Monday, 29 August 2011

Libya and Egypt: regime versus leadership change

Almost without exception, Arab summers are hot: temperatures above forty degrees normal. However, summer 2011 may go down as one of the region's hottest seasons irrespective of mercury readings. Several Arab countries still feel the heat of popular revolt.
Libya's Tripoli is all but conquered. Gaddafi and his sons remain at large but his leadership's achievements are material for history books. Syria's Baath party might soon go the way of Saddam's Iraqi Baathist regime. Much depends on how Western powers view the benefits of a stable Syria under Assad versus the dangers of an unstable 'democracy' such as 'new' Iraq or 'new' Egypt.
Oil rich Gulf Arab states, especially Bahrain, may have seen off the worst of the unrest a few months ago. Nevertheless, despite the Gulf Cooperation Council nation's massive oil wealth, a perpetual nervousness haunts the conservative monarchies. Amongst other things, the spectre of Shia unrest stirred by nearby Iran gives Sunni rulers sleepless nights.
Morocco and Jordan may seem like peripheral nations within the Arab world so the media pays scant attention to them. In both countries, trouble is never more than one royal political misstep away. Remember, Tunisia too was a small and unimportant Arab nation until a street vendor decided enough was enough and committed suicide through self-immolation.
Clearly, the Arab world is in a transitory period.
It might be social media, a globalized world, a population bulge or simply a passing of the leadership baton to a younger generation. Most likely, the travails are a combination of all four and then some more.
So far, change within the Arab world has been of two types: cosmetic changes of 'personalities' and more revolutionary 'regime change.'
To varying degrees, Egypt and Tunisia continue to operate within the power structures created by the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes. The configuration of power has not altered substantially. Only the personalities dispensing the power have changed. The operating freedoms of the new rulers are circumscribed by the frameworks of the 'old' systems – frameworks enforced by the military establishments in both nations.
Tunisia's Office of Merchant Marine and Ports with a portrait of ex-President Ben Ali
Iraq and Libya fall into the former category. Both nations have undergone revolutionary changes to their political systems. Institutions (and much physical infrastructure) created by previous rulers, Saddam Hussain and Muammar Gaddafi, was demolished and replaced by new political infrastructures.
Progress cannot occur without change. Hence, changes in the Arab world must be welcomed. Nonetheless, revolutions are disruptive and outcomes uncertain so are better avoided, if possible. Yet, history teaches that few regimes voluntarily relinquish power. At least for now, the bubbling uncertainty in most parts of the Arab world will continue.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at

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