In the middle East there is currently a seasonal exacerbation of chronic diseases of socio-economic and political nature. Reeling Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt. However, similar in its symptoms the protests are different from each other and will have different consequences for their countries and the region.
What in history?
The “Arab spring” that swept through the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in 2011, the population of those countries where there was unrest, naively perceived as an opportunity for qualitative changes in living standards, for the formation of transparent and open political systems, able to ensure the turnover of power to keep the tone of the elite. The time elapsed since the event, was a breakthrough step for any of the MENA States, moreover, some of them the situation and chronic diseases in the social, economic and political fields has only worsened.
Almost the only tangible achievement of the “Arab spring” can be considered the turning point in the public consciousness – the population of much of the region believe that able to influence the processes, to change the direction and just to speak out the requirements for improving the quality of life. In addition, in many MENA countries, has grown a new generation. It is mentally free from “the shackles of a totalitarian mindset” and frankly, sometimes naively, believes that only they are destined to define the contours of their future.
A set of problems and determination of the people led to mass protests in several countries in the region – Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt. Claims of the streets are almost identical – corruption, unemployment, poverty, lack of systemic change in the economy, etc. However, the course of the unrest, their form, the possible outcomes vary depending on national specificities. But they all have the potential for significant impact on the political future of the countries, regional security and the formation of new contact points/contradictions of global players in the middle East.
The hottest point was Iraq, where unrest and the authorities ‘ actions affected thousands of people, including dozens, according to some reports hundreds of dead. Post-Saddam period was a phase of disengagement and gradual creeping decay, coupled with complex ethno-political map, a redistribution of resources, factor DAYS, as well as the influence of external players (primarily Iran and the United States).
The reasons usually called the problem of corruption, low quality of life, regular disconnection of water and electricity, poor state of infrastructure, high unemployment, especially among young people. However, there are other reasons – some of the protesters criticized the present in the country, the Pro-Iranian Shia militias. Since the start of armed resistance DAISH in Iraq, there are about 60 armed groups from among the local Shia totaling up to 150 thousand people. Some of them United under the auspices of the people’s mobilization “Hashd al-SHAABI”. At the moment, the group formally subordinate to the armed forces of Iraq, but in reality acting in the interests of Tehran and is managed by the IRGC.
Along with the accusations of Iran’s military presence in the country, sounded the slogans about the “excessive” influence of Tehran on the Iraqi domestic political agenda. So, there is fierce political competition between Iraqi Shiites. On the one hand, the forces seeking to exercise more or less independent and multi-vector foreign policy. They can, for example, include the spiritual leader of the Shiites of Iraq Ali al-Sistani or the leader of the socio-political network structures “Sadistskie movement” moktada al-Sadr. With other political flank comes the leader of the bloc “Fatah” Hadi al-Amiri, the basic rate on which in the parliamentary elections of 2018 did Tehran. Al-Amiri is known that he fought on the side of Iran during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), and was one of the leaders of the resistance DAYS in Iraq.
Thus, in addition to the legitimate demands of the protesters, it is the Iranian factor can be considered as one of the main introductory of the current protests in the context of the formation of the future political shape of Iraq. Tehran is currently conducting active work in this direction. So Iranian media reported several visits to the country moktada al-Sadr, which is the background of a new wave of anti-government unrest supported the demands of the protesters, announced the move in opposition and the boycott of Parliament till the compliance of the demonstrators.
On the side of the street stood up and Hadi al-Amiri, a former ally of the Prime Minister of Iraq Adil Abdul-Mahdi, identified as the main priority is to “protect the interests of the Iraqi people.” Against this background, more and more sound predictions about the possible Union of two previously opposed political blocs.
Protesters without much optimism greeted the statement of the President of Iraq, Barham Salih, the Prime Minister is ready to resign. After this need to spend a lot of long approval procedures of a new government and adopt a law on elections. Soon the protest, most likely, not only not subside, but will increase. Recent calls Adil Abdul-Mahdi to the demonstrators to normalize the situation in the country will only cause irritation.
The country in addition to the management of the crisis is facing the threat of exacerbation of interfaith and interethnic contradictions. The Sunni regions of Iraq physically distanced himself from the protest movement. It is believed that this decision came from their leaders, not from the public, which, in contrast, has launched a social media slogan is “Sunnis and Shiites are brothers!”.
Similar in its mass protests in Lebanon are a few different scenario. Many experts in the middle East once again celebrate the uniqueness of this country. The General message in these arguments comes down to the idea that the people of Lebanon offers the region an example of civility, national unity and solidarity among different ethnic and religious groups, and most importantly the sample is almost bloodless protest.
The desire of the authorities to solve economic problems at the expense of the people became the starting point for the beginning of unrest. Absurd decision to introduce a tax on calls, performed with the help of WhatsApp messenger and other similar services though has not been adopted but the massive protests have already erupted. High level of poverty (over 25%), corruption, austerity policies, backward infrastructure, a stagnant political system and problems of Syrian refugees have left the population a choice, people took to the streets of all major cities in the country.
Increasing criticism of a special political system of Lebanon confessionalism. It is noted that while maintaining the guarantees representation of all religious groups in the authority with the appropriate delegation of authority, the organization of state power contributed to the divisions within the country and led to “cronyism” in government and, consequently, to a worsening of corruption.
The need for systemic changes in Lebanon confirms that the protesters did not leave the streets even after the statement of the Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri his resignation. The Lebanese are demanding the change of leadership, including President Michel Aoun, who is accused of a large affiliation with the Shiite Hezbollah.
For the latest protests was an unpleasant surprise, as it could well have hit its popularity, which has consistently declined for several years. Initially, the organization’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the unrest are Western and Israeli intelligence services, which aim to destabilize the situation. Many have read in these statements between the lines of the concerns of the Secretary-General of Hezbollah about the prospects of the party. This explains the fact that he did not support the resignation of the Prime Minister. However, Hassan Nasrallah once again showed political flexibility.
November 1 he asked the supporters to leave the streets and squares, to avoid friction and clashes with other political forces, particularly those hostile to Hezbollah and its allies (previously, the activists of the party burned the camp of demonstrators in Beirut). He also stated the need for the speedy formation of a new government. There is a recognition that some of his prominent supporters were involved in corruption schemes and they will no longer hold posts either in the party nor in the state. Particular emphasis is Hassan Nasrallah made that a priority for Hezbollah remains the protection of the interests and prosperity of Lebanon. Not without populist reports about the imminent cleansing of the Lebanese skies from Israeli drones.
Almost all the political forces of Lebanon agree that the change of the power model is unrealistic, although this is on the streets, and political forces, including President Michel Aoun, recognize that it may become in the near future, the main target for Lebanese. But the revision of the TAIF agreement and the formation of a new political system in the foreseeable future almost impossible. Political forces do not want to go on such an adventure in the framework of deep confessional parity, which is agreed by all the warring parties in Lebanon.
A special role in the protests, as happened in Iraq plays Iran, which is concerned with the political vacuum in the country. The “Shiite Crescent” in the middle East remains the main quasiintegration model promoted by Tehran to balance the Sunni majority in the region, and to oppose Israel and American foreign threat. Therefore, Iran should expect the maximum active actions aimed at preserving the positions of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On the background of large-scale events in Iraq and Lebanon several erased from the memory of the September protests in Egypt organized by fugitive businessman Muhammad Ali, who posted a call for people to take to the streets in protest against high levels of corruption in the ranks of the national army and the country’s top leadership, including current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The action was joined by members of the movement “Muslim brotherhood”, which is excluded from the opportunity to openly engage in political activity since the removal from office of President Mohammed Mursi.
Once started, relative to the mass protests, followed by immediate reaction of the police who dispersed the demonstrators, arrested and interrogated more than two thousand people. This would put an end, if not for the recent decision of the President. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a state of emergency for three months, starting from 1 am to 27 Oct 2019. The decision was made in accordance with the Constitution after the adoption of the resolution of the Council of Ministers.
Of the five articles of this decision, most notable are first, second and fourth: “the state of Emergency is declared throughout the entire country within 3 months from 1 a.m. on Sunday, October 27, 2019”; “the Armed forces and the police shall take the necessary measures to confront the threats and the financing of terrorism, maintain security throughout the country, to protect public and private property and to save lives of citizens”, – stated in the second article; Article 4 States that “any who violates the orders of the President of the Republic on the application of the provisions of Act No. 162 of 1958, shall be punished by imprisonment”. At the moment in Egypt was visually much more police and military on the streets, according to them, they are ready for the most decisive action “to ensure the security of the state”.
All of this suggests that the maximum power tighten the nuts in a country that is on the brink of unprecedented socio-political explosion. The problem is not solved, but delayed. Demographics, water, food security, inflation, unemployment, corruption, terrorist threat, the opposition represented by the “Muslim brotherhood” and much more will make the Egyptians again to take to the streets and squares, if not in the short term, then certainly in the medium term.
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Two countries in the Middle East (Iraq and Lebanon), close to the main historical choice. Will there be enough replacement personal change of leadership or will have to go through to get rid of corrupt elites as a whole? In the second case, cosmetic measures will not solve the problem, and sooner or later the protest aggravation again on a large scale.
The current unrest in a position to significantly impact on regional character, because it can change the political formation (Lebanon), and so lead to a new round of disintegration processes (Iraq). In addition, one of the dominant events in Iraq and Lebanon – Iranian factor. Here, great efforts are made to preserve the real levers of power from the Pro-Iranian political forces. In this regard, the deformation or, conversely, strengthen the existing “Shiite arc”. Hence, the current protests in these countries are forced to draw attention to themselves and the rest of the region, as well as external parties which will support at least nominal, of the various involved parties of the political opposition in Iraq and Lebanon.
Alone in this protest movement is Egypt, where authorities were able to bring the situation under control, but not able to solve systemic problems of the country, which is on the verge of a socio-economic disaster.