Realignment in the Arab world: what are Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran worried about?
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The impact of the Arab Spring on three regional neighbours: Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran and how they might respond to the changing political landscape was the focus of last night’s discussion at the Frontline Club.
Chaired by Sam Farah, lead presenter of BBC Arabic’s flagship interactive programme Nuqtat Hewar (Talking Point), the discussion highlighted how revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were part of long term political shifts that would force change both within the countries and impact the relationships between different states.
Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel were all afraid of the changes taking place in the Arab world, the panel agreed.
Israel is worried about the Arab Spring and what that generates among the Palestinians, argued William Morris, secretary general of the Next Century Foundation:
They are concerned about the move towards peaceful protest. The Arab Spring dynamic of passive protest and mass protest is something that Israel doesn’t know how to deal with.
The other dynamic that Israel “can’t cope with” is the peace protest, said William Morris:
Israel is very frightened of a peace protest because obviously it would have to make sacrifices and Israel has moved to the right.
They have a real problem with facing up to a peace process because that means sacrificing settlements, and how can they do that? It’s a very bitter pill for Israel to swallow. Israel is in a mess internally, it doesn’t know how to cope with the Arab Spring, it doesn’t know how to cope with its own people, it doesn’t know how to cope with the peace process. It’s on the spot.
Asked if Israel’s biggest concern was Islamism or secularism in the Middle East Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said that the Israeli regime was not serving its people by opposing emerging democracies which might include Muslim democrats. Israelis might have a better life in a more democratic, civiv region:
If it would have embraced change in the Arab world like the Europeans did – quite late, but they did nonetheless – and started being on the right side of Arab history, instead of being on the wrong side of Arab history, rooting for Egyptian change instead of [opposing it]. If Israelis would embrace the revolution, Arab change and Arab democracy, even if it does involve Islamists being part of government as an opportunity to have normalisation of relations on the basis of international legality.
Asked about Saudi Arabia Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, an independent pan-Arab daily newspaper published in London, said it was shaken more than any other country by the events of the Arab Spring because it is “the first country that should face protest and revolution”.
Saudi Arabia has none of the freedoms that Egypt and Tunisia had before the uprisings and yet nothing happened there. This is because of its status in the West as a “cornerstone of moderation” that brings stability in the Middle East and because of its oil.
A journalist who asked a Saudi official if he was concerned about the uprisings in the Arab world replied with an emphatic “no” said Abdel Bari Atwan:
He said it was simply because Al Jazeera, CNN and the BBC wouldn’t be there to cover it. So they feel they are protected by the Western media, or they can ban the Western media and so if there was a revolution it wouldn’t actually be publicised like the one in Egypt or the one in Tunisia. But I believe the unrest is there. It is true that they managed to bribe the people.. but this will help only in the short term and not in the long run.
Discussing Iran, Bishara argued that while in the short term Iran might have “seriously benefitted” from more representative leaders in the region, he believed that
In the long term, a democratic Arab world, if it does succeed to be as such, will not be a good thing for the Ayatollahs in Tehran.