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Ten Years after the September 11 Terrorist Attacks on the United States
-Will Spring Come to the Arab World?

Emi Suzuki
Researcher, Organization for Islamic Area Studies, Waseda University

Is the World Becoming a Better Place?

It has been ten years since the September 11 terrorist attacks shocked the world. Over these past ten years, the world has been swayed by the "war on terrorism" through events such as the attacks on Afghanistan and the war with Iraq, triggered by 9.11. Obama's having assumed the presidency has not changed the fact that the Middle East is a battlefield, and the Middle East peace problem has remained at an impasse.

There came the sudden Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, Egypt's "January 25 Revolution" that was inspired by the Jasmine Revolution, and the regime collapses in Arab nations, all while those in the Arab nations were still filled with a sense of stagnation toward the state of affairs. As authoritarian Arabian regimes, which had been believed to never budge, were overthrown by mass demonstrations, media and intellectuals in Europe and the US have become optimistic that democratization would start to spread in Middle Eastern nations in a domino effect.

One wonders, however, if spring has really come to the Arab world. At the moment, it is a little too early to be joyful about spring having come to the countries where the regimes were overthrown. Spring in Arab nations, centered on the ones in North Africa where the regimes have collapsed, is an unstable season where sandstorms continue for tens of days before the flowers start to bloom.

The Eastern European Revolution and the "Arab Spring"

The optimistic view that the media in Europe and the US have in calling the political changes in Arab nations the "Arab Spring" is due to their seeing these changes the same way they saw the Eastern European revolution of 1989. To be sure, there is one thing that the "Arab Spring" and the Eastern European revolution definitely have in common-namely, the fact that rigid regimes were toppling one after another from demonstrations by the public. However, the backgrounds of the revolutions in both regions are fundamentally different.

What the people of the Eastern European nations hoped for were the political freedom and prosperous societies that came with it. Clear visions of the new structures to be established were spread over the Western European nations just next to them. All that needed to be done next was to go ahead with the ideal models. However, the situation is completely different with Arab nations. Of course the Arabian people wanted political freedom and prosperous societies as did the people of the Eastern European nations, but what they wanted the most was, in a word, fair societies. The forming of the unjust societies that the Arab people renounced was actually not so long ago.

Except in Libya, in which no constitution or assembly existed and the dictator known as Gaddafi was synonymous with the state, the IMF's structural adjustments have been embraced and huge pushes toward market economies have been made in countries with fallen regimes such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen since the 1990s, when Eastern European nations were struggling to work toward building market economies. State enterprises were dissolved and the middle class was impoverished. A new class of businessmen emerged, on the other hand, and they took important positions in the ruling party with the help of enormous amounts of funds, and crony capitalism-where they became cronies to presidents and their successors while gaining political power as well as economic benefits-was progressing. In other words, the regime collapses in the Arab nations described above also represented denial of the paths that the Eastern European nations had followed under the name of democratization, the neo-liberal economic systems.

Instability after the Revolution

As the paths that the new nations should take are still unclear, the interim governments designed to run the nations after the regime collapses are groping in working on their national frameworks while negotiating with people including groups that constituted demonstrators (referred to as "demonstration groups" tentatively), opposition parties, religious groups, and others who had been isolated from political spheres in the past. However, the policymakers in these times of instability are facing difficulties that have never been experienced before.

New tools of information transmission that apply social networks typified by Facebook have played a major role in the toppling of the governments. Facebook is effective in mobilizing unorganized people and bringing down something huge, but it is extremely ineffective when it comes to coordinating and outlining diverse opinions.

The demonstration groups that are negotiating with the interim governments are lacking clear structures of leadership and are repeatedly undergoing factional splits and reorganization. The citizens have discovered, however, that demonstrations and sit-down protests are fast and effective ways to exert enormous pressure on government. As a result, there are frequent demonstrations by young people who may block off the roads when their demands are not met, and often even turn into mobs. This is particularly noticeable in Egypt.

Sea Voyages without Compasses

These confusions could be seen as acceptable losses if they were labor pains in the establishing of Arabian-style democracy. The interim governments of countries such as Egypt are compromising with the sometimes emotional public opinion at the moment, however, while still unable to find the right path to the building of new systems between real society and public opinion. History has shown what continued compromise with public demand leads to. Egypt's second president Nasser gave in to the public's demand for the overthrowing of Israel and went to war with Israel, though he had been reluctant about entering into the war. This led to the devastating defeat of Egypt and other Arab nations with the occupation of the West Bank of the River Jordan and East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula (gradually returned to Egypt after 1982) and worsened the Palestinian problem, which still continues to this day. The future of the Arab nations and regional stability depends on how well future political leaders can persuade the sometimes emotional masses.

The world may have once again entered a new age of turmoil, ten years after 9.11.

Emi Suzuki
Researcher, Organization for Islamic Area Studies, Waseda University

Completed the Doctor's Course at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo. Doctor of Philosophy. Appointed to current post in 2008 after serving as Part-Time Lecturer at the University of Tokyo and as researcher at the Middle East Research Institute of Japan. Major publications include The Power Structures in Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries [Chuto/Chuo Asia Shokoku Ni Okeru Kenryoku Kouzou] (co-authored, Iwanami Shoten).