Envoys upbeat over ‘Arab Spring’

As protesters celebrated the first anniversary of the fall of the Mubarak regime outside the Egyptian Embassy, diplomats remained positive about the outcome of the democratic uprisings in the Middle East.

According to an Embassy poll, respondents were “mostly optimistic” about the uprisings, with one Ambassador stating the “growth of a young, liberal civil society” in the region as a reason to be upbeat.

Another head of mission said the uprisings had set in chain “irreversable” processes but warned that “strategic patience” needed to be exercised.

Echoing these sentiments, Foreign Secretary William Hague urged the international community not to “loose faith” in the Arab Awakening, adding that the democratisation it had unleashed “was going to be a long process, not an instant fix” and would “take different forms in each country”.

While Syria’s violent uprisings continue to cause concern, the Foreign Secretary pointed to elections in Tunisia, where 24 per cent of the seats are now held by women; high turnouts in Egypt’s elections; and new elections in Morocco under a new constitution.

He added that the GCC-led political transition in Yemen, Bahrain’s steps to implement the conclusions of its commission of inquiry into the violence last year, Libya’s transition to a democracy, and political reforms in Jordan were reasons to be positive.

But the Foreign Secretary warned the international community to “steel itself for setbacks”. Some observers worry about the strong showing of the Islamist parties in the region, while others say this was more a rejection of the corruption that had characterised the ousted secular governments.

Another threat facing the new governments was “sky high expectations”, said Mr Hague, echoing the views of senior Arab diplomats, who told Embassy that the lack of jobs for young people and frustration over corruption remained real threats to stability.
They added that the Arab Spring was “fuelling paranoia” in two other players in the region – Iran and Israel – which could have a negative impact on the Middle East Peace Process and regional stability.