Article

The Real Arab Demand

Published

3rd January 2015

Two years in the life of the Arab Awakening already feels like an exhausted century, with the pendulum swinging from exuberance to extreme fear. Reckonings with tyranny considered unimaginable a mere five years ago have taken place across North Africa, alongside a descent into savage civil war in Syria, chaos in Yemen, violence in Lebanon and the tremors of quakes still to come in virtually every corner of the region.

Everything has changed when it comes to the exercise of power in the Middle East. And yet, in too many capitals contending with its new condition, nothing has changed.

With the rush to rename the two-year Arab Spring into an “Arab Autumn” or even, among those with strikingly short memories, an “Arab Winter,” it’s worth recalling what this revolutionary movement really was about.

Leave aside the simplistic Western narrative about the Arab uprisings representing the final unspooling of a universal urge for “democracy.” Far more threatening to this moment’s legacy is the way in which Arab leaders across the region are seeking to redirect the passion of an engaged public toward canards and chimeras, new and old.

The roots of the Arab Awakening are as explosive as they are straightforward: a demand for government that is legitimate in its relationship with the governed and one that is accountable for its actions. Has my government earned a right to exercise power, and can I remove it if I believe it has failed to deliver on its promises for greater security, opportunity and prosperity?

These are the existential questions posed today by Arab men and women — united in their quest, finally, to live as citizens, and not merely as subjects.

Instead of seeking to meet their peoples’ demands, however, too many Arab leaders are betting on a mix of fear, inertia and confusion to change the subject. Masters of distraction, they are seeking to replace the alibis of old — “resistance” to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and resentment of the power of the United States — by stoking new, and far more dangerous, fears.

Principal among these is Iran, and its challenge to the 30-year regional status quo in the Gulf dominated by Saudi Arabia and its allies, backed by the United States. Second, and related to this, is the so-called “Shia crescent” emerging from the ruins of the invasion of Iraq and spreading west through Syria and Jordan into Lebanon. Third, the emergence of political Islam as a conquering transnational movement.

Make no mistake: Iran is playing a dangerous and destructive role through every proxy at its disposal; a rising Sunni and Shiite sectarianism is threatening to unleash another wave of conflict across the Middle East; and the experience of political Islam in power (see: Iran) does not inspire confidence in its ability to respect the rules of legitimate government.

Legitimacy is the specter that is now haunting the halls of power throughout the Middle East. Much as many of the region’s embattled leaders wish to deceive their allies in the West, themselves and their people that this is about perfidious Persia, Shiite sectarianism or political Islam (as threat or savior), the reality is much simpler: The Arab young want competent, responsive and responsible rule.

Properly understood, this is an opportunity for Arab leaders — including the kings and sheiks. Difficult as it is for them to adjust to public demands for accountability and efficiency, they are far less equipped to manage the inevitable blowback from stoking sectarian war within their own countries or a greater confrontation with Iran.

They and their backers in the West would be wise to consider whether they would not be in a much stronger position to manage the new threats if they ruled with the support of their citizens.

A decade ago, as an aide to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, I took part in a meeting in Cairo with then-president Hosni Mubarak. The meeting was proceeding as usual until, in response to an expression of concern about human rights abuses in Egypt, Mubarak abruptly changed demeanor and delivered his standard ultimatum: It’s him or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Was Mubarak right? Well, yes, but only up to a point, and only because he made it so by ensuring that the only effective opposition to his rule was channeled through the mosque.

Last month, leaving a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian policy makers and diplomats struggling to make sense of life under a Muslim Brotherhood government, I entered a crowded Tahrir Square that was preparing for yet another mass protest. Only now the chants were against President Mohamed Morsi.

Power’s purpose has never been so contested, or so contingent, as it is today in the Middle East. Genuine legitimacy must now be earned, and re-earned, through the accountable exercise of power.

This is, in one respect, a major threat to the region’s leaders — as much to the new Islamist governments as it is to the unreformed monarchies and republics.

More importantly, however, it is an opportunity for forward-looking leaders in the region to create a sustainable basis for their rule — one that isn’t based on a shell game of threats and excuses.

Overview

Confident decisions in a complex world

The Firm

Archipelago world

Macro Advisory Partners (MAP) was founded in 2013 on the vision that globalisation was shifting from a story of integration to one of fragmentation. Our Founder and CEO Nader Mousavizadeh first described this new global landscape as an ‘archipelago world’ – a new order characterised by fragmenting power, capital, technology and ideas.

Navigating the archipelago world requires a new compass. 
 

What we do

To look beyond the complexities of a fragmenting global landscape, we must widen our lens.

At MAP we empower our clients with a clear and comprehensive understanding of how the political, policy and economic drivers of this fragmenting world will impact the success of your business, now and in the future.
 
As a MAP client, you engage with a diverse global network of MAP partners and senior advisors – among them corporate leaders, strategists, diplomats, policy makers, and academics – who will help you interpret, plan for and pivot around the geopolitical and economic forces impacting your business. 
 
Whether it is US-China relations, supply chain resilience, tech regulation or the global energy transition, our strategic counsel provides solutions for every business and investor.
 
By drawing on our judgments of how macro factors shape your business we help you navigate the risks and opportunities ahead so you can make the kind of confident decisions for growth and investment that will determine your future success.  
 
 

Portfolio

  • Article
    June 2015

    Arming Ukraine Will Put the West in Danger

    A dangerous, possibly irreversible, dynamic of conflict is taking hold of Russian-Western relations. In every arena of the Ukraine crisis, escalation is the...
  • Article
    February 2015

    The Limits of Security

    The War Studies 2015 Annual Lecture, Kings College London John Sawers, Chairman, Macro Advisory Partners Dr Strangelove came out in 1964. US President Peter...
  • Article
    January 2015

    The Real Arab Demand

    Two years in the life of the Arab Awakening already feels like an exhausted century, with the pendulum swinging from exuberance to extreme fear. Reckonings...
  • Article
    September 2014

    To Build a Coalition Against Islamic State, US Must Try a Little Humility

    When President Barack Obama assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, he summoned the full weight of U.S. power to a cause...
  • Article
    March 2014

    Russia’s Model Behaviour in the Ukraine

    Russia's Model Behavour in the Ukraine: the Fragmenting Geopolitics of the Future Surprise is the least forgivable sin of statecraft – and yet nothing has so...

Contact

London
180 Piccadilly
London W1J 9HF
Tel: +44 207 917 9947

New York
200 Park Avenue South
Suite 1117
New York, NY 10003
Tel: +1 212 602 8721

info@macroadvisorypartners.com