The rapid developments in the Arab world towards the end of 2018 suggest that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the counter-revolutions which sought to kill the Arab Spring. Three major capitals have been involved in the counter-revolutions: Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Cairo.
When the Arab nations began their uprisings in 2011, the UAE and Saudi Arabia worked hard to curb popular anger and stop the protests so that they would not spread to the Arabian Peninsula. The Peninsula Shield Force, meanwhile, intervened militarily to crush protestors at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, and imposed a ban on demonstrations.
In Yemen, the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened through the Gulf Cooperation Council to contain the demands of the rebels in Sanaa. A dignified exit was arranged to remove Ali Abdullah Saleh from power without handing over to the rebels. What happened to the betrayed Yemeni revolution is well-known; the consequences are still affecting everyone in the country.
The greatest success of the counter-revolution axis was the military coup in Egypt, which enabled Abu Dhabi and Riyadh to appoint their sponsor as the leader of the largest Arab state and army. Fearing that the revolution in Egypt would be reproduced in Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood would come to power in Damascus, the axis rushed to arm the peaceful protestors in Daraa and recruit idealised Arab youth from around the world to ignite an ideological war. This has destroyed everything in the country without succeeding in the counter-revolution’s main objectives of overthrowing Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and establishing a “legitimate government” similar to that of Yemen’s Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi which gets its orders from the UAE and the Saudis.
As at the end of 2018, though, it seems that all of the counter-revolution projects have started to crumble, not least in Riyadh. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Consulate in Istanbul three months ago not only shook the world but also led to destroying Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s dreams of ruling the Kingdom and the Arab world for the next 50 years. Regardless of what he does to improve his image, or how much of his country’s wealth and influence he uses in the process, the blood on his hands will not be washed away. He has lost any legitimacy that he might have had to represent his country; it is only the backing of US President Donald Trump which is keeping him in his position. This is not because Trump has any particularly feelings for the Crown Prince, but simply because he wants to keep Saudi oil flowing in America’s direction. Trump himself is entering his third year in office with a number of interesting and potentially fatal scandals affecting his position in the White House.
Abu Dhabi is regarded as the brains behind the counter-revolutions. It more or less revealed that its plans had failed when it announced its decision to normalise relations with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, which it has been fighting with money, arms and men. The announcement was an implied surrender by the UAE. Now there is a race by some Arab states within the counter-revolutionary orbit to re-establish relations with Damascus. Despite the fact that some are trying to spin this as a victory for Al-Assad and his regime, it is actually a failure of the Arab revolutions which has contributed to the Syrian President remaining in power for the past seven years.
As for Al-Assad himself, he has no moral high ground as a president who has killed a quarter of a million of his people, displaced half of them, destroyed his country and opened it to armed forces from across the world to use as a testing ground for all sorts of weapons. He has no moral, political or religious legitimacy to stay in power. When the fighting stops, the dictator will find himself vulnerable to the will of the people which cannot be quelled by all the weapons in the world. They may oppress and silence the Syrian people for some time, but not forever. History is replete with examples of such scenarios.
In Egypt, the coup-led government has shown the limitations of its deception of the people. It is failing on all levels, including security, the economy and politics. The only thing in which Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s regime has been successful is stealing the revolution and silencing the opposition. However, the people’s will is still awaiting the next spark that will ignite it.
The major transformations and events in the Arab region in 2018 mean that we should expect some repercussions in the New Year; 2019 will undoubtedly be a year when the counter-revolutions end. It will be the beginning of a new era that is difficult to predict; suffice to say that it will definitely be different to that which has been controlled by the counter-revolution axis over the past seven agonising years. Relief could be at hand for millions of people.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 2 January 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.