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02.23.11

What Will Be the Next Middle East Shock?

As despotic regimes across the Arab world crumble or battle for survival, what lies ahead? That depends on whether revolutionary citizens stay the course, how much of the tired leadership can be swept away, and how protected dictators are, five experts tell Rob Verger.

With revolution and unrest sweeping the Middle East, dictators toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, and Colonel Gaddafi increasingly embattled in Libya, five experts weigh in on the question: What's next for Libya and the Middle East?

1. "Gaddafi's Rule Will Crumble"

Ruth Wedgwood, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Hoover Task Force on Law and National Security, writes that "for the sake of Libya and the region, one hopes that Gaddafi's brutal rule will quickly crumble."

"Gaddafi saw power as a personal possession, denying that Libya had any minorities, provoking conflicts elsewhere in Africa to keep his southern tribes on edge. With political malice, he shipped weapons to the arm-chopping rebel Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone, and sustained the brutal rule of Charles Taylor in Liberia. He encouraged cross-border rebels seeking to depose the government of Chad. And of course, he used the same tactics against Europe and the United States, bombing the LaBelle discotheque in Berlin, as well as Pan Am 103 (killing 189 American passengers and crew) over Lockerbie, Scotland. More recently, he held Palestinian and Bulgarian citizens as captives in a charade claiming the deliberate infection of Libyan patients with HIV, and held two Swiss businessmen captive for more than a year after Gaddafi's son Hannibal was arrested in Geneva for bludgeoning a servant. The British look ever more foolish for supposing that they could do business with this man, swapping the Lockerbie bomber for possible favors in oil development.

"As to likely scenarios: Gaddafi is reported to have lost the loyalty of the Warfalla tribe, leaving his own Gaddafi clan as a small contingent. Mercenaries from other African states may not be inclined to stick around, especially if their governments can be pressed to order them home. The remnants of the Gaddafi clan need to realize that an extended interruption of oil production will wreck the economy of the state, and that waging war on fellow citizens will lead to their own demise."

2. "Middle East Baby Boomers Calling Tired Leadership to Get Out"

Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, and a 30-year veteran of the State Department who worked primarily on the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq, writes:

“The remnants of the Gaddafi clan need to realize that an extended interruption of oil production will wreck the economy of the state, and that waging war on fellow citizens will lead to their own demise,” says Professor Ruth Wedgwood.

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"There is so much that can and should be said—most of it has been as well. One question that gets asked a lot is whether this wave of protests and revolts is 1979 (to the pessimists, i.e. Iran) or 1989 (optimists; i.e. Eastern Europe). I am increasingly of the mind that if it is anything beyond the obvious—2011—it is 1968. For those old enough to remember, the '60s saw a wave of student protests across the U.S. and Europe, some of them quite radical and not infrequently violent. The student protests of that era were also a coming of age for the baby boomers aware, on some level, that they were a dominant generation and through "People power" could sweep away an old and tired order of Depression Babies and WWII. This is the Middle East's baby boomers—numerically dominant, raised in world vastly different than that of their parents, children of what Marc Lynch calls the "new public sphere" of first satellite TV and now Twitter, Facebook, etc, and also raised on the rhetoric and, in some places, early efforts of the '90s of reform and democratization. They are calling on their old and tired leadership to get out of the way (revolts in the case of the full autocracies) and to live up to their rhetoric and promises in the more liberal states. Curiously, they are drawing on the same models of M.L. King and Gandhi."

3. "The Demise of Gaddafi Will Not Be Orderly"

Robert Danin, who is the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

"It seems clear that Gaddafi is not going to go gentle into the night, unlike the deposed leaders of Tunisia to Libya's west and Egypt to its east. Gaddafi is pulling out all the stops, employing the army and air force against the Libyan people. The result seems to be a partial fragmentation of Libya, with the eastern part already fallen outside of Gaddafi's control, and the western part now under contention. Yet whereas in Tunisia and in Egypt the military could step in to unify the country, such is not the case in Libya. Gaddafi, having come to power through a military coup 42 years ago, has weakened the army to ensure it does not pose the same sort of threat that Gaddafi posed to his predecessor King Idris. The result though, is that the army alone cannot serve as the glue to hold together a country in which national identity is frequently subsumed to tribal affiliation. Put another way, while Gaddafi is a ruthless dictator, he has come to embody the state. Should Gaddafi fall, a fate that is likely to take place, though not without a fight, then Libya faces a frightening future in which multiple power centers will surely compete for influence and ultimately complete power. Moreover, given Libya's geo-strategic importance to global energy markets, particularly in Europe, one cannot rule out the need for outside intervention, be it a pan-Arab force or even some form of U.N.-sponsored force, to intervene and stabilize the situation. Such a scenario is premature right now. Several strongmen, such as the interior minister, may be able to intervene and keep the country together. But however it takes place, the demise of Gaddafi will be neither as neat or as orderly as what we have seen elsewhere in the Middle East to date."

4. Protesters' Weapon: "Government by Referendum"

Anne-Marie Slaughter, who is the Bert G. Kerstetter University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, and was director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009-2011, writes:

"The question assumes a common answer for multiple countries, when in fact each country will follow its own distinct trajectory. But one common factor, at least in those countries where the government has abjured the use of force, will be the protesters' willingness to come back out to hold the government to its promises. That is a powerful weapon—akin to government by referendum—but one that will have to be carefully used so as not to alienate the general population with the ensuing social and economic disruption."

5. "The Key Differential Is Governmental Structure"

Charles Hill, senior lecturer in humanities and international affairs at Yale University, and Brady Johnson, distinguished fellow in grand strategy, writes:

"There are dictators and there are Dictators. The main project for them has been how perpetually to convince their people that they, the people, have been humiliated and that the blame lies with other, outside forces, namely America and Israel. And while doing this, to amass military-intelligence-security force power capable of intimidating, "disappearing" and selectively terrorizing their own people. The individual dictator must have the willpower and craft to use these elements in the most effective combination. He must also erect a governing structure that can shape all these factors. So you can evaluate every dictatorship by matching them up with this list of requirements. Mubarak lacked the will to do what he needed to do. Over the years he had allowed the Egyptian army to get too closely involved with the U.S. military, a strongly anti-dictatorial influence. Above all, Mubarak made the decision to portray Egypt, falsely, as a parliamentary form of government. So the Egyptian protesters were relatively privileged to place themselves against a less-than-ruthless tyrant. Gaddafi has had all the necessary elements in place except he failed to build his military-intelligence-security force in a properly dictatorial way. The key differential across the region is what kind of governmental structure each ruler has created. If it is phony parliamentarian or phony constitutional monarchy, it will be unlikely to stand up to, or survive a serious protest movement (Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon). But if it is a Rousseauian structure (Ideological Party rule guided by a supreme genius, with "government" a lesser and mainly administrative entity, and with a powerful private "army" above and beyond the usual military system) the dictators are far more likely to be able to put down, viciously, any kind of protest (Iran, Syria, China).

"Overall, there have been two big questions hovering over the Middle East: 1.) Do Arabs want freedom and self-determination? Most of them have told the world, "No," and the intelligentsia of the West has ratified that, mainly seeing it as an opportunity to further sneer at George W. Bush. But the recent protests have refuted that answer. It now can be maintained that Arabs do want freedom. The second question: 2.). Are the Arab peoples capable of maintaining freedom and conducting self-government? That has not yet been answered. The answer will depend on whether they can resist the ever-present temptation of "ressentisment"—blaming everything on someone else, and on their ability to recognize that Arab humiliation can be overcome by other than Islamist means."

Rob Verger is a former writing instructor at Columbia University, and his work has also appeared in The Boston Globe. Click here to follow Robert Verger on Twitter.