September 19, 2011
The political world has turned upside down in the Middle East since the Arab Awakening erupted. The region has been convulsed by the most radical changes since the end of imperial occupation and the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948.
One significant development is becoming evident: many Arab countries may be more democratic in future, but they will be weaker in terms of state power and ability to secure their independence. This enfeeblement of the state is most obvious in Iraq, is under way in Libya and is now likely to happen in Syria.
This weakness – unlikely to be reversed for many years – ensures the growing influence of foreign powers. This was evident last week as the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, received a rapturous reception in Cairo and David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy were lauded as heroes in Tripoli and Benghazi. No visiting Arab leader would be so applauded.
In several Arab states, political, sectarian and ethnic divisions, previously suppressed, are re-emerging. These differences once prevented a united opposition. Central to the success of the Arab Awakening movements in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria is creation of anti-regime coalitions, bringing together liberals and conservatives, secular and religious, rich and poor, educated and uneducated. These alliances are fragile. Without the prospect of overthrowing hated dictators, they have little in common.