Event ReportsPublished on Apr 25, 2013
The 'Arab Spring' has given an opportunity to India to present itself as a model to other countries, feels Prof Gawdat Bhagat of the Near-East and South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, Washington DC.
Arab Spring has helped India, Turkey to promote their models in West Asia
"The ’Arab Spring’ has given an opportunity to India to present itself as a model to other countries," feels Prof Gawdat Bhagat of the Near-East and South Asia Centre for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, Washington DC.

Initiating a discussion on ’Arab Spring and After’, jointly hosted by ORF-Chennai and the office of the US Consul-General for South India, Dr Bhagat, an American scholar of Egyptian descend, said that while Syria has its fingers in every other country in the region, many regional powers also have stakes in Syria. He said unlike the case with other countries ravelled by ’Arab Spring’, Syria’s issue is not with a dictator but the sect which ruled the country.

Dr Bhagat said the civil war in Syria is a regional war with Iran on one side and countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia supporting the opposition. He said that even if President Bashar al-Assad wished to step down, the ruling class of Alawis would not permit that to happen.

The discussion ned around a brief overview of the situation in West Asian countries such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Israel and Turkey.

Dr Bhagat remarked that Egypt is too big and too important to fail, especially with its rich culture and heritage. Thus the US is not only giving financial aid to that country but is also trying to pressure the IMF to do so as well. Prior to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, the Israeli Prime Minister and the ruler of Saudi Arabia supported the Egyptian leader for ’various reasons’. In the case of Egypt, no one expected the regime to collapse in 10 days.

Dr Bhagat said ’something might happen’ in Iran after June when incumbent President Ahmadinejad leaves office. There is a lack of trust between Iran and the US over the former’s nuclear programme. The US alleges that this might be a step towards Iran developing a nuclear arsenal while Teheran believes that Washington is pushing for a regime-change. The US and the rest of the international community have imposed economic sanctions more severe than those on North Korea and Iraq, to stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear programme, yet this doesn’t seem to have acted as an impediment.

Though Iran, as of date, does not possess any nuclear arsenal, Israel and Iran exaggerate the latter’s nuclear capabilities. Israeli lobbies are hard on these lines to push the US into military action against Iran. However, the US may not use military power unless diplomatic channels failed. Officially, all options are on the table. Dr Bhagat also said despite all the sanctions, Iranian universities are doing very well in the region along with universities from countries like Israel and Turkey. Interestingly, these are the only three non-Arab countries in the entire region.

While talking about Iraq, Bhagat said since the pull-out of US troops from that region, the country is on a stable path. But it may take some time for Iraq to open up its oil resources for foreign investors. He also said that this country with an Arab and Shia majority has the right size of population and is the only such country in the region.

Bhagat said that the failure of Arab leaders to find a diplomatic solution to the Arab-Israel conflict has kept Israel in the picture. The ghost of the conflict still lingers around, with Arabs disliking Israelis and vice versa. The way ’Arab Spring’ has developed is not of Israeli making. The country had no issues whatsoever with the ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak or the Syrian dictator Assad. Also there is a fear of this Jewish nation being surrounded by failed States, which may be ruled by fundamental. This does not put Israel in a comfortable situation. Dr Bhagat stressed that both Israelis and Arabs should try to get along together and learn to accept each other in order to maintain peace and stability in the region.

The one country to benefit from ’Arab Spring’ was Turkey, according to Gawdat Bhagat. This Sunni-majority nation is one of the fast-growing economies in the region and is also a member of NATO. This main winner of the ’Arab Spring’ can pose itself as a model to other countries in the region to follow its lead. Turkey also has close relations with European nations.

(This report is prepared by Ramalingam Va, I Year (Journalism & Mass Communication), S R M University, Chennai)

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