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« Bring on the Asian fembots! | Main | How could US fracking revolution fail? Sounds like a good idea for a Wikistrat simulation! »
11:57AM

Good piece on US concerns: Libya v. Egypt

Appears in NYT.

The one thing that's been clear about the Arab Spring to date:  it is a process of Sunni empowerment that comes with a great deal of identity politics.  America is now experiencing some payback for all those decades of supporting dictators who kept a lid on that identity.  in the past, I felt we did that in deference to the volatility generated by similar dynamics among the Shia in the decades after the Iranian Revolution.  But that was a conundrum-like choice:  we deeply angered half of the Middle East out of fear of the other half.

Now the Shia half seems back on its heels.  We might have imagined a tipping point with the re-Shia-ization of Iraq, but that seems rather puny right now with Syria almost literally coming apart and Iran still in internal lockdown against domestic opposition and external lockdown over the nuke program (those dropping oil exports . . .).

Yes, we now get a chorus of experts saying, "Aha!  I told you the Arab Spring was a disaster!"  But it's like that quote I gave Esquire back when it started:  the Arab Spring is like a kidney stone.  Sure, it's no fun passing it, but if you think it's going to stay in that kidney forever, just getting bigger, that's no answer either.  So yeah, passing it will hurt, but what's the alternative to trying to get it done quickly?  Pretending it's never going to come?

But the major (for me, at least) theme remains:  globalization has arrived in the Middle East, and it has triggered a lot of social and political tumult.  Large chunks of the population (mostly young) do not see a future they like, while Africa is booming and Asia keeps getting richer and a middle class blossoms across Latin America.  The Arab world is still losing - dramatically - at globalization.  As the region ages demographically from a mean age of about 22 to 32 across this decade and the next, the lack of jobs will be magnificently destabilizing.  That youth bulge is not being served, and when you can't produce the jobs (the MB's real problem now), you - those who pretend to rule - have to indulge the anger.

That's what we're seeing now: the Sunni Islamists in power are no more clued in than the secular dictators who preceded.  They are, however, more willing to indulge the populism.  This can go on for a long while.  It just can't go anywhere in terms of progress, because global investors will want none of this uncertainty.  Frankly, it's why China greatly prefers Africa.

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Reader Comments (6)

It's not specifically Sunni - you are forgetting Bahrain. It's not even specifically Arab, as the Green movement in Iran could arguably be seen as a precursor. And the motivations are primarily economic, not religious, driven by youth that chafes at the rigid societies imposed by autocrats and the lack of opportunity compounded by rampant kleptocracy.

I would also be more circumspect at declaring the Arab world a failure. It is stagnating right now, but it was actually the region of the world that gained most on the UNDP Human Development index since 1970, and not just in oil-rich nations:

September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFazal Majid

1) It is nonsense to say the Arab spring has failed, because some radicals were attacking the US embassy in Lybia at the anniversry of 9-11. The reaction "We liberated them and now they betray us!"is exactly what the Islamist extremists want to produce in the USA. To disengage in the Greater Middle East would be the wrong step, only to focus on the Asian pivot will leave a power vaccum elsewhere. Therefore Obama has to readjust his policy. The Arab spring will be a long process, it is the beginning of a powerstruggle between secualr and Islamic forces and between moderate and conservative Islamic forces and Islamist forces. We have to support the secualr forces and the moderate forces.Probably in Sunnistates the Muslimbrotherhood will seize power and we have to make our plan B and C how to react if they are heading to a Chinese-Russian-panislamic axis.But it is to early to say if this happens--that would be a selffulfilling prophecy.For the Muslimbrotherhood the rights of the Palestinans and the Holy Land of Palestine will have more priority than under Mubarak.However this doesn´t mean automatically that Muslimbrotherhood-Egypt- and Syria want a holy war against Israel.The Muslimbrotehers know that Israel has 200 nuclear warheads whlie Syria and Egypt have 0. This could only be changed by a panislamic coalition with nuclear Iran, but that´s not easy and very risky.So let´s see what the deeds of the Muslimbrothers are and don´t listen to their words.

2)The pretext for this antiamerican wave on 9-11 was the anti-Mohammed movie by "Sam Bacile". What I find interesting is that since the beginning of the Western movie industrie there never has been a Mohammed movie.Was this because the Western movie industry calculated that such a movie wouldnßt find a market or was it because they feared Muslim reactions? However, I ask myself: What would happen if Hollywood or an Muslim filmmaker would produce a movie in which he portrays Mohammed as a positive hero and progressive thinker at his time?
What would be the reaction in the Muslim world?Would there be protests because it is forbidden to produce images, photos, pictures of God and his prophets including Mohammed? Or wuld there be a debate between Muslims why it shouldn´t be allowed to produce a positive movie about the prophet?Coud this create a discussion process about the limitaions of traditinal Ilsam?
Would young Muslims and even theocrats reject the idea of a positive movie about the prophet?
Wouldn´t young Muslims sak themselves why it sholdn´t be alloed in the modern world to produce a movie which portrays the prophet in a positive way? Howver, maybe this could open the box of the Pandorra and modernize Islam.

September 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRalf Ostner

One of the things I'm interested in knowing, that I don't think the press has significantly investigated, is who is responsible for disseminating the trailers for the movie? The movie itself doesn't seem to be available online or anywhere else, so who was it that that pushed this inflammatory material into the consciousness of the Islamic world, what are their politics, and what are they trying to achieve?

We're getting a picture of those responsible for the creation of the movie, but since the trailers were online for more than a month before going viral, it seems possible there may be totally separate forces at work here.

Who has an interest in creating turmoil in the Islamic world, at this particular moment in time?

September 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAaron B. Brown

But "Africa" isn't that simple. There are parts of Africa (e.g Northern Nigeria), that are extensions of the Arab World (in ideology) and there is "Christian" Africa.

The distinction between these two components of Africa are being brought to sharp relief in at least, Kenya and Nigeria. So dealing with "Africa" will involve dealing with these two realities.

Eventually China will deal with "Christian" Africa - (that is where the money is to be made, near the coast) and the US will eventually be forced to deal with that reality sooner than later (hint: play close attention to how events evolve in Nigeria, especially the next election in 2015).

September 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaduka

Love the metaphor of passing a kidney stone. My father has told me stories.

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDrDolittle

Ralf,

Didn't we used to have a presidential Freedom Agenda to provide the proactive transitional assistance that you want? What happened to it?

September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEric

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