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These Ideas: Revolt in the Middle East

Interviewer: Roman Kudryashov
April 9, 2012

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In outlining the changed landscape in the Middle East, Benoit Challand points out that potential crises, such as in Syria or Iran, could give regional governments an excuse to halt an already slow process of democratization.

Can you give a general overview of the Arab Spring, one year later?

Over a year later, the dissatisfaction on the ground is still very vivid, especially in Egypt and Yemen. No one is lured into believing things have changed because of the departure of their president and they still expect a lot of reform in the political and economic structures of their countries. Even in Tunisia, people still expect economic changes, despite a successful election of the constitutional assembly.

On the international level, it seems that, after the Libyan victory, things have stalled: the Syrian rebels face enormous difficulties in uniting their ranks against Bashar al-Assad, while the potential crisis with Iran could deal a serious blow to the people's aspiration to change peacefully their political system. Yet the momentum remains, by and large, with the people: their expectations, especially that of the youth and new activists, remain with calls for a better redistribution of resources, real access to justice, and equal rights.

Let's say we are in a watershed period: things can go one way or another. If we have something happening in Iran, such as an attack from Israel into Iran, this will cause mayhem again in the Middle East. We'd return to the Middle East as a region ridden with conflict. This would completely shut the door on the prospect for more democratic change. We shouldn't forget that the existence of so many violent conflicts in the past has given an excuse for autocratic regimes to stay in power, to defend against "external threats." If there are any regional conflicts that explode now, it will give an excuse for those autocratic and military regimes reassert their hold and their power, even in countries where the revolts have been successful.

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