Harling: Is the Arab world really in "winter"?

An excellent piece going beyond the superficial Arab spring/winter dichotomy, by ICG’s Peter Harling in Le Monde:

Ce qui rend les transitions en cours impossibles à juger, c’est qu’elles font apparaître d’innombrables tensions latentes au sein des sociétés de la région, au moment même où elles font disparaître les moyens traditionnels de leur gestion, puisque les procédés habituels des régimes sont très exactement ce que leurs sujets ne tolèrent plus. L’enjeu de ces renégociations consiste justement à recréer des mécanismes de règlement des conflits sociaux, sur des bases nouvelles elles-mêmes source de conflits. Il n’est dons pas surprenant de les voir susciter des désaccords, voire des violences. Le véritable point d’interrogation porte sur l’apparition de systèmes politiques accordant une importance centrale à la légitimité populaire, dans une région qui en a jusqu’à présent été dépourvue.

My translation:

What makes the transitions underway impossible to judge is that they have all brought to the fore innumerable tensions at the heart of the region’s societies, at the very moment when these societies are ridding themselves of the traditional means to manage these tensions, since the the usual means used by the regimes are exactly what their subjects no longer tolerate. At stake in these negotiations is precisely the creation of mechanism to regulate social conflicts, but on new bases which are themselves sources of conflict. It is therefore not surprising to see disagreements, and even violence. The real question mark is whether new political systems will appear that will give a central importance to popular legitimacy, in a region that has hitherto been deprived of such systems.

You really have to read the whole, very thoughtful piece – it’s a breath of fresh air from the morose reporting and alarmist analyses you see a lot these days (often corroborated by depressing if transient news). ICG often translates its staff’ analyses on their website, so check there in a day or two. An important point he makes at the end is the importance of mixing the uprisings with geopolitical games (Iran, for instance).


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.