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EGF Forum Outlook: regime change and domino effect in the Middle East – who next, how soon?
April 14, 2011 20:17PMFebruary 21, 2011
The year 2011 has commenced with unprecedented levels of political turmoil, violence and tension in the Middle East. While this will not necessarily come as a surprise to readers of our previous research on the region, the fact that the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents have been dismissed from power barely within weeks of one another as a result of wide-scale street demonstrations in these two countries, clearly implies that the region has once again entered into a “game breaking” situation. As violence and further protests continue to spread rapidly across the region, the key question of concern to governments, investors and Middle Eastern ruling elites is now which regime is likely to fall next ? Despite the often overlooked heterogeneities of the region, the dramatic events already having taken place in Tunisia and Egypt in the first weeks of 2010 have inspired a domino effect of protests. Demonstrations of varying degree of magnitude are presently engulfing Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Iran. They have also taken place in Jordan, while smaller scale demonstrations were planned in Kuwait. While other states across the Middle East are reporting less protest activity, the threat that the Egyptian-Tunisian contagion is posing to the region as a whole cannot not be underestimated.
At the time of the present writing, the position of the four-decade-long regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya is looking extremely critical. The next few days are likely to reveal whether the Libyan leader becomes the next long-serving Middle Eastern ruler to be deposed from power. Several hundred deaths resulting from clashes between protestors and the regime have already been reported in Eastern Libyan cities in recent days. Gunfire is now being heard in multiple locations in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, amidst suggestions that senior allies of Colonel Gaddafi have fled the country for neighbouring Tunisia. Demonstrations have also broken out in Morocco, which has been largely unaffected up till now, while Algerian demonstrators continue to hurl pressure on the regime of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The Gulf State of Bahrain remains gripped in deep political crisis at the time of writing, with protestors showing no sign of diminishing the intense nature of their demands for political change. However, we do not feel that regime change in this tiny, yet highly strategic island kingdom is imminent, not in the least due to the underlying sectarian divisions which remain at the core of Bahrain’s political crisis, and the fact that neighbouring Sunni Arab regimes are unlikely to look kindly at the emergence of a Shi’ite dominated government in Bahrain. Yemen and Iran are also gripped by violent protests and clashes between regime and protestors, and whilst political crisis is likely to deepen in both countries, we cannot say that regime change is imminent in either.