The Ongoing Arab Revolution:
A GRC Assessment
June 29, 2011
Given the continuing events dominating the headlines in the Middle East, the GRC here provides an assessment of the situation in Yemen, Syria and Libya.
The Situation in Syria
A total collapse of the regime at this stage is unlikely. However, there are two scenarios where a collapse of the regime could become possible:
A split within the armed forces. This may happen if commanders of active military units refuse to support the governments crackdown and lend support to the popular protests
A split within the minority Alawat ruling elite. This scenario could develop from disagreements among the senior members of Al-Assad ruling family, or within the wider circle of the ruling family
There are other factors that also influence the survivability of the regime. For one, the Syrian regime still has not been subjected to effective external pressure. On the regional level, no government (Arab or non-Arab) wishes to see a total collapse of the regime. A power vacuum in Damascus could be extremely dangerous and would have an immediate effect on the internal security situation of most neighboring states including Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Israel fears that the collapse of the regime could undermine the security of its borders with Syria, as the present regime has since 1973 fully respected the ceasefire agreement. A collapse of the regime could end the state of calm inside the occupied Golan Heights and along the Syria-Israel border. Furthermore, for the past few years, the Syrian regime has effectively controlled Hizbollah activities along the Israel-Lebanon border.
Second, any evidence about the activities of an armed Islamic extremist group, or even the possibility that a relatively moderate Moslem Brotherhood could take power in Syria, would be matters of major concern on both the regional and the international level. Most Arab states, as well as Turkey, Israel, and Iran remain deeply concerned about the possibility of an Islamic (Sunni) regime being established in Damascus and apprehensive about the impact of such a regime on regional stability. The US and the EU countries share these concerns.
Third, the regime will not be able to save itself by introducing genuine reforms (such as the end of one-party rule; the end of Assad family control; free and fair elections; free media; and rules for transparency and accountability). Such reforms will undermine the regime's legitimacy and expose its leadership to huge popular pressures. Undertaking such wide and genuine reforms inevitably will lead to the collapse of the regime within a short time.
Finally, if the popular uprising escalate and street protests are sustained, and if the security measures adopted by the regime remain ineffective in ending the uprising, the situation in Syria could develop into a civil war (Libyan style). This would further complicate the situation as regional and other major countries would effectively have to take sides in the conflict.
The Situation in Libya
The military operation to oust Colonel Qadafi is progressing slowly. The regime will not be toppled unless the rebels/NATO forces are able to establish their control over the capital, Tripoli. The battle for Tripoli could result in high casualties, including civilian. If no agreement is reached between the regime's forces and the rebel forces, the military confrontation could last for weeks.
Mr. Qadhafi will hesitate to abdicate from his position of power without a number of guarantees related to his personal safety and that of his family. His sons will not be considered as a replacement given that the sons' authority is simply seen as an extension of their father's authority. Therefore, the minute Mr. Qadhafi departs the country or is killed, the whole regime will collapse.
The major problem in the post-Qadhafi era is likely to be the lack of functional institutions in Libya which can control and administer the country during the transitional period until a democratically-elected government takes charge. Unlike the situation in Tunisia and Egypt where military and political institutions were able to provide some sort of stability, Libya has none. The administration established by the rebels also remains ineffective so far.
Further, the future government will have to face the difficult issue of how to deal with the emerging armed militias which are mainly led by Islamist elements. It will have to deal with the problem of how to dismantle and disarm these militia forces and whose demands to accommodate as these militias have paid a high price to remove the Qadhafi regime.
There should be no doubt that Mr. Qadhafi's regime is destined for eventual collapse, but it remains unclear how this objective is going to be achieved, the time it will take and its human and political costs.
The Situation in Yemen
The attack (with the perpetrators still unidentified) on the Presidential Mosque in Sanaa on Friday, June 3, was clearly an assassination attempt targeting the President along with the main figures in his government. However, despite the fact that the President, the Prime Minister, the head of the Shura Council, along with a number of high ranking officials in the Saleh regime suffered serious injuries during the attack, and left the country seeking urgent medical help in Saudi hospitals, the regime did not collapse.
The President still enjoys a reasonable degree of support within the three important institutions which form the power structure in Yemen: the military, the political institution, and the tribal institutions. Considering the balance of power inside Yemen as it currently stands, the GRC assessment is that Ali Abdullah Saleh and his ruling Party might remain a force in Yemen's political life even after the departure of the President and the change of the regime.
In addition, President Saleh's regime still enjoys a certain degree of external support, on both regional and international levels. This is combined in part to the fact that confidence in opposition groups, which are supposed to replace the Saleh regime, remains very low. Thus, the strength of the Saleh regime could be attributed, partially at least, to the failure of the opposition groups to provide a credible alternative. This includes that opposition to the regime is fragmented; that opposition groups are part of the corruption; and that these groups have no clear agenda to deal with the major challenges facing the state. Indeed, apart from the common objective of removing the regime, the Yemeni opposition groups have been indulging in internal fighting and lack the vision for securing national interests.
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