Speaker Event: ‘Arab Militaries in the wake of the Arab Spring’

(Summary by Tom McGivan, PolSoc secretary)

On Tuesday 25th November, Robert Springborg spoke to Durham University Politics and International Relations Society about ‘Arab Militaries in the Wake of the Arab Spring’. It was a pleasure to welcome such an established expert on the Middle East region to speak about the recent uprisings and his thoughts on the future.

Springborg emphasised how the Arab Uprisings should be considered as a case in their own right due to the complexities of the region. He then went on to divide the region into monarchies, bully states, bunker states and then democracies.

Springborg explained how the Arab upheavals and reactions to them have resulted in a profound militarization of the Arab world.

In the republics this has taken the form of remilitarizing Egypt, further entrenching the power of Algeria’s military and possibly preparing the Tunisian military for an unaccustomed role in the future. In the other republics a Hegelian dialectic has pitted the kata`ib of regime supporting militaries against militias emerging from protest movements, with both sides attracting external support, including additional militias.

In the monarchies ruling families have bolstered their militaries by increasing their capabilities and by roping them together in collective commands. They have done so primarily to confront and put down further upheavals, wherever in the Arab world they might occur, but probably also as part of intensifying intra-family power struggles.

Lying atop this militarization is the U.S. presence in various forms, included as primary supplier and trainer, operator of autonomous bases, and/or orchestrator of counter terrorist campaigns.

This is a novel and dangerous development for the Arab world. The very existence of several of its key states is now in question as civil wars and insurgencies rage on. Those conflicts have already sucked in external forces and threaten to draw in more, while destroying whatever cohesion once existed in their militaries and other state institutions.

Militaries that in the past were either parade ground forces, such as those in Tunisia or several GCC states, or which had through peace lost their raison d’etre, such as in Egypt, are now being reinvigorated not only to combat internal threats, but as possible expeditionary forces to confront “terror” and instability in neighboring countries. This growth of military power may in many if not all cases be at the expense of whatever civilian control, whether royal or commoner, now exists.

– Thank you to those who attended, we hope you enjoyed the event.

– Our final speaker event of Michaelmas Term will take place Thursday 4th December

As America turns its focus away from mediation and towards viewing the region from a counter terrorist perspective, Springborg concluded on something of a worried note. He argued that creating a clear and conflict-free future will be difficult and will require careful policy making from all parties.

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