In recent months, we have seen several nations in the Middle East overthrow long-time dictators. The uprising in Tunisia was followed by the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and large protests in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Syria and Yemen. There also has been unrest in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Western Sahara.
To learn more about the changes taking place, Democratic Perspective interviewed Faten Ghosn, Ph.D. As a Lebanese native and Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona’s International Institute for Political and Economic Studies, few people are more qualified to speak on the subject than Dr. Ghosn. Her research interests include conflict, conflict management, international negotiation, international organizations and Middle Eastern politics. Specifically, she examines how states manage their conflicts and disagreements through negotiations.
To help us better understand current events in the Middle East, Dr. Ghosn pointed out that this is not the first time there has been protest for change in the region. “Egypt faced substantial protests in 2007, 2009 and 2010. But those failed,” she said. The difference now is due to the role of the international media – Al Jazeera, in particular.” Another factor, she said, is the role of the US. “In the past, the US came down on the side of Mubarak because previous administrations valued stability over democracy,” she continued. “This time, the Obama administration kept hands off.”
As for the future, Dr. Goshn says that Tunisia has the best chance of becoming a democracy. “That’s because the people and the military sided against the government. But in Egypt, the people drove the overthrow while the military stayed on the sidelines. When Mubarak left, he appointed General Omar Suleiman, the former Intelligence chief, as his successor, and he’s now in charge.” She said that some previous reforms are in danger of being lost. “In the past, Egypt passed a law requiring that a percentage of its Parliament seats be held by women,” she said. “The new regime has requested dropping that law. The regime is controlling some things and not moving forward as is Tunis.”
“There are other factors to consider,” she continued. “In Egypt, two of five people live on $3 or less per day. The majority of Egyptian people are young and educated, so they’re more demanding. The new government will need to create 50 million jobs by 2020 or there will be more problems.”
When asked how the Arab Spring will affect relations with Israel, Dr. Ghosn said it depends on the leadership in the US and Israel. One of the Israeli leaders criticizing (Isreali Prime Minister) Netanyahu is an extreme hawk. But he’s saying that Israel needs to deal with Palestinian issues. It points out how divided Israel is. The political left and center want to see a two-state solution. The political right does not. So the country is divided into two camps.” Nevertheless, she says, “I think we’re close to a solution. The US must stay involved. President Obama has laid out good ideas, but he’s being attacked from the right.”