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Issue Guide: The Arab Uprisings

Author: Jonathan Masters, Deputy Editor
Updated: October 28, 2011


On October 23, 2011, Tunisians voted for an assembly to draft a new constitution, paving the way for long-awaited presidential elections. Moderate Islamist party al-Nahda claimed a plurality of the vote, leading some to wonder about the future of economic and social reforms. Observers around the world continue to gauge the outcome of the landmark vote and whether it will augur well for the next chapter of the Arab Spring. The following materials provide expert analysis and essential background on some of the central issues facing the countries in the throes of this historic transformation.



CFR Analysis: Tunisia's Election Results

Isobel Coleman takes stock of Tunisia's election turnout and results, noting that there were no incidents of violence and women received an estimated 30 percent of seats in the constitutional assembly. Yet al-Nahda's victory could polarize the electorate, and it remains to be seen whether Tunisia will be a model for the region.

Wall Street Journal: On the Campaign Trail with Islamist Democrats

While many experts have expressed concern over the victory of Islamist party al-Nahda in Tunisia's elections, Matthew Kaminski writes that it seems like "Nahda plans to adjust itself to Tunisian society, not the other way around." And if Tunisia maintains a functioning democracy, voters will have the final say if Nahda doesn't deliver economic reforms and public services.

The Arabist: Of Tunisia and Egypt

Ursula Lindsey compares the democratic transitions of Tunisia and Egypt, noting that while Tunisian elections progressed smoothly, Egypt faces significantly more challenges.

Economist: Women and the Arab Awakening: Now Is the Time

In Egypt and Tunisia, women are both hopeful and fearful about what the Arab revolutions might mean for them. But as constitutions in these countries are being rewritten, women hope to push their own liberation.

Project Syndicate: Tunisia's Evolutionary Revolution

Since the fall of its authoritarian regime, Tunisia has balanced the revolutionary urge for change with a pragmatic need for continuity, write Rasmus Alenius Boserup and Fabrizio Tassinari of the Danish Institute for International Studies. While removal of a corrupt regime often proves bumpy, in Tunisia, a lively nascent democracy has emerged that deserves the West's support.

Foreign Policy: Tunisia's New al-Nahda

Marc Lynch writes that the ascent of Tunisia's long-banned Islamist party al-Nahda is fueling "a dangerous polarization," including frightening many secularists and women who fear for their place in the new Tunisia.

The National: Tunisia's Economic Reforms

As Tunisia moves away from its former regime, policymakers need to seize the historic opportunity to review the foundations of the country's economic strategy and overcome its key challenges, says Laycen Achy.



CFR Interview: Assessing Political Transitions in the Mideast

Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have embarked on widely different political transitions. But in each case, economic tools are the best way for the United States to support their democratic development, says expert Michele Dunne.

Foreign Affairs: The Death of the Qaddafi Generation

Muammar al-Qaddafi betrayed his own revolution, just as the other Arab strongmen of his generation had. His death marks the end of the rule of these old-style nationalist leaders, writes CFR's Mohamad Bazzi.

New Republic: Obama and the Arab Spring

There are many reasons for the Obama administration's passivity during the Arab Spring, but perhaps none is more helpful in explaining it than the notion of "declinism," writes Shadi Hamid.

Foreign Affairs: Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring

The Arab revolts caught Middle East experts by surprise because they focused on explaining the stability of autocracies instead of looking at the hidden forces driving change. As they wipe the egg off their faces, they need to reconsider long-held assumptions about the Arab world, writes F. Gregory Gause III.

New York Review of Books: The Arab Counterrevolution

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley analyze the "counterrevolution" in the Middle East and discuss the potential long-term ramifications for political transitions in the region.

Foreign Affairs: 1848 and 2011

In 1848, a wave of popular revolutions rocked Europe's authoritarian regimes. How those upheavals played out holds lessons for the future of the Arab Spring, writes Jonathan Steinberg.

New York Times: Defining the Islamic State

The prospect of achieving decisive power across the region has unleashed an unprecedented debate over the character of the emerging political orders that Islamic activists are helping to build in the region.



Foreign Affairs: Commanding Democracy in Egypt

Despite its vows to speed Egypt toward elections, the country's military leadership is actually ambivalent about democracy, primarily concerned with preserving stability and their privileges. But having unleashed democracy, the military may not be able to control it--especially if Washington keeps up the pressure to move forward, write Jeff Martini and Julie Taylor.

The Atlantic: How Liberals Are Losing the Battle for Egypt

Kept guessing by the military leaders and pressured by a small activist base that disdains working within the system, the same Egyptians who led the Tahrir uprising are now losing out, writes Thanassis Cambanis.

Commentary: The Emerging Political Spectrum in Egypt

The Egyptian political spectrum is complicated and in flux, with crisscrossing fault lines that defy easy characterization. Four different sets of players will determine the country's democratic future: the political parties, the military, the former ruling National Democratic Party, and the protest movements.

CFR Transcript: Unrest and Insecurity in Egypt

CFR's Steven Cook assesses the insecurity and unrest in Egypt as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in November. Cook, who was in Cairo when the revolt broke out, recently published The Struggle for Egypt--a new book providing one of the first historical analyses of the uprising.

Foreign Affairs: The Unbreakable Muslim Brotherhood

To understand the Brotherhood's prospects in Egypt's upcoming elections, one has to understand the organization itself, writes Eric Trager. This intensely disciplined operation has an intricate system for recruitment and promotion and a devoutly loyal membership--one likely to triumph at the polls and move Egypt in a theocratic, anti-Western direction.

Foreign Affairs: Is the Egyptian-Israeli Relationship Over?

A worsening of Egyptian-Israeli relations will threaten regional stability and jeopardize Egypt's transition to democracy. Egypt's military rulers must be careful to keep anti-Israel rhetoric from spiraling out of control, writes Daniel C. Kurtzer.



Essential Document: White House Fact Sheet on Syria

This White House fact sheet details the steps taken toward ending the Syrian government's violence, arrests, and torture, supporting the Syrian people's universal rights, and pushing for a democratic transition.

News Release: Russia and China Veto UNSC Resolution on Syria

The Security Council failed to adopt a resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria, due to a veto by Russia and China.

CFR Policy Innovation Memo: American Options in Syria

In this Center for Preventive Action memo, Elliott Abrams argues that the United States should work to bring down Bashar al-Assad by isolating his regime from Syria's Alawite and business communities.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Interview with Ambassador Ford

The process of political change must ultimately be led by Syrians, says U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford, even if it is more difficult and less controllable than the international community would like.

The New Republic: The Terrifying Last Days of Assad's Syria

Theo Padnos explains how Bashar al-Assad's regime exacerbated the Alawi-Sunni rivalry, bringing the country to the brink of today's sectarian war.

Foreign Affairs: Obama's Options in Damascus

During the Arab Spring, Obama seemed to outsource much of his Syria policy to Ankara. But as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been unable to convince the Syrian dictator to reform, Obama must now formulate his own plans, writes Tony Badran.



Expert Roundup: After Qaddafi, Libya's Daunting Path

Post-Qaddafi Libya will face difficulties with rebel infighting, the anger of Qaddafi loyalists, and more, but the long-time dictator's death also creates an opening for a more peaceful country. CFR's Richard Haass, Ed Husain, and Ray Takeyh weigh Libya's prospects.

CFR Analysis: A NATO-Backed Islamist State in Libya?

CFR's Ed Husain argues that the NTC's mistake was to declare Libya an Islamic state so early, making the debate not about secular versus Islamist policies, but about how "more or less Islamist Libya can become."

Al-Jazeera: Battle for Libya: Key Moments

This timeline offers a breakdown of decisive battles and political developments in Libya's uprising against Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Contingency Planning Memo: Post-Qaddafi Instability in Libya

The instability in Libya could lead to a humanitarian disaster, the emergence of a new authoritarian ruler, or even the country's dissolution. Daniel Serwer recommends in this Center for Preventive Action Contingency Planning Memo that the EU lead a post-Qaddafi stabilization force in Libya.

Foreign Affairs: The Libyan Rebels and Electoral Democracy

Elections held too soon after a civil war often end in violence. The UN and the NTC should defer their plans until the rebel factions have disarmed and Libya has developed a civil society and modern political institutions, write Dawn Brancati and Jack L. Snyder.

CFR Meeting: Muammar al-Qaddafi

Qaddafi spoke at the New York office of the Council on Foreign Relations on September 24, 2009, discussing why Libya decided to give up its chemical and biological weapons program in 2003; his perspective on terrorism; and how he would respond if Iran developed a nuclear weapon.



Policy Innovation Memo: Resetting U.S. Policy Toward Yemen

Yemen is experiencing serious political turmoil after more than three decades of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's autocratic rule. To help stabilize Yemen, Gregory Johnsen argues that the United States must broaden its policy toward the country beyond counterterrorism efforts.

Foreign Affairs: Yemen's Hijacked Revolution

As the world's attention shifted to Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world, Yemen's pro-democracy protests were overshadowed by a struggle among three of the country's most entrenched power brokers, writes Letta Tayler.

Carnegie Endowment: U.S. Policy in Yemen (PDF)

In this congressional testimony, Christopher Boucek discusses the challenge Yemen presents to U.S. policymakers. A key obstacle, he says, is that no one can really articulate what a "failed" Yemen looks like, much less the triggers that might lead to state failure.

Backgrounder: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

A resurgent al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula may be able to exploit the mounting political unrest in Yemen. This Backgrounder profiles the group, its history, and discusses U.S. counterterrorism operations against its members.

Philadelphia Inquirer: Yemen Needs Action, Not Just Talk

The international community has failed to take a stand on the brutal crackdown in Yemen, revealing a double standard on the Arab Spring uprisings, writes Ibrahim Sharqieh. He says it's clear that the United States and its allies are interested only in "regime renovation" in Yemen, not regime change.

The Daily Beast: Yemen on the Brink

Ali Abdullah Saleh's return to Sanaa takes Yemen to the brink of civil war, writes Bruce Riedel. Chaos on the Arabian Peninsula's southern tip is dangerous for the Saudis and America and good news for al-Qaeda.

More on This Topic


The Arab Uprisings: Four Years Later

Speakers: Thanassis Cambanis, Colin H. Kahl, and Tarek Masoud
Presider: Lally Weymouth

Experts discuss the Arab uprisings, their aftermath, and their effect on today’s political landscape.