The debate still wages between those who argue for and against Iraq exhibiting their own Arab Spring. Journalist for the conservative magazine American Thinker Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi argues that the term “Arab spring” or the Arab Awakening doesn’t wholly apply to the revolutions taking place across the MENA states. This perspective shows a different facet of the United States conservative opinion.
Unrest across the MENA states is many things, but “uniquely Arab” is not something all the states have in common. The term Arab Awakening was originally understood as revolutions across the many different states towards a pan-Arab identity. I do not believe these revolutions across the MENA states are striving towards a pan-Arab identity, especially non-Arab states in the region-exhibiting revolutions. Al-Tamimi argues, the term Arab Spring/ Arab Awakening was born out of Western Media, first coined by The Guardian, and rooted in the assumption that this unrest was about disposing long time dictators and former colonizers responsible for denying the pan-Arab identity. Similarly, the London Newspaper- The Times also corroborated this idea/term the Arab Spring, going further denying any existence of sectarian feuds during the Arab Spring. I agree with Al-Tamimi that this unrest across MENA states is not uniquely Arab, and that sectarian divides exist dominantly today in the MENA states and governs their behavior and posturing towards surrounding regional actors. The role of transnational identities is the most persuasive argument in how states of the region act towards each other-as described by expert on Middle Eastern Affairs Gregory Gause. Journalist Al-Tamimi and many others do not agree with this term the Arab Awakening and claim it to be somewhat of a misnomer for the following reasons.
Firstly, the causes for revolution and protests across the MENA states vary across a broad spectrum. There is certainly no strong evidence that the desire of the peoples of these states is to align in a pan-Arab identity. In Egypt and Tunisia and now Syria, the goal of the protesters was to dispose the government already in place. In Bahrain, the protesters were largely led by the social democratic Al-Waad party and some factions of the Shi’i al-Wafeq movement. The protests are for reform to the government for a constitutional monarchy with more political rights for all Bahrains. In Morocco, the goal of the protesters was not to overthrow the government but to demand for more rights given to the Berber minority and to make their language part of the national languages listed. Iraq is similar in that the goals of the protests in 2010 were not to oust the government but to demand for better services, more employment and less corruption in the government sectors. Secondly, blanket charges of corruption and unemployment across the region have been designated as factors of protests happening in many of the MENA states. For example: Oman, Bahrain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia rank 41, 42, 48 and 50 out of 178 countries respectively, on the corruption list—demonstrating low corruption. Iraq however, is ranked one of the worst on corruption. Discontent about corruption is the highest in Iraq in the world only beat by Afghanistan, Somalia and Burma. Not all causes for the protests are the same to each other MENA country.
Iraq is a unique example of the Arab Spring, as there is still debate as to whether Iraq has experienced its own Arab Spring. Demonstrations in Iraq started to increase again in 2010, with opposition groups this past summer starting collaborating with each other as a force against the Iraqi government. In a way to calm tensions, Al-Maliki held talks with opposition forces to come to a resolution—but others speculate, the meetings Al-Maliki sponsored with Iraqi opposition groups wasn’t meant to create a resolution at all. “On June 24th, the Iraqi newspaper al-Mada reported that several groups, which did not participate in the meeting with government representatives, had formed their own coordinating committee, excluding and branding the others as traitors, the factions that did hold talks with al-Maliki’s administration (Tamimi, 2).” Whether this was the aim or not, al-Maliki has managed to fraction his opposition groups, he could potentially do the same as mediator in the Syrian talks.
The protestors in addition to these grievances against them want better access to services like electricity and government amenities. Sectarian divides continue to plague Iraq and are exploited by both Iran and Saudi Arabia. There is agreement between all sectarian divides for the United States to leave the country. Since the 2003 invasion, after the ousting of the Sunni Baath party, the Shiite took control of the country. In 2005 and 2006, sectarian conflict escalated to civil war, with Shi’I militias infiltrating the Ministry’s police and counterinsurgency forces detaining and killing many Sunni Iraqis. Sunni Iraqi militias responded similarly and this continues the sectarian conflict cycle. Entire neighborhoods and religiously diverse provinces have fallen victim to these feuds. Notably, sectarian divides are still prominent in Iraq and extend across borders to surrounding regions.
Too many commentators since the beginning of these protests across MENA states were willing to gloss over the uniqueness of the protests to each country for common likeness. Sectarian divides/transnational identities are still prominent across the MENA states and their interactions determine leadership behavior across the region.
On a June 29, 2011 article in an online conservative magazine, American Thinker, journalist Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, argues there is no Arab Spring in Iraq.
Al-Tamimi, Aymenn Jawad. 2011. “Iraq and the misnamed Arab Srping.’
American Thinker. 1-3.