Professor discusses effects of Arab Spring
By Madison Pauly, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Although the Arab Spring marks the end of the stability of secular authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, new revolts are unlikely to arise beyond the six countries that have already experienced serious rebellions, University of Vermont political science professor Gregory Gause said in a Tuesday lecture in Filene Auditorium in front of an audience primarily composed of local residents.
At the event, “The Arab Spring: One Year Later,” Gause addressed the five most important questions about the Arab Spring: why experts failed to predict the revolts, why it affected some countries but not others, whether it has ended, whether the revolts were also an Islamist Spring and how the rebellions will affect American interests in the region.
“The questions will be better than the answers because this is a moving target,” he said, citing presidential elections in Egypt that will occur this week as an example of the political developments still occurring in the region.
Experts failed to predict the outbreak of popular revolt that began in Tunisia at the end of 2010. Until the Tunisian protests, the most interesting issue for Middle Eastern experts was the “remarkable” stability of regional politics since 1970 despite the unpopularity of the authoritarian regimes, according to Gause.
In hindsight, it has become apparent that experts should have examined the relationship between political regimes and militaries and predicted the progression of that relationship in the event of a popular uprising, he said.
Gause identified three types of militaries that played a large role in determining the success of the uprisings. Corporate militaries, relatively independent institutions that can survive a regime change, could afford to support an uprising, he said. Patrimonial armies, whose commanders are the blood relations of a ruler, tended to splinter along family lines. Minority armies, or those who shared a minority identity with the regime, were forced to support the ruler to protect their jobs and, in some cases, their lives.
The news of the political upheaval was disseminated via new technologies, especially video footage, and sparked nationalism across the region.
“These aren’t Twitter and Facebook revolutions,” he said. “This is a satellite television phenomenon.”
Despite the general population’s access to news about the revolutions, countries with significant oil wealth were able to spend money to appease discontented populations and thereby avoid revolt. In some cases, governments provided financial resources or invested in housing to appease the populace, according to Gause. In addition, countries that previously experienced civil wars tended to avoid further conflict.
“It seems as if we’re not going to have any more serious, regime-shaking crises in the region,” he said, identifying Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen as the Arab Spring uprisings with the most significant political repercussions.
In countries that have developed more democratic governments, elections have proven that the Arab Spring is also an Islamist Spring, Gause said. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Islamist parties in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia occurred as a result of their superior organizational skills honed through years of repression, he said.
“Islamist political positions are just popular in the Arab world right now,” he said. “If we deny that, we’re denying the reality that’s right in front of our eyes.”
Gause also addressed the impact of the Arab Spring on American strategic interests, noting that while the protests did not constitute a positive development for U.S. foreign policy, American interests were not particularly affected.
“Oil still flows,” he said.
The fall of Hosni Mubarek’s regime in Egypt may prove most destructive to American interests in the region, according to Gause. Although the Egyptian military seems to be committed to continuing its cooperation with the United States, political difficulties could result from cultural differences, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the public’s perception of American action in the Arab world.
Audience members participating in a question and answer session following the lecture brought to attention issues such as U.S. aid for the Egyptian military, the role of Jordan, Islamist movements in southern Africa and the prognosis for political developments in Egypt.
The Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth organized the lecture, according to Tom Blinkhorn, who co-organizes the institute’s monthly lecture series in collaboration with Charles Buell. Designed as an intellectual continuing education program for the retired community of the Upper Valley, ILEAD holds monthly lectures, continuing education courses, study tours to foreign countries and a major symposium each summer. About 1,500 members participate in the programs, making ILEAD the fifth largest institute of its kind in the country, according to Blinkhorn.
“This is Dartmouth’s way of engaging with the wider Upper Valley community in a very creative, intellectual way,” he said.
ILEAD members at the lecture expressed a desire to see more students attending events sponsored by the institute.
“I think many of the students benefit from coming in contact with us older people, and that type of town-gown relationship is very fruitful,” Frank Fahey, who is from Sanford, Maine said.
Ed Mann, of Corinth, Vt., has been a member of ILEAD for 10 years. He said he enjoys attending ILEAD lectures and classes because they give him an opportunity to interact with students who “maybe do not have their own set opinion.”
By expanding the age range of lecture attendees, ILEAD would be able to better promote dialogue about the issues at hand, participants said.
Speakers are chosen based on current events and the personal interests of the organizers, Blinkhorn said. They are open to the public with a $10 cost of admission but are free to students.