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The Real Reason Behind Anti-American Protests

Posted by Avi Spiegel: 

The pictures all seem to blur together. From Morocco to Indonesia, it has become difficult to differentiate between the widespread protests, between the anti-American chants, and even the black flags of Al Qaeda. But have the protests unfolding throughout the Islamic world really all been the same? Why have some turned violent and others haven't?

A hint: The answers have nothing to do with a pitiful film. They also have little to do with public opinion or even America.

The protests have unfolded -- and will continue to unfold -- differently in different countries because of one underlying reason: a crisis of authority. To understand why this is the case, you have to look closer at the four countries where protests have been most pronounced.

Yes, protests have taken place in at least 12 countries around the world, but only in four countries have the protests turned exceptionally violent, killed American personnel or destroyed American property. Libya, of course, was the nadir: our ambassador was killed and our consulate in Benghazi was destroyed. In Egypt, our embassy compound was scaled and two died in related protests. In Tunisia, fires raged at our embassy while an American school burned. In Yemen, protesters stormed our embassy and four have died so far.

This is not a coincidence. The uprisings that swept authoritarian leaders from power last year affected the entire region. No country's political system is the same after the Arab Spring. But only in four countries did authoritarian leaders actually fall. Only in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen were longstanding rulers actually pushed from power. And in these countries, crises of authority are most acute.

Authoritarianism by its nature controls public unrest. That's partly what enamored the West with the old tyrants of the Middle East: Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, Saleh in Yemen, and even recently, Gaddafi in Libya. Dictators mistreated their people, but policy makers stomached this because they also appeared to keep the peace.

Today, the new leaders of these four countries -- the leaders trying to replace dictatorships with democracy -- face tall tasks. If 2011 was about celebrating revolution, 2012 is about recognizing the risks that emerge from political vacuums. In some cases, such as Libya and Yemen, new leaders have been unable to control mobs. They simply do not possess the requisite control over significant swaths of the country or even of their own security services.

In other cases, especially Egypt and to a lesser degree Tunisia, new leaders have been less than willing or even ambivalent about containing protests or controlling new political oppositions, however radical or nefarious. The biggest fear facing these new leaders is appearing too similar to their predecessors. They replaced leaders who killed protesters or stifled dissent. They replaced leaders who were perceived as coddling American interests. These new post-Arab Spring rulers were supposed to be different.

Thus, it's not that people hate America more in Libya than, say, in Algeria; or that citizens are somehow inherently more violent in Yemen than in Jordan. It is that in Libya and Yemen, leaders are facing the real challenges of breaking free from authoritarianism and the responsibilities of building accountable security forces that come with it.

Americans are justifiably concerned about this virulent increase in anti-Americanism protests, about the new rise of radical groups, and particularly about the inability of Arab leaders to curtail these alarming developments. This past week, former Senator Norm Coleman asked Americans to consider whether the citizens of the Middle East were better off today than they were four years ago. But a former lawmaker should know that building strong democracies takes time. Creating genuine political institutions (in many cases, from scratch), writing constitutions, and shoring up authority is difficult and challenging work.

The most important thing for the U.S. to do now is to redouble our efforts to help build stable democratic institutions. This is not about us; it is about them.

Avi M. Spiegel is completing a book about young Islamist activists -- at who they are and how battles brewing between them will shape the future of the Arab world.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated that an American restaurant (KFC) was burned by protesters in Tunisia. An American school was burned by the protesters.



Co-authored with Adina Batnitzky.

Imagine this scenario: a group of women in southern California ask their local YMCA for an extra swim class. The YMCA would have to stay open a bit later than usual, but it happily obliges. It is summer, and the women, who are content to pay for the class, are eager to use this opportunity to improve their health. For many of them, it will even be their first time in the pool.

Why did they ask for this class in the first place? Perhaps their work schedule prohibits them from finding another suitable time. Perhaps they are shy and prefer not to swim around other people, even men. Perhaps this is a unique opportunity for the women in the community to bond together. Any of those reasons would have probably been met with widespread approval or even indifference. None would have sparked the outcry that this class did.

When a San Diego YMCA recently set up an extra swim class for a group of East African Muslim women, it caused an unprecedented backlash. The women who requested this class sought a safe space to exercise without men around -- in a way that would honor their Muslim faith and their personal traditions of modesty.

The website Jihad Watch called the class "racist" and likened it to "all-white swimming hours."
In local outlets, some said it foreshadowed an Islamic "takeover" of our society. Some said the "Y" was sustaining practices, such as veiling, that are supposedly deleterious to women. Others claimed these women should be assimilated not accommodated. For the first time in its history, the website for PBS's local television station cut off all comments.

But such distorted talk about Islam distracts from the matter at hand. This is a public health issue, and if the women were from any other background or religious faith, this controversy would not exist. This swim class should be applauded, promoted and even extended to other communities.

Public health officials are increasingly talking about ways to get people moving in our country. Michelle Obama has helped make promoting exercise and combating obesity a top national concern. But our one-size-fits-all approach to health needs some alterations.

Americans tend to be sympathetic to economic explanations for a lack of physical activity (say, people can't afford gym memberships or don't have the time to exercise because of their busy work schedule). But we have a harder time grappling with cultural norms that might prevent exercise.

The East African community requesting this class is a community with high rates of hypertension and diabetes. Shouldn't we be celebrating their efforts to actively improve their health through exercise?
Research among Muslims in the Arab world (conducted by Adina Batnitzky) has shown that women have higher rates of obesity than men precisely because they rarely have culturally appropriate spaces for exercise. And when such places do exist, they are reserved largely for the upper class.

Isn't it a testament to America that Muslim women of any socioeconomic status can find or even create suitable spaces for exercise here? Even more remarkable is that they are doing this at the Young Men's Christian Association. Our forefathers, who traveled here to practice their faith in the way they wanted, would be proud.

Some of the most perverse comments suggested that these Muslim women only requested this class because they were being "brainwashed" or "controlled" by their husbands. Why else, this line of thinking goes, would they not want to exercise around men? But many women prefer to exercise only around other women. In fact, all-women's gyms dot the country with very little objection. (Curves is the most famous.) And this class at the "Y" is open to all women, regardless of whether or not they are Muslim.

Public health officials should learn from these women. We are slowly recognizing the need to take patients' backgrounds into consideration when it comes to health care delivery. But we need to do the same when it comes to preventing poor health. More communities should be implementing culturally specific exercise classes, especially for immigrants and ethnic minority groups with higher risks of lifestyle-related diseases.

The women at this YMCA are honoring both their background and their need for better health. That is just the type of thing that will get all Americans moving.

A modified version of this piece appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune. Adina Batnitzky is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of San Diego. Avi Spiegel is an assistant professor of political science and international relations at the University of San Diego and a Fellow at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law.



The Future of Arab Democracy?

Posted by Avi Spiegel 

When the king of Morocco announced plans for a new constitution last week, Fox News hailed it as "revolutionary." A leader of the largest Islamist party in Morocco's parliament, the Party of Justice and Development, called it a "huge step for democracy." The official Moroccan press agency opted for the term "landmark for democracy."

With Libya at war, Syria mired in brutality and Egypt and Tunisia in a holding pattern, it's hard not to be smitten by an Arab leader who, in the relative calm of stability, takes to television and announces a new constitution, the first in 15 years. But this effort sadly falls dramatically short of real reform. The protesters on the streets of Morocco these past three months have not been asking for incremental, administrative change (the kind this new draft promises). Instead, they have been calling for a brand new political system, one where the king ruled symbolically, and the elected government did something revolutionary: It governed.

The Moroccan regime is selling this new draft constitution by celebrating the birth of a new "constitutional monarchy," but buzzwords are meaningless without accompanying reform. Early on in his term, King Mohammed VI referred to himself as the "Democratic Executive Monarchy." His father and predecessor, King Hassan II (who ruled for 38 years) often opted for the label "Hassanian Democracy." The promise of democracy was heralded, but never fulfilled.

The king of Morocco's main working office is located behind the towering ramparts of the royal palace in downtown Rabat. Two government departments are also headquartered behind these walls: the Royal Armed Forces and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. This architecture provides, in raw structural terms, a window into Moroccan rule: the king as commander of the military and "commander of the faithful." The new draft constitution will not alter this fundamental setup. In fact, it cements the monarch's omnipotence, securing his place as military, religious and political leader. An old Moroccan saying reflects this continued reality: "Three things cannot be overcome: fire, flood and the Makhzen (palace)." The constitution could have offered a political system strong enough to check the raw power of the monarchy. But it didn't.

News reports have honed in on one amendment in particular. The king promised that the prime minister would actually come from the top finishing party (this hasn't always been the case). CNN called this the new constitution's "most radical change." But after the 2002 elections, the king already said that he would do this. Sure enough, following the last elections, in 2007, he appointed the head of the Istiqlal party (the top vote getter) to that position. Such a move did little to enhance the office then and, sadly, it will do little now.

Yes, the parties will now have more legislative maneuvering room -- more influence within committees, more say in appointments -- but the king still hovers above all. (The graph at this link displays this power structure better than any written description ever could.) The new prime minister -- the office that some had falsely promised would be a "super prime minister" -- will be busier. But there is a catch: most of the time, he will still need the king's sign off. The PM can dissolve the lower house of parliament, but only after getting approval from the king. The king will still chair the Council of Ministers, but can delegate to the PM only if he abides by a certain agenda. The king will also still have final say on most major appointments, including that of influential governors.

The process by which this new constitution came about is itself telling. The king unilaterally appointed the draft writing committee, personally handpicking the representatives. He then diverted from their rumored findings, and set the date for referendum on his own. Moroccans were supposed to have until September to study and make up their mind about the draft; now they have less than two weeks. An entire nation (including the more than 40 percent who are illiterate) will have to digest 180 new articles in less than 13 days.

The debate over the constitution promises to be one sided. Press freedoms in Morocco remain severely restricted. A week before the king's speech, a popular journalist was sentenced to one year in prison for publishing articles that offended the monarchy. (Two days after the speech, protesters campaigning for even greater reforms were allegedly beaten by pro-government forces.)

Many in Morocco, particularly current members of the establishment, have suggested that the changes are a move in the right direction. One politician said that the country will probably need another constitution in 15 years, but that it should take things slowly and not rush democracy. But this smacks of pre-Arab Spring paternalism: that young Arabs somehow aren't yet ready for democracy. Protesters have made it clear that this is simply not the case.

Why be so tough on Morocco? Shouldn't we applaud reform in any form -- take change any way we can get it? The U.S. has spent the last decade effusively praising Morocco -- each of the last four administrations dubbed it the model of reform. But is this really the most the Arab world should strive for: a watered-down authoritarian system with an accompanying constitution to support it? Is this the future of Arab democracy?

Perhaps because Morocco is relatively calmer than its neighbors, it has often gotten a pass. In the 1990s, it didn't break out into full-scale civil war (like Algeria), so it was a model of tranquility. In early 2011, its leader didn't slaughter protesters, so it was a model of restraint. Now, as its monarch becomes the first in the region to propose his own constitutional reform, it's supposedly a model of democracy. But relative success is just that: relative. We should expect more from a country that aims to be a model.

Avi Spiegel, a former Fulbright Scholar and Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of San Diego and a fellow at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas, Austin. He is currently writing a book on young Islamists and the Arab Spring.



Can America Take Credit for the Arab Spring?

Posted by Avi Spiegel

Is the Arab Spring really an "American" Revolution? According to President Obama and his speechwriters, the answer is, surprisingly, yes.

The dramatic political change that has taken place in the Middle East over the last six months has been led not by the United States, but by young protesters on the ground. Administration officials have largely been relegated to the role of spectators -- watching, not directing, events unfolding before their eyes.

The president sought yesterday, in what was hailed as a major policy address on the Arab Spring, to re-assess and re-assert American influence in the region.

Obama began by reflecting on recent changes, and then admitted that it was not America that put people on the streets. But then he couldn't help himself. He went on to place the Arab Spring in starkly American terms, and by doing so he managed to mischaracterize the ongoing protests, fumble over historical analogies, and ultimately undermine his effort to refocus American foreign policy toward the changing region.

Early in the speech, the president attempted to paint the Tunisian catalyst for the Arab Spring as following in the footsteps of American heroes. The now famous fruit seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, managed to provoke mass protests back in December in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. President Obama likened Bouazizi to Rosa Parks --- he set himself on fire just as Parks "sat courageously in her seat." The truth is that because of Bouazizi's death, he was never able to play the same active and continuing role in his protest movement that Rosa Parks assumed in the American civil rights movement.

Within a myriad of mixed historical metaphors, the president also managed to compare the Arab Spring to both the American Revolution and the American Civil War. In addition to Rosa Parks, Bouazizi was also equated to the original tea party activists. The protesters have been both rebelling "against an empire" and "enslaved." But the Arab Spring is neither a war for national independence or a monolithic civil war. Since January, pundits have been trying to claim that we are witnessing a redux of 1848 or 1968 or 1979 or even 1989. But shouldn't we be content simply to give each of these protest movements their own place in history? To do otherwise is to diminish these unique movements that have assumed their own shapes and forms in each country. They are also struggles that are far from over. As Simon Montefiore has rightly pointed out: "Every revolution is revolutionary in its own way."

The president even harkened back to his speech in Cairo two years ago as if to suggest that he was ahead of the curve -- that it was his oratory that foreshadowed, perhaps even helped spearhead, the dramatic change taking place today. He claimed to affirm in Cairo the sentiment that "the status quo is not sustainable" (a favorite theme of the Arab Spring), but he never uttered those words in 2009.
Obama was also sure to point out that it was American technology that helped fuel recent protests.

"The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa," the president said, "is the talent of its people." But he then managed to negate that claim in the very next lines: "In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world. It's no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google." The implied meaning here was unfortunate: the people on their own couldn't have accomplished much, but with the aid of the Internet, and especially the American giant Google and its personnel, they were finally able to tap into their own talents.

The president concluded his speech by quoting from, not surprisingly, the Declaration of Independence. In a favorite rhetorical tool of both candidate and President Obama, he couldn't resist making himself part of the story, personally connecting his own narrative to events taking place far away from home. "I would not be standing here today," the president said, "unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union -- organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

The message throughout the speech was clear: Some have claimed that America has been invisible over the course of the last tumultuous six months in the Middle East, but we have been there all along. These Arab revolutions are really "American" revolutions.

But the most effective way to reclaim American influence in the region is not by overstating our power over the Arab Spring. Rather, it is to specify exactly what the United States will do in the coming months to help the young people on the ground who are struggling --- in many places for their lives --- for political change. What will we do if Gaddafi continues to flout American power and murder his own citizens? What will we do if Assad in Syria does not (as the president remarked) simply "get out of the way?" What will we do if Bahrain continues to repress and imprison religious minorities? These are the kinds of questions that need answering. The time for rhetoric has long since passed.

Avi Spiegel is an assistant professor of political science at the University of San Diego and a fellow at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas. He is completing a book on the next generation of political Islam, based on fieldwork among young Islamist activists.



Who Killed the Arab Spring?

Posted by Avi Spiegel

The limited intervention in Libya averted a humanitarian disaster, but it also killed the Arab Spring.
Regardless of how one feels about the recent military intervention in Libya, it is now safe to say that it succeeded in what now appears to have been its main goal: to avert a humanitarian massacre. As a result of a no-fly zone, the citizens of Benghazi were spared the near certain hell of Qaddafi's merciless military.

But the NATO-led military action in Libya has already failed on a different count: to rescue the regime-shattering protests that were once sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa. Over three weeks into the military operation, the revolutions around the region remain stalled, stuck in a potentially endless holding pattern.

Even reluctant proponents
of the air strikes hung their hat on the hope that the intervention in Libya would resuscitate the revolutions that had seemed to come to a screeching halt -- after the initial dramatic regime change in Tunisia and Egypt.

The thinking went something like this: Up until Gaddafi declared war on his own people, the Middle East was averaging one deposed authoritarian leader per month in 2011 (Ben Ali in January; Mubarak in February). But that was before Gaddafi vowed to kill any protester who stood in the way of his rule.

If left unchecked, Gaddafi's new message to his fellow authoritarian leaders seemed increasingly dangerous: Mubarak and Ben Ali fell not because they were too autocratic, but because they were too weak. Instead, if like Gaddafi, you kill your citizens and fire at protesters at will, then you can hold onto power. Leaders in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain seemed to be listening especially closely.

This larger argument about intervention boiled down to this: Libya matters because the revolutions matter; we should intervene in Libya to save the revolutions everywhere else.

But these hopes were overly optimistic. For the desires of a jumpstarted Arab Spring to pan out, Gaddafi would have needed to go. He would have needed to be taken out early, swiftly and with overwhelming force. NATO would have needed to go well beyond a humanitarian mission. The aim of our operation would have needed to be much clearer at the outset: take out Gaddafi. Instead our intervention was delayed (by three weeks) and is now overly limited. Gaddafi remains in control of Libya, flouting American force (just as he did in the 1980s).

As long as Gaddafi holds onto power, so will every other authoritarian leader in the region. This fact is unmistakable: No Middle Eastern leader has fallen since February 11. Muammar Gaddafi, it turns out, has fulfilled his wildest fantasy: he has become the most important person in the Arab world. The future of the Arab Spring rests precariously on his shoulders. In Yemen, any possible regime change may one day appear more like a game of musical chairs of generals. Even in Egypt or Tunisia, it is still unclear whether a genuine new government will ever emerge.

But the fact is, the adverse effects of our limited intervention reach beyond one man. Our actions in Libya have done potentially permanent damage to the wider revolutions that once promised to sweep across the region like wildfires.

This is the case for two main reasons.

First, the intervention changed the narrative. The beauty of the Arab spring was the new story it seemed to offer the region's youth. The remarkable -- and potent -- message of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings was that young people, on their own, without anyone's help, managed to march themselves free of authoritarianism. The youth of the Middle East, once dismissed by the likes of Tom Friedman as "sitting around guys," literally overthrew regimes.

But in the wake of the U.S.-backed intervention in Libya, this account has been upended. The new message of Gaddafi's persistence in the wake of the limited airstrikes seems far more depressing. It is as if the Western world is once again saying the following: Young Arabs, you need our help to overthrow authoritarian regimes; without us, you probably won't be able to do it. But, keep in mind also that we can't help everywhere and even when we are helping -- in Libya, for instance -- we are not succeeding. We probably won't commit to the military force necessary to overthrow leaders.

So, where does that leave the remaining citizens of the Arab world who continue to live under increasingly repressive authoritarian regimes? What of the citizens of Syria, Bahrain, or Yemen?
It leaves them in a hopeless holding pattern. It leaves them pondering how when the most powerful forces of the Western world can't seem to bring down a lone lunatic despot, how on earth can they stop authoritarianism elsewhere? This message is brought home everyday that Gaddafi remains in power. It will compound as the weeks, months and perhaps years pass. It will be further pronounced as more stories surface about the challenges of the military campaign, of rumors of Libyan aircraft evading the no-fly zone or of NATO jets inflicting harm on civilians, or of unity among allies beginning to fracture, or the appetite for war among allies beginning to decrease.

The promise of people power that Tunisia offered has now been replaced with the peril and insufficiency of foreign intervention. For citizens left to their own devices, overcoming the most tortuous regimes in the regime will now be all but impossible. And, even if Gaddafi falls, it will be because our air force helped do the pushing. And it likely won't do any more pushing anywhere else.

Second, the intervention offered up a smokescreen for repression in other places. The intervention hasn't managed to spearhead the cause of freedom, it has masked it. NATO-led bombing campaigns have provided a carefully calibrated cover for authoritarian bloodshed elsewhere in the Middle East to continue unabated and unchecked. Each day, new stories of horror from around the region begin to emerge. Citizens being murdered in Syria. Yemeni forces opening fire on protesters. Bahrain sinking lower and lower into the depths of repression. (Even protesters in Egypt were killed over the weekend.)

The citizens still suffering at the hands of authoritarianism could be forgiven for thinking that no one is listening. The story of the Arab Spring has been overtaken by headlines about budget impasses at home or even Iranian ascent in the Middle East. Anderson Cooper has long since moved on from Tahrir Square. Even the 2008 Gaza War is back at the top of the news.

Simply put: all this waiting around has taken the air out of the potent contagion effect that was once underway -- an effect that began the second after Ben Ali fell on January 14.

Gaddafi's initial carnage of his own people may have managed to stop the revolutions elsewhere in their tracks. But our limited interventions haven't managed to rescue the revolution. Instead, the citizens of the Arab world are stuck waiting at the station -- waiting to see if the most powerful country in the world can manage to unseat one man, Gaddafi. But it is likely too late. The Arab Spring has already been canceled.

Avi M. Spiegel, a fellow at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin, is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego in California. He has been a Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, and the Ali Pachachi Scholar of the Modern Middle East at Oxford University.



The swift turn of events in the Middle East demands a certain amount of humility on the part of any so-called Middle East expert. Despite what anyone will tell you, no one predicted the rapid and dramatic overthrow of President Ben Ali of Tunisia, let alone the eventual departure of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

One analyst has even written that if he were asked a month ago which countries might have faced revolutions, Tunisia and Egypt would have been the last two he would have mentioned. Fareed Zakaria says of today's Middle East, "Anyone making predictions with confidence is being foolhardy."

But both are wrong. Predicting the most vulnerable regimes can actually be done with little difficulty. The impulsive forecasts of a widespread domino effect or even a dramatic overhaul of the entire region were unrealistic. Any regime change that might come will likely be limited only to a handful of countries. Here's why:

The purely authoritarian regimes of the region can loosely be classified into two categories: monarchies and republics. If you want to know who will be most likely to follow the path of Ben Ali and Mubarak, look at the republics. If you want to know who isn't going anywhere anytime soon, focus on the monarchies.

Middle Eastern monarchs will not fall, they will only fade away. The variety of monarchies in the region -- Morocco, Jordan and all the countries of the Gulf, minus Iraq and Iran -- have a firm, and in some cases, total grip on power. The most the population of these countries can expect is a slightly diminished role for their kings: parliamentary not presidential reform.

The King of Jordan seems to be toying with the idea of a more powerful prime minister. The few protesters in Morocco are clamoring not for the overthrow of their leader, but for what they call the "Spanish model": a popular and relevant king with a prime minister with true governing power. (The current situation in Morocco is the exact opposite.) There is even very quiet talk in some Gulf countries of perhaps easing the hereditary transition to power; not opening the monarchy itself, but perhaps augmenting the way any future kings are selected.

Why are these kings not worried? All maintain almost indelible cultural, and to different degrees religious, claims to power. All also have done a relatively better job at providing for their populations economically. (Oil wealth, of course, has made this easier in the case of the Gulf.)

The king of Morocco, for example, still holds the position of Commander of the Faithful, a title shared in recent times only by Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Morocco's jet-skiing king often reminds his subjects that his position is both God given and constitutionally anointed. Article 23 deems him "sacred and inviolable."

Moreover, not all the region's monarchs have put forth the charade of democratization. The protesters on the streets of Egypt and Tunisia have expressed deep frustration with freedom delayed, with years of false promises of political change. Yet, in certain cases, elections aren't even attempted in monarchies. As one Saudi journalist said recently of the citizens of his country: they "don't feel cheated because there are no elections." No member of the Saudi ruling family, for example, would even try to declare that his country is a democracy.

In other cases, most notably in Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait, elections do happen, but monarchs have tried to take ownership of the reform process and sell themselves as arbiters of liberalization.

That leaves us with the republics: Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Syria. The Tunisian president has already fallen. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt appears to be next (by September, if not before). The Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has already said that he will leave by 2013. And it may yet be earlier if protests continue. If any country were to follow suit, it would be Algeria, with its ailing 75-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is well into his 13th year in power. (Indeed, the fear of a military coup has prompted Bouteflika to work to diminish the influence of the military over his presidency.)

Syria, in many ways, might fit better into the monarchy category. The Assad family's total cultural and political control over the country is almost unmatched by any fellow presidents in the region. But its sham elections, repeated repression, and hollow promises of reform also places it firmly in line with its fellow republics. So, the Assad regime too could fall, but perhaps not as quickly as the others.
Keep in mind that these five presidents received 89% (Tunisia), 88% (Egypt), 77% (Yemen), 90% (Algeria) and 97% (Syria) in their country's most recent "elections."

So, if you find yourself in Las Vegas or the casinos of Dubai, and you feel the need to bet on the next Middle Eastern leader to fall, remember this: if you are an authoritarian leader of a Middle Eastern country and the word "president" comes before your name, your days may be numbered. In other words, put your money on Yemen and Algeria.

Avi Spiegel, a fellow at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin, is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego, California. He is completing a book on the next generation of political Islam, based on his fieldwork among young activists from both legal and illegal Islamist movements.

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