Experts say that shifting dynamics could lead to greater democratisation across the Middle East.

There are several conflicts raging across the Middle East, from Libya, Syria to Yemen. But despite the several autocracies in the region, experts, who took part in this year's TRT World Forum — Shifting Dynamics: The International Order in a Post-Pandemic World — believe that people’s free will can reign triumphant in the future. 

Maha Azzam, who leads the opposition Egyptian Revolutionary Council, thinks that the Middle East has multiple problems ranging from the hegemony of dictatorships along with deep economic, political and social fissures. 

“I believe the future is one in which there is going to be an ongoing struggle between peoples of the region and the current regimes, that do not represent their people,” Azzam tells TRT World.

“That struggle is not an easy one. It will involve many sacrifices,” says Azzam, who held a session in the forum entitled,The Future of the Arab World: Ten years after the Arab Spring. 

“It’s a struggle for freedoms and rights. As other nations’ histories across the world, that struggle will continue. That will take different forms in different parts of the Arab world. What we saw in 2010-2011 was an indication that Arab people want that freedom,” she explains, referring to the Arab Spring. 

“I believe that next ten years will see an increasing struggle within different parts of the Arab world to assert rights and freedoms and to try to end the hegemony of regimes over peoples and corruption that had ensued because of those regimes.”  

Another speaker, Sami Hamdi, a political analyst and head of political risk consultancy, International Interest, echoes Azzam’s words about the Arab struggle for greater political freedom. 

After a long struggle from Western colonisation following World War I, to the establishment of semi-independent states partly backed by US and European powers, the Arab world experienced a very difficult period in the last hundred years, Hamdi says. 

But with the emergence of the 2011 Arab Spring movements, the people of the region have shown that they might finally be on the verge of their own liberation.

Anti-government protesters from the 20th February movement, the Moroccan Arab Spring movement shout as thousands of workers protest against the Moroccan government in Casablanca, Morocco, April 6, 2014.
Anti-government protesters from the 20th February movement, the Moroccan Arab Spring movement shout as thousands of workers protest against the Moroccan government in Casablanca, Morocco, April 6, 2014. (Abdeljalil Bounhar / AP Archive)

“Then, 2011 came. It was popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes that were more aligned with interests perceived to be more colonial. That was uprisings against the idea of protecting autocratic regimes for security and stability at the expense of local populations,” Hamdi tellsTRT World. 

Hamdi thinks that the Arab Spring uprisings marked a crucial moment of change in the Arab political mindset across the region. 

According to Hamdi, the Arab world has gone through different stages since the early 20th century, from official colonisation to unofficial colonisation at the hands of repressive Arab regimes, finally arriving at the present period of popular uprisings. 

“The reality is that you see this trend that is moving toward greater and greater liberation,” Hamdi views. 

But he also thinks that the uprisings have brought a great deal of ongoing political uncertainty in the region.  

“Of course, it’s not a smooth process,” he says. 

“But the trajectory is definitely going towards one in which there will be a showdown between the will of people, who want to express their right for self-determination, and the rule of authoritarian regimes, whose survival depends on the international order, that focuses on security and stability at the expense of the will of people,” he adds. 

An undertaker smokes shisha at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for
An undertaker smokes shisha at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, Arabic for "Peace Valley", in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq August 3, 2016. (Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters Archive)

External factors

The international order has long turned a blind eye towards the conduct of autocratic regimes across the Middle East.

Both Syria and Yemen are experiencing bloody civil wars which began in the wake of the Arab Spring, inviting foreign powers to enable the survival of unpopular regimes in the face of popular uprisings and wreaking havoc across the region.

“The chaos can be controlled if there are also some kind of limitations on the support given to regional powers by international powers. The realisation by leading international powers — be either the United States or others — is crucial that some regimes in the region themselves are the source of that havoc,” Azzam points out. 

“They must be checked. That is not only in the interests of the region but also of the world,” she says. 

But she also adds that the experience so far is not promising in terms of international powers’ support to the democratisation process of the Middle East. 

“That’s why, we still look eagerly toward the new [Joe] Biden administration and others to realise that so far the lack of development of the Arab world and the chaos that has ruled in different parts of the Arab world, just cost so many lives,” Azzam says. 

As a result, backing autocratic regimes has not created a stable and secure Middle East, she says, referring to current civil wars across the region. 

“There needs to be a real reappraisal of policy. Until there is a real reappraisal of policy towards the region and a decision to stand on the right side of history, then, that chaos will increase. And it would be harmful to all,” she says. 

Ultimately, the US and its allies in the Western world need to realise that people of the Arab world deserve that freedom, just as Europeans and others feel deserving of it, too, she adds. 

Otherwise, by backing autocratic regimes of the Middle East, America and its allies are actually “doing no more delaying than a volcano that’s going to harm everybody,” she concludes. 

Source: TRT World