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5 voices: What's next for the 'Arab Spring'?

By Kyle Almond, CNN
Protesters in Yemen have demanded President Ali Abdullah Saleh's removal. Here, demonstrators march in Sanaa this month.
Protesters in Yemen have demanded President Ali Abdullah Saleh's removal. Here, demonstrators march in Sanaa this month.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Experts weigh in on the Arab unrest and describe what they think will happen next
  • Several are optimistic about the possibility of more regime change
  • The exception might be Syria, where the odds seem to be stacked against protesters
  • Even if more change is slow to come, "the tide of history has turned," one expert says

(CNN) -- It all happened so fast.

In January, less than a month after fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on fire, nationwide protests in Tunisia forced out President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

One month later, Egypt experienced its own revolution, and unrest spread across the region to other countries such as Bahrain, Jordan, Syria and Yemen.

But in the last couple of months, it seems, the rate of change has slowed. A stalemate has developed in Libya's civil war. Government leaders aren't budging in Bahrain or Syria, and Yemen's future is still up in the air.

So what happens next? Is more change on the way, or have we already seen the peak of what some call the "Arab Spring"?

CNN.com reached out to five experts for opinion and analysis. More specifically, we posed the following question: How do you see the "Arab Spring" playing out as we move toward the summer months?

Taylor: Expect regime change in Libya, Yemen
Julie Taylor, a Middle East specialist who lived in Egypt for four years, is a political scientist at the RAND Corp.

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It is likely that we will see at least two more regime transitions in the next six months.

One is Yemen, where the ruling party has agreed to have President (Ali Abdullah) Saleh step down. It is not clear whether Saleh is on board with the deal -- if the opposition rejects the portion of the agreement that would protect Saleh and his family from prosecution, the president's departure might be delayed. But it will still be imminent. Saleh enjoys little support both inside and outside of Yemen, and all parties are growing frustrated with his attempts to drag out the inevitable.

Another is Libya, where most think any resolution that keeps (Moammar) Gadhafi in power and divides the country is untenable.

Syria is harder to call. The protesters are unrelenting, but -- unlike in Yemen -- troop leaders in Syria's armed forces are highly committed to President (Bashar) al-Assad. Their fates are tied to the maintenance of the regime because they are from the same minority Alawite sect. Al-Assad also has the ability to initiate a mass crackdown, and the regime's primary patron, Iran, would likely support such a move.

Overall, prospects for consolidated democracies look somewhat bleak. Prior to the revolutions, a network of civil society groups had developed in Egypt and Tunisia, cultivating a civic culture that promoted popular engagement and democracy. But the two countries still struggle to establish democratic systems.

The countries in a possible "second wave" of Arab revolutions have even dimmer prospects. Other than tribes, Libya essentially has no civil society, and it has a long-isolated educated class. Yemen has civil society organizations but fewer well-educated individuals or solid state institutions. And Syria, despite its comparatively well-educated population, has virtually no civil society; removal of the regime would likely devolve into a civil conflict between Alawites and majority Sunnis.

Sharqieh: 'We are seeing dictators inspiring dictators to resist'
Ibrahim Sharqieh is deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center.

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One major lesson that Tunisia and Egypt shared with their fellow Arabs is that dictatorships do have an end and that they can be abolished sooner than many think. Furthermore, they inspired the entire region with their success, breaking the barrier of fear and replacing it with a pragmatic optimism that change can be achieved.

However, the other half of the story that remains is the question of what it takes to effect democratic change in the region. In particular, it is becoming increasingly obvious that a smooth overthrow of entrenched dictators is quite an elusive goal. The Tunisian and Egyptian paradigm of regime change in three weeks probably cannot be repeated.

In the coming months, a new paradigm for political transition will likely emerge in the Arab world. We should be prepared to see different means of quelling public unrest in the region. Possible new scenarios include civil wars, coups, disintegrations, sectarian tension, external intervention, internationalization and negotiated political settlements.

The countries at risk -- particularly Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain -- are unlikely to follow one particular path because each one of them has its own set of dynamics and domestic drivers for change. In Tunisia and Egypt, we have seen people inspiring others to revolt; however, in the new paradigm, we are seeing dictators inspiring dictators to resist.

It is true the emergence of these new dynamics is likely to make the process of political change longer and more complicated. But regardless of how long this process takes, the Arab public has learned that the time has come for aging dictators to depart -- and that the only option at this point is to move forward with the long-overdue call for freedom and justice.

Khanna: Arab world has the money to solve its problems
Parag Khanna, author of "How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance," is a senior research fellow with the New America Foundation.

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As the "Arab Spring" moves into summer, things are likely to remain hot.

While it is anyone's guess what will happen in Libya -- consolidation or partition are still equally viable scenarios -- tensions will surely rise in Egypt as government reforms falter and election preparations ramp up. And Bahrain might have quelled the protests in its streets, but it will have done little to address the core sectarian inequalities that are a key driver of its present instability.

Importantly, the bottom-up push for accountability will continue as long as citizens, business groups and other reformers keep the pressure on for emergency laws to be repealed, parliaments to be strengthened and economic reforms to be undertaken. Particularly with respect to the economy, private creditors and outside agencies such as the International Monetary Fund can play a valuable role in forcing governments in Egypt and Syria to loosen their economic grip faster than entrenched elites would like.

The role of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, will remain pivotal and come ever more into the spotlight. These oil-rich states have been key investors across the Arab world and play a vital role in financing the necessary structural economic modernization the region needs.

Remember that the Arab world is not the third world -- it has all the money it needs to solve its own problems. The question is if it can overcome the stale Arabism of the past, which affirmed insecure nationalism, in favor of a new Arabism that champions trans-Arab interdependence.

Cherif: Odds stacked against Syrian revolution
Feryal Cherif is an assistant professor for the political science department at the University of California, Riverside.

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The events in Tunisia and Egypt offer hope that uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa will meet with success. Perhaps most striking are the events unfolding in Syria, where few predicted mass protests against Bashar al-Assad's regime and where the conventional wisdom suggests that past repression, ethnic-religious diversity and relative popularity would shield al-Assad.

In many ways, the events in Syria draw strong parallels to Egypt. In the hopes of appeasing protesters, al-Assad offers concessions every few days -- a lifting of the niqab ban, offering citizenship to Kurds and promising to rescind emergency law. But much like (Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak, al-Assad constantly appears to be a step behind the protesters' demands.

While the magnitude of Syrian protests is impressive, the fate of al-Assad's regime remains an open question. Specifically, a loyal military and the legacy of limited association rights significantly diminish the prospects of a successful revolution in the country.

In Egypt, protesters benefited from relatively strong NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and experience with activism, but Syria has a more limited and restricted civil society. Data from the NGO Regulation Network reveal that there are nearly five times more civil society organizations per capita in Egypt than Syria. Except for the Hama revolt in 1982 and Kurdish demonstrations in 2004, political protest in Syria has been minimal.

All of this suggests that Syrian protesters have less local political experience and knowledge, fewer resources and smaller networks that they can tap into. These deficiencies limit protesters' ability to pressure the regime and ensure it is held accountable for its actions.

Hashemi: Revolts leave a 'powerful legacy'
Nader Hashemi teaches Middle East politics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and he is author of "The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran's Future."

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The notion of an "Arab Spring" is a misnomer because it assumes that the Arab world is a monolith.

Yes, these uprisings are motivated by common political and economic grievances rooted in decades of authoritarian rule. And, yes, the protesters aspire to common democratic objectives. But each country in the Arab world is different. Each has its own internal story and confronts different obstacles related to class and minority cleavages, the strength of the military and state institutions, and the unity and democratic orientation of the opposition forces.

Moreover, the nature and character of the forms of authoritarian rule in the Arab world -- and the devastation they have wrought -- pose different challenges for democrats moving forward. There is cause for optimism even if we assume a worst-case scenario where democratic forces are crushed in Libya, Syria, Yemen and beyond. Were this to happen, these revolts would still leave behind a powerful legacy that future democratic forces can build upon, buttressed by the successful of examples of Tunisia and Egypt, where the prospects for democracy appear to be the greatest.

Regardless of how many democratic transitions we witness this year, the tide of history has turned. The days are numbered for Arab authoritarian regimes, and those who argue that Islam/Arab culture is incompatible with democracy are left scrambling.

 
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