The Arab Spring: Its Geostrategic Significance by Mohammed Ayoob, ISPU Adjunct Scholar

Policy Report Summary

The Syrian Civil War includes Iran and Turkey, which have widened the conflict’s reach. Turkey supports the Sunni-dominated opposition against the Asad regime, as does Saudi Arabia, which has sectarian and ethnic differences with Iran. Iran supports Asad because his government supplies the Lebanese Hezbollah with financial and military aid. Saudis supply the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups with weapons.

As the opposition’s cause is accepted as justified by the international community, and Asad’s Defense Minister and brother-in-law have been killed, Ayoob believes that the Asad regime is coming to an end. Further complications arise with the inclusion of Russia and China, who tolerate Asad’s regime and have vetoed UN Security Council resolutions against Syria

Russia is averse to a Libyan-style military intervention that would damage its role in Syria, its only ally in the Arab Mediterranean. The US, however, which considers Iran its political and ideological foe, sees Asad as a danger also because his support for Hezbollah would cause attacks against American and Israeli targets as retaliation for attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. Still, the US doesn’t have any plans for a post-Asad Syria and is afraid of creating another Iraq if it invades to intervene. While covertly supporting the disunited opposition groups in Syria, the US has refrained from a military intervention that might cause total anarchy.

Bahrain, which houses the Fifth Fleet, the American naval base in the Middle East, can be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The pro-Iranian Shia population in Bahrain complicates issues further; considering a democratic overthrow of the Sunni-led monarchy, it could create another natural ally for Shia Iran. Saudi Arabia, like the US, has been a massive support to Bahrain’s monarchy against Iran and is keeping Iran preoccupied with Syria so that it doesn’t gain an advantage in the Persian Gulf and Bahrain. Still, it is vulnerable as it’s led by octogenarians, lacks genuine political institutions and has to rely simply on cash to influence events.

Egypt, which has been the only Middle Eastern ally to Israel for 30 years, might now change its policy due to democratic change that sees Israel as a threat, which makes Israel nervous. Israel’s gain from the fall of Asad’s regime (Iran’s ally) may vanish quickly if it’s replaced with a pro-Palestinian Islamist government- like in Egypt – which would also cause tensions in the Israeli-Syrian border. The US-Israeli relationship would also suffer as the US has unequivocal support for Asad’s removal.

Egypt will stay fixated on the domestic struggle for power at the expense of expanding its regional role. Iraq has been significantly weakened after the 2003 US-led invasion and war, which leaves it unable to influence the region or the world politically.

Israel’s political position in the region is likely to weaken further given the US’s disengagement from the Middle East after the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people in the Middle East see Israel as a “pariah” state with no legitimacy in regional politics.

Turkey is seen as a role model for a Middle Eastern democracy and is supportive of the Arab Spring. Iran is also supportive, although for a different reason. Khamenei sees the Arab revolutions as empowering militant groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and other Shia extremists, but is primarily concerned with empowering Shia populations against Sunnis. Both countries would rather avid the creation of a Kurdish state, which could result from a disintegration of Iraq.

CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab speaks at AIC conference on Islam and Muslims in America

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The American Islamic College (AIC) in Chicago held its second conference on Islam and Muslims in America in association with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Sept. 17, 2011. The conference featured Muslim leaders, scholars, and activists from around the nation and the world to discuss issues of relevance to Muslim Americans.

Participants discussed the relationship between American foreign policy and the Muslim world, the implications for democracy as demonstrated by the Arab Spring, Islam in the American context, and the future of Muslims in America and the world community.

The main focus of the conference was Islam and democracy. CAIR-Chicago’s Executive Director, Ahmed Rehab, moderated a panel entitled “Winds of Change in the Muslim World: Implications for Democracy.”  Rehab also gave a speech in line with this theme. The purpose was to explore what is now known as the “Arab Spring” and its importance for the Arab countries striving for democracy.

Dina Rehab, AIC’s administrator and former CAIR-Chicago Outreach Coordinator said “As an academic institution, we feel it is our primary responsibility to educate the public on issues that relate to Islam and Muslims in America. The AIC conference provides a unique platform for speakers and guests to participate in these very real discussions.”

The event was a success, and brought together many prominent leaders from the interfaith community. “We heard a lot of very positive feedback this year,” Ms. Rehab recollected.  Many attendees drove in from out of state to attend.

Guest speakers included Kareem M. Irfan, Esq. Board of Trustees at AIC, Rashad Hussain, President’s Special Envoy to OIC, Hon. Jan Schakowsky, Congresswoman from Illinois, H. Excellency Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of OIC, Azeem Ibrahim from the Insitute for Social Policy and Understanding, John Edwin Mroz, President and CEO of the EastWest Institute, Jeffrey Laurenti of the Century Foundation, Muqteder Khan, Director of the Islamic Studies Program, Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director at CAIR-Chicago, Qamar-ul-Huda of the U.S. Institute of Peace, Richard W. Bulliet of Columbia University, Stephen Grand of the Bookings Institute, Zaher Sahloul, Chairman of CIOGC, Gadeir Abbas, CAIR National Staff Attorney, Imam Mohamed Magid, President of ISNA, Aisha Adawiya, President of KARAMAH, Hayrettin Yucesoy of the Washington University in St. Louis, Ayse Kadayifci of Georgetown University, Salam Al-Marayti, President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Hannah S. Rosenthal, and Marica Hermansen, Board of Trustees at AIC and Loyola University with Rashad Darwish of RiseUp Radio Show as the MC.

The AIC and OIC plan to continue holding this conference annually.