The U.S failure in the Arab Spring

Written by Zackary Mejia, Staff Writer

Last month’s terrorist attack in Brussels is yet another unintended consequence of the West’s dreadful diplomacy in the Middle East, specifically, the Obama Administration’s use of unconventional hard power diplomacy. Despite the unavoidable controversy that plagues any world leader in regard to Middle Eastern policy, the reality is that the Obama Administration, like their Bush predecessors, is guilty of compromising the value of universal human rights with the tyrants and thugs that rule the Middle East.

With the primary elections coming up this summer, voters have gained some insight regarding the type of foreign policy each candidate would enforce.

Ted Cruz takes the traditional republican foreign policy position of using force to scare our enemies and coerce our allies.

Bernie Sanders plans to adopt a soft-power approach with the use of diplomacy rather than military actions.

Trump’s foreign policy is both implausible and horrifying, if implemented.

Clinton’s foreign policy would be similar to President Barack Obama’s unconventional hard power. Coercing other countries to fight in wars that the American people don’t wish to send their own soldiers to while at the same time building relations with old enemies.

The Obama Administration has been a roller coaster of good and bad plays in regard to Middle Eastern foreign policy. A good play was the Iran nuclear deal, which was a step toward a peaceful resolution in the Middle East, something that rarely happens in the region. A bad one was completely pulling American soldiers out of Iraq and leaving control of the fragile nation to an inept government.

By allying itself with strongmen who don’t share our value for human rights, like Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, the Obama Administration diminishes the West’s ultimate goal of a free Middle East. The U.S. shows hypocrisy when the government condemns terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda for mass murder of infidels, while maintaining ties to Saudi Arabia, a state that executes citizens for blasphemy and leaving the Islamic faith.

The disregard for human rights when it suits the U.S government’s interest further legitimizes groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the eyes of the at-risk Muslim youths in the West and non-religious states in the Middle East.

This is a reality that is epitomized in the failure of the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring is a revolutionary wave of uprisings throughout the Arab nations, starting with Tunisia’s 2010 revolution. Since then, the Obama Administration has made a series of poor policy decisions, whether it’s backing Islamic rebels in Syria or failing to aid the unorganized secularists secure power in Egypt from the military and Muslim Brotherhood.

After Tunisians overthrew their President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali through protests and demonstrations in what is known as the Jasmine Revolution, protests broke out in major cities in the rest of the Arab states, where people demanded greater civil freedoms.

It is important to note that democracy, at least true democracy, was not the only rallying cry. Secularist protesters found themselves competing, and at times cooperating with Islamists who wanted greater religious freedoms and, in many now-apparent cases, a religious state.

The governments of Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman and Morocco made reforms allowing their citizens greater freedoms.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II went as far as creating a new government and amending the constitution to have special independent bodies for election-monitoring.

Yet in many Arab states, the ruling powers sought to subdue the protests with force.

In Bahrain, where protesters filled the streets of the capital city of Manama in peaceful demonstrations, the government sent in not only its troops, but foreign soldiers from neighboring Gulf States to suppress the protesters. After several incidents in which military and police gunned down protesters, King Hamad set up the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry to look into the alleged incidents that happened between February and March 2011.

The BICI found that the government was guilty of torturing people arrested, using excessive force in handling the demonstrations and rejected the government’s claim that Iran had instigated or had any involvement in the protests.

The Bahrain government made promises to prevent this from happening again, but the people of Bahrain still await their human rights.

In Saudi Arabia, a country that recently sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for making an atheist statement on Twitter, citizens are repressed under an Islamic monarchy.

When the public was inspired by the uprisings and reforms in their neighboring states, they decided to take to the streets, demanding greater labor rights, proper representation, women’s rights and a withdrawal of Saudi troops from Bahrain.

According to a BBC News article, in 2011 the Saudi Interior Minister announced that all protests were to be banned. The interior minister argued that “Regulations in the kingdom forbid categorically all sorts of demonstrations, marches and sit-ins, as they contradict Islamic Sharia law and the values and traditions of Saudi society.”

In an attempt to dissuade protesters from uprising, the government later appeased the populace by granting an additional $37 billion in benefits for citizens. State employees were given a 15 percent raise and public funds for housing, social security and studying abroad were increased.  

The list of missed or neglected moments during the Arab Spring when U.S. diplomacy could have resulted in democratic states goes on.

Libya is now a failed state due to a lack of support from the West and the Libyan people’s failure to create a proper government after the ousting of the Gaddafi regime.

Now there are two rival governments in the east and west of the country. ISIS has asserted itself as a power in Libya’s coast. Rogue militias control cities and deserts are ruled by gangs and smugglers.

Yemen is in a civil war between Iranian-backed Houthis and the internationally-recognized government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is backed by a Saudi Arabian air campaign. According to an article from the Guardian dating back to October of last year, 93 percent of the war’s casualties are civilians.

Egypt is still under military power. Governmental control changed from Hosni Mubarak’s U.S. backed autocracy to Mohammed Morsi’s Islamic theocracy then back to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s autocracy. El-Sisi’s military state has received over $1.3 billion in military aid from the U.S in 2014.

It’s fair to say that the Egyptian people still await the freedoms they marched for in Tahrir Square in the winter of 2011.

The Egyptian people’s division among the unorganized secularists, the highly-organized Muslim Brotherhood and the military is best summarized in the Netflix documentary, “The Square.”

In the now fifth year of Syrian civil war, the U.S government continues to compromise its secular values by backing Islamist rebels who are paraded as “moderates.” In its quest to overthrow Assad, the White House has so far failed to find a new strongman to replace him. This outlook for the future of Syria may be cynical but an honest outlook in regard to the plan, or rather lack thereof,  that the Administration is implementing in the war torn country.

In the rising chaos in Syria, ISIS has managed to take control almost a quarter of the country. The only groups strong enough to defeat them in combat are the Assad loyalists and Kurdish militias.

The Administration’s once-promising anti-ISIS program created by the Pentagon, fruited at most five fighters. The Administration has since abandoned the program and plans to fund existing rebels already fighting the Islamic State.

The American-Syrian quagmire has become more complicated with reports of rebels backed by the Pentagon and rebels armed by the CIA have begun to fight against each other in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

The only true success story of the Arab Spring was in the state that started it, Tunisia.

Yet, in an interview with the Washington Post, Beji Caïd Essebsi, Tunisia’s first democratically-elected president, distanced their revolution from the Arab Spring. He preferred to call it “The Tunisian Spring.”

Inclusion is a major part to Essebsi’s success in keeping the country together. After the election, his party formed a coalition with the rival Islamist party that took second in the elections to ensure that every faction in Tunisian society gets a voice.

This type of inclusion does not exist in the other Arab states. Saudi Arabia suppresses minorities, while Egypt’s military state suppresses Islamists and secularists, alike.

To take steps  toward peace in the Middle East, a dialogue has to be set up between the rival factions, both in the Middle East and abroad. Islam’s backwards ideals cannot be silenced with guns and imprisonment, an action that fruits only terrorism most evident in Egypt’s ban of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist ideology should be challenged on the debate floor and through exposing their heinous beliefs.

During the interview, Essebsi was asked if the Tunisian government could keep itself from compromising the people’s freedoms for security when dealing with terrorism, as many of its neighboring countries has failed to do. Essebsi stated “Absolutely, we have to safeguard freedoms, and my personal mission is to safeguard freedom for all Tunisians, even for those who insult me every day.”

Tunisia has been able to challenge extremism that confronts them on their borders with Libya and at the same time, preserving the democratic freedoms promised to the Tunisian people.

This type of government and how it came to be should be used as a model state for the next U.S. president’s foreign policy, if it truly seeks to uphold universal human rights.

The ideal of having relations with a country while preserving our country’s principles is best put in Clinton’s memoir, “Hard Choices,” “… as Secretary I had no higher responsibility than to protect our citizens and our country. But at the same time, upholding universal values and human rights is at the core of what it means to be American. If we sacrifice those values or let our policies diverge too far from our ideals, our influence will wane.”