسم بكل عواقبه الواعدة والمأساوية