Utrikespolitiska Föreningen Stockholm » The Role of Key International and Regional Powers in the Arab Spring

Artiklar • februari 22, 2012

The Role of Key International and Regional Powers in the Arab Spring

By Mohamad Zakaria

It’s not unusual that countries that have gone through a popular revolution afterwards face a period of instability. Post-revolution instability and insecurity was common throughout history in all the countries where revolutions succeeded. It took time for stability and prosperity to follow. The post-revolution period of instability and insecurity in the Arab world are no exceptions to that. The major international political powers’ competitions for more influence in the region, and their wish to continue to protect their interests, are contributing to prolong the post-revolution period of instability.

In this article, I attempt to discuss some of the consequences of the power struggles among the major global powers (USA, Russia, and China) in the Middle East on the post-revolutions’ success and on the ongoing revolutions’ success in the region.


Tunisia had few months of instability after the Tunisian uprising in 2011. However, the political parties managed to control the situation relatively fast after Tunisia had its first free and fair parliamentary election in its recent history since its independence from France in 1956.

The fact that most Tunisian people are well-educated and that their current political parties are being led by moderate leaders, have been instrumental in creating the environment for swift political compromises that  created the base for political stability in a relatively short post-revolution time. The political and economic indicators in Tunisia show that it is on correct path towards economic and political stability. However, such progress may only be sustainable if the major regional and international political players won’t further accelerate their competition in Tunisia.

Such scenario may very well happen. This is especially true after the Islamists have won the majority of votes in the parliament in the recent parliamentary elections and, as consequences, are leading, in coalition with a couple of  other major political parties, in the current transitional government in Tunisia. Neither France nor the USA or even the neighbouring countries are happy to see a government that is dominated by Islamists ruling Tunisia. Therefore, they may use their economic power to destabilise the economic situation and to try to make the investors abstain from investing in Tunisia. By this, they will make this government fail to improve the Tunisian people’s quality of life and decrease unemployment, the main reasons why the revolution in Tunisia started a year ago.


Egypt was ruled by the same person for over 30 years where Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, and his loyalists were controlling the key positions in the country. Even though the former president himself was forced to step down on 11 February 2011, many of his loyalists are still in control of many key positions in the country.

Additional to that, some of the key international political powers that are afraid of any potential consequences of a strong and democratic Egypt, due to Egypt’s strategic location and due to its political influence in the Arab World, on their geopolitical interests in the region may also contribute to Egypt’s insecurity.

These days, whilst most people in Egypt are celebrating the first anniversary of toppling the Egypt former president Hosni Mubarak and his regime, others are demonstrating further because they believe the revolution hasn’t yet achieved all its goals.

The Egyptian parliament, after the successful parliamentary elections, is preparing to write a new constitution for Egypt that will clearly separate and guide the legislative and executive powers of the parliament, the government, and the president in Egypt. The new constitution will set a limit for the future president’s influence on the political decision-making, his term in office, and will also put a mechanism that enhances the role and influence of the parliament in the political decision-making in the country. Writing a modern and sustainable constitution that satisfies the needs of the people require some time and also a period of political stability, among many other things.

Therefore, the demands from political parties and some NGOs for immediate presidential elections that would replace the governing military council before any new constitution are successfully finalised, whether conscious or unconscious, are threatening to the democratic future of Egypt.

One of the reasons is that the elected president may not abide by any new constitution since he will be elected according to the current constitution that gives the president ultimate powers and doesn’t limit his time in office. This has been one of the demands of the Egyptian revolution against Hosni Mubarak.


The Syrian revolution started about 11 months ago and more than 8000 civilians in Syria have by now been killed by the Assad army and Assad’s loyalist militias (known as Shabiha) who are using excessive military power to crack down on the largely peaceful demonstrations. The Assad Family and their loyalists have been, for decades, governing Syria against the will of the citizens of Syrian by using security and military forces to eliminate any serious political opposition threat. As all the nations in the world that have the right for democratic political system where the people can freely choose their political leaders through fair and free elections, the Syrian people also have that right to choose their leadership that represent and govern them by democratic means.

Inspired by the revolutions in the neighbouring Arab countries, they have also been trying to demand political and economic reforms and they are doing so by demonstrating after the regime rejected and ignored all calls for political dialogue with the Syrians whether it’s with the exiled opposition  or with the opposition  inside Syria.

Being scared of having the same fate as Mubarak of Egypt and Bin Ali of Tunisia, the Assad and his loyalists have decided not to have peace with the majority of the Syrian people and to take serious steps to make political and economic reforms, but decided to silent the demonstrators by using excessive military power. However, the Assad’s army and security brutal use of force have led to more demonstrations in almost everywhere in Syria against his regime and also to soldiers’ defection from the national army, which re-grouped and formed what is now known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The international community, including the Arab countries, have been extremely slow in their response to try to effectively protect the Syrian demonstrators from the brutality of the regime. Additional to that, the fact that Russia and China are protecting the current Syrian regime by blocking any potentially effective resolution at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that condemns the Assad regime is indeed giving the Assad regime more time to crack down on the people of Syria.

Russia and China may think they are protecting their geopolitical and economical interests in the region by continuing to support the Assad, their major political ally in the region, politically, economically, and also militarily, against the people of Syria. Indeed, such diplomacy may show Russia’s and China’s lack of serious long-term political vision in the region and a balanced strategy that may protect their interests in general, and also in Syria, particularly in the middle and long-run. Russia, until recently, was considered by many Arab states and people, including the Syrian people, as a friend of the Arabs. However, this attitude has dramatically changed since Russia vetoed the resolution to condemn the Assad regime’s use of brutal force in the UNSC. Even if the Syrian revolution may take a longer time to successfully achieve its goals and to eliminate the Assad regime, they will eventually succeed.

The Cold War’s mentality among the major international political players and their attempts to strengthen their influence in the Middle East region continue while disregarding the wishes and the needs of the Middle Eastern people. The USA has used its veto power in the UNSC several times and will, no doubt, continue doing so against any proposed resolutions in the UNSC that attempt to condemn the atrocities done the Israeli government against the Palestinian people or seriously force it to abide by the international law. For several days and since the use of veto by the Russia and China’s representatives in the UNSC against the resolution to condemn the Assad regime, the USA has been using the situation by trying to portray itself as the guardian of democracy in the world and by pretending that it is the main supporter of the people of the Middle East in their struggle for democracy and for the much needed political and economic reforms.

This is yet another proof of the hypocritical and opportunistic politics run by the USA government, in order to gain more geopolitical power and to regain some of the people’s support of the region that it has lost due to years of pro Israeli policies in the region which have made the USA government probably the most hated country among the people of the Middle East after Israel. The USA has supported the Arab dictators for decades and continues to support the tyrants that are still in power in the Middle East against the will of the citizens of these countries.

While the leaders of the revolutions in the Middle East will continue to actively and wisely engage themselves in international diplomacy to protect the gains of the revolutions and succeed in creating the environment that accelerates the post-revolutions’ stability, they will do so by putting the long-term interests of the people they are leading over the interests of the major international political powers.

If they fail to protect the interest of their nations and end up becoming tools in the hand of the major political power in the region, time will soon come when the people in the region will demonstrate against and topple them too.

Photo: Creative Commons license, openDemocracy (Title: Middle_East_Map)

(The opinions presented in this article represent those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of UF in any way, nor are they intended to represent the views of any organisation or company which the author represents. UF is a politically and religiously independent organisation.)

Upplagt av: Markus Lyckman

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