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Revolution and Counter-Revolution in the Arab World

16th of November, 2011

Speaker: Professor Gilles Kepel, Sciences Po

Chair: Professor Nigel Ashton

Professor Kepel opened the lecture by arguing that the Arab World is still facing major challenges in terms of stabilising the region and build upon the achievements of the protest movements. He was, however, cautious to define these events as a revolution.
The events in the Arab world reflect changes not only in the regional level, but also at the international level. According to Professor Kepel, we have to bear in mind that the diaspora, and especially the large diaspora community in Western Europe, played an important part in the protest. Therefore, when we examine the events of the "Arab Spring," we should look not only at regional, but also at geopolitical developments.
One primary cause for the emergence of the unrest was the decrease in the capacity of the Arab governments to exert brutality to suppress their population, mainly due to international pressure. In addition, there was a popular element to it. The Arab public was now less worried about al-Qaeda and a potential Salafi take-over. Therefore you could see more members of the middleclass joining the protest with the purpose of changing the regime.

The revolutionary movements are quite different than each other. In Tunisia, the revolution was perceived as a class issue, namely a poor vs. rich uprising. However, now it seems that there is competition on tribal base. The more we scratch the surface, we realise that the situation is far more complicated. In fact, there was an alliance between the elites, some of the protestors and even the army, which has been marginalised under Ben Ali. Al-nahda will have to form a coalition with other forces. Everything is still opened. In Egypt, in contrast to Tunisia. There was no structural transformation, as in Tunisia. The revolution is usurped not only by Islamists, but also by the army.

In Libya, revolutionaries and NATO worked together. Political environment is now opened, but there is also awakening of the tribes and regional identities. Indeed, Tripoli witnesses an outburst of political activism, including of Berbers and other forces from the periphery, who seek a democratic solution.

But what about where it didn't happen? Bahrain: when events began unfolding, the Saudis and other gulf states were alarmed and the Saudis invaded. They crashed the movement, but now Bahrain is dysfunctional. Shiites are now scared and cannot work. Because there is still fear of Iran, there is still Saudi presence in Bahrain.
In Yemen, the big threat is that it will be in such a state of turmoil that it would move to Saudi Arabia. It is plunged is in big chaos and l-Qaeda is controlling some parts of the region. Also, instability may jeopardise the gulf of Aden, and also enhance piracy.
There are still prospects for regional instability, which require a careful analysis of the unfolding events.