The evolving Arab spring. Attempt at paradigm.

By Torgeir Fjærtoft

The Arab Spring is a paradigm change in the sense that old assumptions no longer hold. The new paradigm must explain how the new situations evolve, and, in the Norwegian context, what Western policies would respond most effectively in altered circumstances.

In an evolving situation the best approach is to identify phases:

First phase mobilization

The first phase was the poplar mobilization on the new social media and in the streets. The western policy response was to refrain from intervention despite vested interests in the old regimes.

Second phase removal of dictators

The second phase was the forced removal of dictators, a phase still ongoing in Syria. Gadhafi was removed with western military support in a humanitarian intervention. Norway was heavily involved.   The risks and uncertain long-term consequences of the Libyan intervention that have been discussed in the aftermath, make a humanitarian intervention in Syria unlikely at this point, even though the suffering would justify it more than in Libya.

Third phase new regimes

The third phase is when the new regimes take power. Will they succeed in maintaining control, or can the countries they are now responsible for, slide into chaos and disintegrate, like Somalia? Will they honor the popular movements that brought them to power by a degree of democracy, women’s empowerment and religious pluralism, or will they become new dictators? At this point the development could realistically go either way. The future is open, undecided. At this stage the best Western policy is to urge upon their new rulers that democracy is not only the right, but also the most effective rule, and support women’s groups and religious minorities by active networking.

Fourth phase economic integration

The fourth phase will hopefully be regional economic integration, without which economic policies will not be sufficiently effective to create the necessary employment for social and political stability.  Economic cooperation would also favorable affect the political culture. The business culture operates with more rational basic assumptions, mental models, than the political culture. To succeed in business it is necessary to actively seek opportunities for win-win options, which can only be achieved by compromise. The European break with historic hostility was made by initiating and institutionalizing integration of the central economic sectors at the time, coal and steel.

Crises can drive cooperation

The European cooperation evolved in response to crises; in fact, the European cooperation has been driven by crises. In the Middle East, the most rational policy now would be to initiate practical economic cooperation despite current political crises.  Economic cooperation is the most promising vehicle to facilitate cooperation on crises management, the European model.

Regional integration of gas supply imperative

The current Middle Eastern equivalent to the coal and steel of the early 1950’s Europe would be gas, which can only be optimally utilized in a regional context. Failure to do so could have global implications by destabilizing the country in the region most important as global oil supplier, Saudi Arabia. Destabilization of Saudi Arabia would spread to the whole Middle East. Solely regional integration of gas supply can prevent the foreseeable Saudi crisis at the point when domestic oil consumption and depletion of assets make both oil exports and internal economic transfers impossible. The result would be energy shortage in Asia and destabilization of the Middle East. By substituting as much as possible of the current domestic oil use with gas from the enormous South Pars field, for power production, desalination of water and the planned petrochemical industry, more Saudi oil can be exported and earn cash for domestic transfers. There is really no long-term alternative to such a strategy. But it can only be realized by the necessary degree of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the two holders of the South Pars field, Qatar and Iran. Norway could provide inputs to the parties from own experiences as gas producer integrated with the European market. We may even suggest select parts of the agreement with the EU, the EEA Agreement, for experiments in economic cooperation.

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