The Future of the Arab Spring

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: George Joffe is a research fellow at the Center of International Studies at Cambridge University England, who specializes in North Africa and the Middle East. George Joffe, after weeks of stalemate in Libya, where do you see this conflict going now?

George Joffe: Well, it is a very good question. There are several things that have emerged. Number one, that NATO did not anticipate quite what it was that they were taking on. Number two, the row that has broken out inside NATO between the European members and the United States over the way in which the mission should be conducted. Number three, that finally, there are some signs of a collapse inside the Gaddafi regime, because people are beginning to speak more and more openly in Tripoli, wishing to see the regime gone. But we are still waiting to see a decline in the morale of the Special Forces that are guaranteeing the regime's continuance. Number four, there is evidence that the National Transitional Council in Benghazi is beginning to get much greater credibility in the international community. And that too is a sign that the process of the collapse of the regime is beginning.

Werman: You know, early on in the conflict the Arab League jumped in, in an almost unprecedented way. Where does the League stand now in terms of support for the Transitional National Council, and what is their attitude towards Libya?

Joffe: No one is really certain. You are quite right; the League did declare that there should be some kind of intervention, supported the reference to the United Nation's Security Council, but in fact, only certain members of the League have actually become engaged, Qatar and The United Arab Emirates being the two dominant partners. The Egyptians could not because of their ongoing domestic problems, and that was true of the Tunisians as well. The Algerians would not, because they secretly support Gaddafi because they want to see continuity; and, that was true for some other states as well, such as Syria. But, I think, generally the League is confused, and it is worried. It knows that the NATO operation is necessary. There is no love lost for the Gaddafi regime; virtually every state in the Middle East dislikes it intensely, but at the same time they worry about the implications of a further western intervention. And the NATO operation is beginning to be increasingly seen in those terms inside the Middle East. They are therefore very anxious that the operation should be over very quickly, before Arab public opinion begins to see the NATO operation in precisely the same light. And that, I think, explains the ambivalence of the Arab League to what is going on.

Werman: You know, it is very interesting, the jockeying for position on Libya from these countries in the Arab world, as they try to get their houses in order. It has been almost six months since the first unrest in Tunisia. Did you ever expect such a wave of upheaval to sweep the Arab world?

Joffe: I cannot honestly say that I did; however, once it began, and particularly when it began in Tunisia, I then knew that there would certainly be a very wide movement throughout the Arab world. The way in which it was going to play out though, was not cleat either. But, I think, probably by February, it became evident that there were going to be different groups of reactions. There would be moderate states such as Morocco and Jordan that would make concessions and be able to survive the crisis because of their inherent legitimacy. There were those states such as Tunisia and Egypt, where change was going to take place; although, that change would really be to preserve the inner core of the regimes concerned. And then there were those countries like Syria, Yemen perhaps, and of course Libya where the regimes could make no recessions; and therefore, civil war was almost inevitable. So we are at the beginning of a very complex and vey lengthy process of democratic transition, which will go by fits and starts and it may take years to complete.

Werman: The way you put it is the way a lot of news consumers see it. You get a little snapshot of one town occupied in Syria one day, a renewed protest in Cairo the next, or a tribal revolt in Yemen. Do you spot a trend with all of these upheavals, successful or not?

Joffe: Yes, there are two trends which I think are significant, three perhaps. Number one, nearly all the movements have involved youth and youth is involved because youth feels deprived: It is deprived of work, it is deprived of opportunities for a normal life, and it is deprived of all the essential services that populations require because of the poverty of the region. Another important trend has been the way that the demonstrations have been peaceful. That was a surprise; no one anticipated that that would be the case. But it has been the case on the parts of the population concerned. In almost every case except Libya those populations have demonstrated peacefully. They may have been met by armies, they may have been killed, but they have maintained that peaceful disposition. And the third important trend is the way in which one of the great [xx â�"shifts?] in western policy. The idea that these movements would come to dominate, and would destroy the essential political dispensation of the region has proved to be completely wrong. [xx â�"Western?] political parties will certainly play a part, but they never, and can never, dominate the process that has taken place and played no part in its inception. That should be a major lesson for our policy makers, and for us, ourselves

Werman: George Joffe, a fellow at the Research Center for National Studies at Cambridge University, England. Thank you very much.

Joffe: You are welcome.