The Arab world’s transition in 2012

How will the Arab elections shape the region?

The Arab Spring will take more than just one season to blossom.

The dramas which will play out in Arab states during 2012 are certain to differ in character and outcome.

Violent clashes are growing in Syria and Yemen and the post-Mubarak regime in Egypt is far from settled.

Elections in Morocco and Oman have already taken place.  Their outcome will show whether their Monarchies are serious about change.

And change won’t necessarily resemble the ideal of Western diplomats.

Free and fair elections throughout the region – if and when they come – will almost certainly reward moderate Islamists with majorities.

The international community will face pressure to nurture this transition and reject the temptation to be selective about its support for democratic movements.

Amr Moussa, former secretary general of the Arab League, and now an Egyptian presidential candidate, summed this up recently in a BBC interview.

He was asked whether or not he would work with the Muslim Brotherhood, and responded: “You tell us to have democracy.

“Now you want us to rig elections so that the Brotherhood don’t win?”

This will be the central question in every nation which undergoes change. How the rest of the world reacts is vital.

Woodrow Wilson noted the American Revolution was “a beginning, not a consummation”.

A complete and smooth overhaul in the Arab world cannot be expected to occur overnight.

Post-Mubarak Egypt presents an uncertain and worrying picture.

The ruling Military Council is locked in dispute with the Muslim Brotherhood and a host of different political factions.

The existing elite, who flourished under the Mubarak regime, will not necessarily prosper under a new democratic system and feel deeply uncomfortable about their future.

Many around the world felt it was wrong for Field Marshall Tantawy to represent Egypt at the funeral of Crown Prince Sultan in Riyadh.

It was his first visit abroad and Egypt-watchers felt it drew too many parallels with the ancien regime.

The trip showed how entrenched the ruling Military Council has become. Hardly a positive indication that the Egyptian revolution is proceeding at a pace.

The uncertainty in Egypt is certain to continue and given that country’s influence on the rest of the Arab world, it will not help.

Moderate constitutional reforms in Jordan mean that power will remain centred around the King.

Elsewhere, royal families have outlined paths to more substantial change.

The Sultan of Oman has sought to extend policy-making to a wider circle.

He has handed further powers to the Legislative Council and increased the number of candidates allowed to contest October’s election.

These are huge strides by Arab standards.

In Morocco, too, there is movement.

Elections have resulted in a Prime Minister being appointed from the winning Islamic party.

The crucial test for Morocco and Oman is whether or not these changes will avert a threatened revolution.

Neither Kingdom has the wealth of Saudi Arabia or Qatar to fund political and social harmony and so putting change in place may have been inevitable.

The ruling regimes of Syria and Bahrain are proving remarkably resilient.

But 2012 is certain to see enormous upheaval in Damascus.

The strife in Syria continues, with unofficial estimates of tens of thousands dead.

Neither the government nor the protestors are prepared to succumb to the other.

Economic sanctions are preventing President Bashar al Assad from keeping his state structure together.

Diplomatic sanctions are eating away at his ability to galvanise regional support.

At first, the Arab League refused to suspend Syria.

But that has changed in a clear sign that the region is well aware that the Syrian people face a dire situation. The switch in attitude is putting pressure on the Assad regime.

But resolution is a long way off. Assad is benefitting from splits in his opponents’ camps.

Anti-regime groups have failed to agree on a single strategy.

They lack the resources that attracted international intervention in Libya. The cash-strapped West appear to be pursuing a meek strategy in opposing the Assad regime.

In Bahrain, government forces have grown adept in stopping protestors from gathering in public places and tensions remain high.

Recent elections called by the King saw only a small turnout as they were largely boycotted by sectarian groups.

Long periods of social and political stagnation epitomise the history of the Arab world.

But change is upon us and 2012 will present us all with decisions to take about where we stand.

Zaid Belbagi is the Business Development Manager at Portland with an interest in the Arab World. He was previously a Visiting Scholar at the Gulf Cooperation Council and King Faisal Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia