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United States Foreign Policy Towards Middle East: An insight from the Arab Spring – by Sameena Abid

It was the December of 2010 when the wind of change, commonly known as the “Arab Spring”, started to blow in the Arab region. The slogans of freedom and democracy were chanted in the streets of Tunisia against twenty-three years old rule of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The demonstrations continued till January, 2011 when ultimately Ben Ali resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia. The success of Tunisian people in bringing despotic regime down encouraged other Arab countries to follow the same path. Consequently, vigorous demonstrations started in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen and with comparatively low intensity in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and some other Gulf and African countries. Although the causes and beginning of the Arab Spring in all these countries were similar but the result was different because of variations in ground realities, social structures, sectarian composition, and historical experiences of these countries. The result was bloody civil wars, complete destruction of existing political structures without having alternative systems, replacement of old despots by the new ones and total chaos and turmoil in the region. The situation led to the rise of various terrorist organizations in the region including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which has emerged as a growing threat to international peace and security.

The popular uprisings in the Arab world have lost their meanings. The aim of progressive, egalitarian and democratic Arab countries has been blurred in the agony of civil wars, power struggles, violent extremism and sectarianism. Arab Spring showed a ray of hope for the Arab countries but didn’t show the way through which to reach there. Therefore, it turned the region into the battlefield for major powers of the world.

The civil wars in the region have wide implications on international politics and security as well. The role of great powers, particularly United States and Russia is of significance in this situation. The conflict in the Arab world has escalated beyond borders and is further escalating. In order to contain and resolve the issue, United States needs to play its constructive role in the region. US as a global power and a torch bearer of democracy since its creation should have out rightly supported the democratic movements but it didn’t. Contrary to its ideals, US continued its dual standards of supporting and opposing despotic regimes for the sake of its own national interests as it did in the cold war era. In reality, US has never supported progressive forces in the Arab region, rather it has helped the dictatorial regimes to oppress the movements in order to protect its own interests in the region. World has witnessed this hypocritical stance of United States in the Arab Spring as well, whether that be the case of supporting dictators in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain  and Yemen or that of opposing dictators in the name of democracy for pursuit of its own interests in Libya and Syria .

Moderate Islamists and liberals in the Arab world emerged as a challenge for authoritarian regimes as evident from the Arab Spring. They face difficulties in their countries because of oppressive autocratic governments resisting them. Though their agenda is sensible, that is, to get their countries out of authoritarianism and transform them into popular democracies, but they have no support from the torch bearers of democracy and freedom in the world, particularly US. There is Saudi Arabia who supported dictatorship in Egypt, Gulf States who funds ISIS, Iran and Russia who back Assad regime in Syria, but there is certainly no one who supports democratic forces in Arab world. US can play a moderate role to pacify the current turmoil in the region if it can balance its relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

It is unrealistic to expect that Arab Spring will materialize into democratically governed Arab world with gender equality and protection of human rights in few years. Even United States itself had taken centuries to establish stable democratic political system. Arab world can only get stable democracy if it is given due time and support to evolve. It is clearly evident that US is not sincere in promoting democracy, but its own economic, political and strategic interests. US should not neglect increasing anti-US sentiments in Arab people due to its ambiguous policies. United States needs to play a judicious role in the region by formulating a balanced foreign policy towards Middle East for better interest of humanity. Chaos and confusion in the region is in nobody’s interest including the United States itself.

Promoting democratic values is one of the ideals of US politics but it has failed to materialize these principles into policy in case of Middle East. The US national security objectives are the main reason which obstructs US from backing democratic movements in the region. Despite of American adherence to democratic principles, US should not neglect compatibility of the outcomes of the Arab Spring with its strategic interests. US foreign policy in this situation should be creative enough to accommodate both its principles and interests.  The silence of United States in such a situation is criminal. Being a major ally of Arab countries it needs to play the role of a mediator to pacify the situation in the greater interest of humanity.

Sameena Abid is a Student of M. Phil (International Relations) at School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.