Thoughts on the Arab revolutions

A few thoughts after sitting in a panel discussion on the Arab revolutions, with speakers from Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, the USA and Israel, as part of the Israeli Presidential Conference.


Though Jordan isn’t undergoing a violent revolution (or a violent repression of a peaceful revolution), there are now weekly protests against the King and Government. If and when Syria falls, the pressure on the Jordanian regime will become irresistible. Democracy is coming to Jordan.

And we have to ask what that means, because Jordan has a majority-Palestinian population. What would a democratic Jordan with a Palestinian majority mean for the peace process and the Israeli – Palestinian conflict?

At the height of the Arab Spring last year, I asked this question to people in the UK’s Foreign Office. I got two reactions: first, anger. “Are you saying that Jordan is Palestine?”. I wasn’t. And then denial “we don’t believe that Palestinians would vote in a democratic Jordan. That would be abandoning their own aspirations”. To which my only response was “hmm”.


Everyone here now agrees that the fall of Assad is now in Israel’s strategic interest – even if the new Syrian government is a belligerent Islamist regime. The end of Assad would massively cut Iran’s ability to project to power and would cripple Hizballah. This is new; a year ago, there were many Israeli commentators who preferred the devil they knew. Despite all this, there’s a feeling that Israel can’t and shouldn’t do anything to intervene in Syria.

The Bigger Picture

The protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were originally triggered by economic factors: unemployment, the price of food and fuel, and lack of economic development. They morphed into anti-regime protests that succeeded. But the underlying triggers – prices, unemployment, investment – are still there. In fact, the instability in these economies is likely to worsen all of these problems.

The global financial crisis isn’t going away. What happens in a year’s time when their standards of living are continuing to fall? Maybe they will be happier because they are free, but Maslow might remind us that you can’t eat a ballot slip. Unless political freedom is combined with economic improvement, the future could be very frightening.