The Arab World's Resilient Regimes

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Stratfor Middle East Analyst Emily Hawthorne examines how the Egyptian and Tunisian governments have weathered security threats post-Arab Spring. 

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For more in depth analysis on this topic, read What Has and Has Not Changed Since the Arab Spring

Video Transcript

January in the Arab world marks five years since the beginning of 2011’s Arab Spring. Five years ago, public protests changed the faces of many modern Arab states. In some countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen, the Arab Spring left civil wars and fractured governments in its wake. But in others such as Tunisia and Egypt, where protests first began, the old regimes remain relatively intact. This resilience has helped the two North African countries evade the instability and violence that power vacuums have introduced in neighboring countries.

Part of this resilience is the ability to bend and not break in a new post-Arab Spring environment. This required introducing some tenets of democratic reform to satisfy newly vocal populations. It also required carefully choosing how to use the state’s power to respond to enduring economic, security and political threats.

In terms of security, both Egypt and Tunisia are dealing with increasing threats from ISIS- and al Qaeda-affiliated elements within and beyond their borders. The need to contain these threats, which emanate from the Sinai, Libya and the Sahel, is a key priority of both Egypt and Tunisia. Attacks on state security and on tourism sites threaten key sources of income for both states.

Economic stagnation only compounds the security challenges facing the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. In Tunisia over the weekend, thousands demanded employment in public protests. Even police officers demanded better pay this week, marching in front of the presidential palace. Youth unemployment in both Egypt and Tunisia has hardly budged since the Arab Spring, and both governments are struggling to present viable solutions. Courting foreign direct investment is a continual challenge for both governments. To help keep social unrest at bay, France has offered 1 billion U.S. dollars in aid to Tunisia this past weekend, and Gulf patrons like Saudi Arabia have offered billions of U.S. dollars to Egypt in recent months.

While Tunisia's and Egypt’s regimes face similar economic and security challenges, both regimes have dealt with opposition parties very differently. In Tunisia, the ruling Nidaa Tounes party bargained a power-sharing agreement with the formerly-outlawed Islamist Ennahda party, so that both can block further opposition together. As a result, the old regime maintains control in spite of the country’s precarious politics.

Egypt took a different path. There, the powerful military regime stood aside as opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, entered politics. When Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was elected and governed for a year, the military continued to hold back until broader popular sentiment turned against the Islamist government. When the military ultimately removed Morsi for governing ineffectively, the military positioned itself as Egypt’s economic savior and declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. This interplay with the Muslim Brotherhood continues and is still a threat to the regime’s power.

Ultimately, post-Arab Spring Egypt and Tunisia are adapting to an environment full of economic and security challenges by carefully choosing when and how to apply state power. Perhaps the bigger question moving forward is whether even a military-backed regime in Egypt will be compelled to bend and reengage with the Muslim Brotherhood for its longer-term stability.

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