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June 27, 2007

Comments

Peter Principle

Bahrain. Pro: Shi'a majority with Sunni kleptocratic ruling family. Just across the gulf from Iran, making it a target-rich environment for subversion, especially if Dick Cheney's cold war against the mullahs turns hot. Con: oil, major U.S. military presence. Wildcard: dynastic infighting. Possible replay of Syriana scenario?

My Poor Aching Back

I know it's not the Middle East proper and not Arab, but Pakistan is the scary one for me. If Islamists took over it would reverberate through the Middle East and possibly be a catalyst for further change, so it's not a separate topic. I'd like to hear some pros and cons on that.

Khalaf

Con on all counts: "democratic" models in Iraq, Palestine and even Lebanon are not particularly attractive. People now prefer stability to democracy.

Gregory Gause

Bahrain is a very interesting choice, but the major "con" argument is that long bridge that attaches it to Saudi Arabia. We know that the Saudis sent forces in during the Bahraini intifada of the mid-1990's (to safeguard a GCC summit in Manama, as I recall). I cannot imagine that they would allow the regime to fall in Manama without a fight.

I was one of the people Marc had spoken to about this (in a bar). I voted for Egypt. I don't think that the chances are high, but as a political scientist of a certain age, I hark back to the Theda Skocpol argument that revolutions begin with splits in the elite. It seems to me that the most likely elite split right now would be a rebellion in the Egyptian military elite against having Gamal Mubarak imposed on them.

MSK

Dear Greg,

Theda Skocpol ... was she the one who, in 1978, wrote that Iran is very unlikely to experience a social revolution any time soon?

Re: Your Egypt scenario - why would the Egyptian military elite care? What is Gamal doing that would threaten their fiefdoms? Could it not go like in Syria where the crown-prince-turned-ruler relies on the Army/Security apparatus for sheer survival?

Personally, Lebanon is the most likely to experience a serious shift - civil war, de-facto break-up of country into cantons, etc.

All the other ones (with the already noted exception of Pakistan) are pretty safe, as currently the local populations can only imagine either the dictatorship they know or the Iraqi chaos they see every evening on TV. Few think a "third way" could be possible.

--MSK*

www.aqoul.com

Craig

Syria. Replaced by some crazy fuckers. And then 20 years of civil war, sponsored by Syria's neighbors.

jr786

What about the potentially destabilizing influx of Iraqi refugees, especially into Jordan? If the numbers are anywhere near accurate, it's going to take a lot of camps to accommodate them, same for Syria. How do they affect longstanding demographics? Not a prediction, but a wish: Abdullah.

Anon

I don't expect any of them to fall soon, but if one were to fall, I'd say Egypt. More and more people are being affected by the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and the ordinary Egyptians I know (working in the Gulf) are more and more nervous about the situation there.

I don't think the Bahraini royal family is that shaky. They recently gave in to the Islamist mandate and closed down a lot of the nightclubs - or at least stopped them from selling alcohol. If they continue to show some respect for the people's wishes, they'll be OK.

Dan

I agree that all of the above regimes are fairly entrenched in their respective countries. If any are to fall, however, I would expect Jordan's Hashemites to go first. The Hashemites face a multitude of internal and external issues, and have always been close to falling. The difference now is that Abdallah's political gaming is nowhere near as adept as that of his father. Abdallah's relative disconnect from his people (yes, relative even to the other Arab regimes) is growing worse and worse, and now we have the very real possibility of a Jordanian adventure into the West Bank. The very chance that Abdallah might try and enter into some sort of confederation with Fatah is a far greater risk to stability than anything else in the region.

This may be a gross generalization, but I believe that all other regimes have maintained, by and large, the same relationships with major domestic allies and opponents. Egypt's ikhwan have been persecuted since Nasser, Syrian opponents to the regime - from the leftists to the ultra radicals - have been persecuted regularly. Abdallah, on the other hand, pulled the crazy move of alienating the Jordanian MB while half-heartedly trying to emphasize tribal support...All around the region you find regimes taht are fairly well consolidated among their respective populations by having a few loyal social groups. Abdallah has been losing his domestic support quite quickly, and the fact that he is leaning more and more on America while avoiding his own population might be a sign that things won't be too peachy in Amman.

Batir Wardam

I am really fascinated by how people provide "cutting edge" conclusions about the political stability of a regime and how it is alienated from its people. I do not cliam to know everything but I am rather well connected with the political street in Jordan (where I happen to livem by the way) and I do not feel this drastic and "horrible" status you describe. The only fear for Jordan is for the USA to exert pressure on the King to act as Israel's gate keeper in the west bank which will polarize the Jordanian populations. Other than that, no danger to the Hashemite regime, to the dismay of many of you out there!

Dan

Funny, I live in Jordan too...maybe it depends a little on where you go and who you talk to. The last thing I want is for the Hashemites to fall and Jordan to become one of our neighbors - but I still think that Abdallah is far and away the weakest ruler out of all the countries in the region. His security apparatus is strong, but is that all that is needed? Not only has Abdallah flipped his position with the MB and IAF and thereby Hamas, he's detached himself from the army. Hussein spent an incredible amount of time with the military, but Abdallah does none of that...all I'm saying is that he should get out of the palace and start listening to more than a couple advisors

Thomas Strouse

Saudi Arabia will have enough oil and bling to spread its wealth to the people and buy off the opposition for decades to come. When the oil runs out, and thus, when the subsidies and social services run out, the people will rise up, and it will surely be the end of the Saudi regime as we know it... but as long as they've got the oil, the Saudi regime isn't going anywhere.

I don't live in Syria, and I don't want to claim that I know what the people think, but I think al-Assad is widely supported, even if they're still "spectacles." Bashar isn't as tough and smooth as his father, but he still knows what he's doing. I also agree that US pressure only strengthens the Assad regime by diverting attention to the external enemy that is the big, bad US of A... and of course, Israel. Moreover, even if Syria is peeled away from the wrath of Iran, that would most likely mean getting back the Golan Heights, and the people would be happy with that. I think Syria will soon come back from the dark side... and even if that means some sort of positive relationship with the US, I don't think the Syrians will do anything about it. Certainly peace with Israel could threaten Assad and the regime. But in this day and age, I think that peace with Israel isn't as radical as it once was. Assad won't be assassinated for it. Some people might not like it, but what are they going to do about it?

EGYPT!!! I studied abroad in Egypt last spring, and took a couple classes on Egyptian politics while I was there, and studied it as closely as I could... I even attended two of the judges protests (yeah, the ones where the police beat peaceful protesters with clubs and arrested hundreds more, but that's a different story). Yes, the US is definitely happy enough with Mubarak. Our goal with Egypt is for them to maintain stability in the region and intervene as a mediator whenever possible... and they're doing that. The US might be forced to publicly say Mubarak is being naughty, but behind closed doors, they're telling the regime to do whatever they can to make sure the Brotherhood doesn't come to power. The US doesn't want the Brotherhood... and the secular parties don't have a chance. When I was in Egypt, I felt a storm coming. When I was at the protests, I felt something in the air. But Mubarak's carrot and stick tactics with the Brotherhood are working. The NDP is in power, and they know what they're doing. A day doesn't go by that they don't think of their next move... of how to make sure the Brotherhood doesn't make too big of gains. Give them a little freedom when they're not making much of a fuss and not making big gains in elections, but once they cross the red line (i.e. protesting and making gains in elections), then they're cracked down upon. But Mubarak definitely has Egypt on 24-hour lock down. There just aren't enough people that care enough or feel that they have the power to change the government to do something about it. It's not like in the US, where if we're all mad with Bush, for the most part, we all feel that we have the power to kick them out of power in the next election. In Egypt, the people just think that's the way it is, and don't even think about changing the status quo. "Mubarak is president, that can change??" That's seriously how they think. But like I said, there is something in the air. Something could be brewing, but I don't think it'll be enough to topple the regime. And I think everyone just assumes Gamal Mubarak will be the man of the future for Egypt. Someone earlier asked why the military would care.. well, the military might care, and they're probably the only thing that could stop Gamal from being president in 2011. Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. They're all military men. It's expected that the president of Egypt will come from the military... and some of the key military leaders might not like it. And the President of Egypt NEEDS the entire security apparatus behind you, or you could be in trouble. They're definitely grooming Gamal to be the president. He visited the US (and secretly, until an al-jazeera reporter noticed him coming out of the white house), he's talking about starting up their nuclear program (building up those credentials!), he just got married to some hot, young Egyptian girl that recently graduated college... he's ready to go. My prediction is Hosni Mubarak will become ill within the next couple of years, and he'll appoint his son as president. That will give a reason to just put him into power... that'll give the people and the military a year or two to get used to him, and then there's no way he'd lose the election in 2011. They've got the system rigged enough for that election... they're ready for it. There won't be any change in Egypt any time soon, but like I said, there could be something brewing... Mubarak is smart, but he needs to keep his game-face on against the Brotherhood. They're on the rise, and it's his job to make sure they don't rise too much, or his job could be at stake...

Dan

I wasn't aware any causal processes existed in the Arab world...:)

Libya I personally don't know well enough to comment on, but I'd imagine anything is possible with Gaddafi around

Sudan is a little more interesting to me as my family lived there for generations until the current government began its crackdown on our Christian/Syrian community. The government is fairly nuts, but I just don't see any coup happening in the near future - there's too much other action around western Sudan for a unified Sudanese challenge to the regime. Khartoum is a sad place to be these days...it has gone downhill so fast over the past 20 years or so. That said, it'll be a long time before economic misfortune turns to rebellious actions.

On a broader note, someone said to me a few weeks ago that we Arabs are for the first time without a hero/vision/goal. We've always had some ideological "thing" to chase after, whether it was Nasserism, pan-Arabism, the creation of Palestine....the list goes on and on. Popular Arab politics have generally deteriorated into a vague anti-Americanism at best and a violent, radical version at worst. The point my friend made at the end of this was that for the first time in our recent history, NO Arab regime actively opposed America or its intervention in regional politics. This is important because this is also a point in time at which the overwhelming majority of Arab populations oppose American intervention vehemently, and cannot translate that opposition into support for any of our kooky regimes. The danger in that is potential for much more than a regime change here and there, no?

Thomas Strouse

What would it take for one of these regimes to fall? How COULD it occur? Through an election? Could one of their tools of legitimacy come back to bite them in the future? Could an opposition party come to power through the ballot box? Or does it have to be a military coup? Could the people rise up and have enough force to topple a regime? Is "people power" enough? Is the US military the only force that can topple a regime in the Middle East? Perhaps. And perhaps these regimes have become masters at staying in power, and maybe no end is near....

Anon

Well, the Kings (of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain) don't have elections. Syria and Egypt have elections for their leaders, but there's no actual possibility of electing someone else. So none of these guys will get beaten in an election. In Egypt, something might happen when Hosni Mubarak dies or gets sick and tries to pass power to his son - in which case the military could act. Otherwise, if any of them were to go, it would have to be because of some kind of "people power", which isn't very likely...

Dan, I think the most likely unifying vision is going to be Islam.

Batir Wardam

For any Arab regime to fall there are three options: outside invasion (Iraq model); Internal Islamic revolution or weakened security apparatus and civil unrest. In the case of Jordan the third option is the only potential in case a confederation with the West Bank will occure. Then Jordan will hve unitted with 2.0 million Palestinians who are angry and think that the main reason for their dspair is Jordan. This is why I think cionfederation is a recepie of disaster. Apart from that, no danger on the Hashemite regime. No one is really keen to have Islamists in power in Jordan.

alle

Fun thread. I'd probably go with Sudan too, considering the pressure it is under, and maybe if the South stirs up again, but I don't know enough about the country. The arguments for Jordan seem compelling too, but there are so much vested Western interest in that regime that I have a hard time imagining it would be allowed to fall whatever the crisis.

Also Syria. I agree Bashar is keeping the lid on things now, but he's not in a very comfortable situation long-term, and it is one of the few countries where foreign interests might actively encourage military takeovers or stir up trouble otherwise (and then there's all that queer talk of a "summer war" with Israel). I don't agree with the image of him as a surprise foreign policy genius, even if he's made some good calls (mainly by finding himself out of other options, but being lucky with what was left to choose), and the internal situation is worn-down enough for change to be possible there. As for elite splits, the Hariri trial is doing its best to create them in the very top of the regime. Well, I'm not saying it's likely, but it at least feels likelier than most others.

Then there's Algeria, where Bouteflika is or was ill with some undiagnosed disease, and where term limits have not been changed yet. I don't know if it would count as regime change, since he's not alone in ruling Algeria. But you may at least see other factions of the military-political elite swing into power if he goes, or a general resurgence of military clan competition, like early nineties minus civil war. He's been surprisingly good at squeezing the generals out of power lately, and if he goes, that must create quite a vacuum effect. But on the surface of things, and for ordinary Algerians, I don't expect much to change, even if it would make for an interesting presidential election.

Chedy

What about Somalia ? Well, it is an unstable arab country but if I had to bet some money it would be definitely on Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed leaving before Mubarak, Abdallah II or any other "glued" president from the other arab countries...

P.S: thinking about it again, why not the Comoros ? It is part of the arab league, and in avaerage each year you get a coup d'├ętat with a new fresh "president", so I think it is the best candidate ;)

Abu Tabakh

I disagree with Greg's anlysis of a split in Egypt resulting from Gamal's accession to the presidency. He doesn't represent an actual change of the regime and he'll be careful to ensure that the military is well taken care of. In all likelihood, we'll observe a more active senior command, but they won't resist Jimmy as long as he doesn't get in their way.

My bets are on Syria or Jordan, but I am more concerned about the latter. The cross-cutting political pressures buffeting Abdallah are significant and he is weak.

gacetillero

Saudi Arabia. Few remember that in 2003 about 60-70% of the government budget went to salaries and pensions. The old rentier system of absorbing unproductive native labour into the public sector had reached its limit point, un- and underemployment were rising, and al-Q was on the offensive. Large oil revenues have done little more than buy the regime time. If current economic reforms have not been successful, then when oil prices fall those stresses will come back with a vengeance.

Non-Arab Arab

Gacetillero: an important point on the oil revenues, but you have to realize that besides for the revenues paying for government raises and feeding the rentier system (you want trickle-down economics? Saudia's got it in spades!), they've also paid down debt and built up foreign exchange reserves that would more than likely get them through the next oil price cycle. It would have to be an extremely deep and extended price downturn to really start to cause threats. And let's not forget that while things didn't always go swimmingly, the royals survived a very deep and very long price downturn in the 80s & 90s and then adjusted to help coordinate OPEC policy and create a new foreign policy generally that brought them quite nicely back from the brink. All this being contingent on your long-term view of oil markets and whether or not there even is another major oil price downturn coming. I wouldn't be so foolish as to believe some downturn is coming, but if it's to a period of $30-$40 for 2-4 years instead of $10-$20 for a decade or more...well, that's not such a problem for the royal family. They have the savings to get through that easily. I would argue that due to long-term crude & liquid supply challenges (not peak oil tomorrow by any means, but peak oil eventually that is starting to rear its head now), combined with refinery bottlenecks exacerbated by tightening environmental rules globally, that the only major potential drivers of oil price cycle downturns now are economic recessions. Those will weaken prices from time to time, but I don't think we're ever going back to the low prices of the late 80s and 90s.

ebw

Hi Marc. I thought of adding Iran to the list yesterday, so I wrote something this morning. The categories over at wampum for Iran are: Return of the One True King (7th Majlis and presidential run-up), Return of the One True King (New Series) (post-presidential and Tehran municipals), and
Is Pakistan?
too for that matter (someone asks in comments above).

Cheers. (Gosh I hope this formats legibly)

RB

I would vote Lebanon falling back into civil conflict, but that's hardly a fair case.

Of the others, I'm with Greg on a split over succession.... or the same in Libya.

Regarding Jordan, I suspect the Hashemites may still be in power (albeit, much less of it) in Jordan when I retire.

nur al-cubicle

I vote for Jordan because:

1. King Abdullah is half British
2, The economy doing very, very poorly.
3. Proximity to Palestine, a long border with Iraq
4. The inability to work the levers the way in which his father did.


sakthi

Its seems everyone considering US support as a strong pro or con,but you couldn't really count their support for longterm.Since,US can change their stand at anytime...

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