Dr. Mohammed AlSabah Lecturing at "George Washington": 3 Essential Conditions for The Arab Spring to Transition to Safety


March 31, 2012


• Democratic incubators

• Role of youth in decision-making

• Economic reform starting with privatization


Under the title "The Arab Spring: Economic Revolution, Ideological Movement, or Conspiracy," Dr. Mohammad AlSabah stood on the platform of George Washington University, posing deep questions about the debate in the Arab world and also providing answers to what could be the cause of this "youth explosion," as he described it.

Dr. Mohammad AlSabah viewed that the economic conditions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria were not the cause according to the indicators he presented. He gave an example of how a prosperous and politically open country like Kuwait witnessed a strong protest movement that led to the resignation of the government and new elections. He emphasized that the Kuwaiti youth movement did not demand a change in the system but rather the revitalization of constitutional integrity in the political process.

In his lecture, Dr. Mohammad AlSabah called for the necessity of fulfilling three conditions to ensure the transition process in the countries that witnessed the Arab Spring: guaranteeing political and economic incubators, recognizing the role of Arab youth in the transition process, and empowering them to participate in the construction process. The third condition is to implement economic reforms starting with privatization.

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Mohammad AlSabah's lecture:

"From the majestic Atlas Mountains of the Arab Maghreb to the mysterious Valley of the Kings in Egypt, to the golden beaches of the Gulf to the east, and from the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate to the north, to the Kingdom of Sheba to the south, 2011 was a tumultuous year in the Arab world. Violent uprisings erupted in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and now in Syria, and substantial constitutional reforms have been made in Morocco, Jordan, and the Sultanate of Oman."

Protest Movement

"Even economically prosperous and politically open countries like Kuwait, for example, witnessed a strong protest movement that led to the resignation of the government and new elections for the National Assembly. It is important to note that the protesters in Kuwait did not demand a change in the system but rather the revitalization of constitutional integrity in the political process. However, the only thing certain about all this Arab upheaval is that the Arab masses are in a bad mood."

The natural question that arises is why? Why this wave of protests in the Arab street? After decades of stagnant political and economic conditions, what is the straw that broke the camel's back? Is it the economy, or ideology, or is there a conspiracy?

1 - Economy:

While the economic factor played a strong role in the revolution, it does not tell the whole story. The economies of Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria were doing reasonably well throughout the ten years from 2000 to 2010. Egypt witnessed a 5% growth in GDP, while Tunisia and Syria recorded growth rates of 4.5% and 4.3% respectively. In contrast, the growth rate in Latin American countries, for example, did not exceed 3.4% during the same period. Moreover, the economic performance in these countries (Egypt, Tunisia, Syria) in 2010 was better than that in the United States. These countries achieved growth rates of 5.1%, 3.7%, and 3.2% respectively, compared to a growth rate of no more than 2.8% for the US economy. Unemployment rates in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria were 9%, 13%, and 8.3% respectively, compared to 9.6% in the United States.

The Tunisian Model:

Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, represented a model presented by the World Bank on how to formulate and implement economic and social policies. The "Tunisian model" registered impressive economic and social development in 2010. Tunisia reduced its poverty rate from 7.7% in 1985 to 3.8% in 2005, while the MENA average for the Middle East and North Africa was 14%, and it was 15% in the United States during the same period. These countries made significant progress in gender equality, promoting civil society, and eliminating illiteracy. During 2010, there was a good increase in GDP, reaching 3.7%, higher than the average recorded in the Middle East and North Africa region. These countries were ranked 40th out of 183 countries worldwide in terms of business activity. Even oil-rich countries like Libya and Algeria sent their citizens to receive education and healthcare in Tunisia. In short, Tunisia represented a success story, so why did the revolution break out there?

2 - Ideology:

Perhaps the revolutions erupted for ideological reasons, meaning that people wanted to apply Western liberal democracy with vibrant civil society institutions, freedom of expression, affiliation, and belief. However, the recent parliamentary elections in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Kuwait resulted in dramatic victories for Islamist movements. The Prime Ministers of Morocco and Tunisia belong to Islamist parties, while Islamic or Islamic-backed figures won the parliamentary presidency in Egypt and Kuwait. It is not yet known whether these parties will adopt Western liberal values or work to "Islamize" their societies further.

3 - Conspiracy:

If neither the economy nor ideology was the cause of the revolutions, then they must be due to a malicious conspiracy. Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal emphasized in October last year that what the Arab world is witnessing is not a spring but multiple conspiracies. Heikal claimed that there are now three and a half conspiracies against the Arab world. The first is a copy of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, to redistribute Arab resources between the United States and Europe. The second is to restore Turkish influence in the Arab world, while the third conspiracy is driven by Iran to spread the Shia doctrine. As for the half conspiracy, according to Heikal, it is Israeli attempts to bury the Palestinian issue, opting for the Vatican in doing so. Whether the reality of the Arab revolutions in 2011 was economic, ideological, or the result of conspiracies, the common factor in all these revolutions is that they were strong and determined youth movements to liberate their societies from corruption, the corruption of the Trabelsi family in Tunisia, the Gaddafi family in Libya, and the overthrow of corrupt family structures in Egypt, Yemen, and Syria.

Transition Phase:

These societies are currently experiencing a critical transitional phase, going through a deep process of self-discovery, political identity determination, and finding social balance. In short, these societies are witnessing a fervent process of searching for a stable path to achieve happiness and prosperity.

However, this will be a long and arduous transition process. To cross this process with the least possible social cost, three crucial conditions must be met:

1 - The need for "democratic incubators" in the region to embrace the new systems, as seen in Eastern European countries where the West provided guidance and support for their transition process. Most former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern and Central Europe quickly became responsible members of the European Union. The West provided assistance and guidance to those countries throughout the transitional period through programs like TACIS, from 1991 to 2006, specifically designed to aid and enhance the transition process from the Soviet era to the European Union. Western countries also facilitated the transitional process by supporting candidate countries or potential EU members through investment and cross-border cooperation with Union countries, regional development, and urban development and human resource development. Thus, when the time came to grant these countries EU membership, they possessed the qualifications to become fully effective democracies.

Donville Partnership:

The Donville Partnership program launched by the Group of Eight industrialized nations in 2011 was merely a positive response to meet the needs of Eastern and Central European countries for some form of collective "incubator" or guidance for their political and economic transition process. Turkey pledged to support the initiative, which not only alleviated the economic burdens on the concerned countries but also helped them transition peacefully to democratic societies.

Role of Youth:

2 - The second condition is the recognition of the role of Arab youth in the transition process taking place in Arab societies. Today, Arab youth constitute the majority of our citizens. About 65% of our citizens are under the age of twenty-five. It is no coincidence that their impact is tangible and strong. They mostly live in urban areas and can relatively easily access technology and deal with various media. Young Arab people have genuine concerns due to their lack of political representation. They feel that their voices and efforts are lost in the chaos of corruption, favoritism, and neglect. Although they may not have the skills and capabilities provided by good education, their access to information and knowledge about the rest of the world through the Internet and satellite channels is extensive. They witness the freedoms and opportunities apparent in the West and suffer from censorship and suppression of speech and expression in their countries.


The challenges facing this emerging generation of Arab youth are numerous, ranging from weaknesses in the education system to the absence of participation in the way they are governed, as well as the more pressing issues related to unemployment.

The Third Condition:

The third necessary condition for the success of this transition is through economic reform, particularly through privatization. There is no clear alternative to private investments, and more open economies are needed to avoid the risks posed by unemployment crises. The private sector provides both solutions and opportunities alike to create a more prosperous Arab world. Economic reform represents the path to achieving the long-awaited prosperity. We may differ on the pace and order of the primary requirements for this reform, but ultimately, maintaining the status quo is unsustainable. The private sector is the only promising path leading to prosperity, albeit a long and challenging one.

Dominance of Government:

Ibn Khaldun warned six hundred years ago of the dangers of government control and dominance over the economy. In his seminal work "The Introduction," he described how the direct influence of key players in society affects economic growth in different time periods, explaining that when society moves away from a market economy, it faces the risks of economic disintegration, recession, and eventual collapse.


If the only concern is elections and parties, when the process of achieving democracy has long been completed, the lessons of social and political unrest related to the transition to democracy can be drawn from cases in Latin America, as well as recent events in Eastern Europe. By encouraging reform, we not only establish institutions but also reshape the historical relationship between citizens and their governments. This reconfiguration not only requires achieving political liberation but first restructuring the economic formula. Economic reforms play a crucial role in this. Moreover, this also requires careful management of the transitional process. As long as the government holds onto the means of production, society will not take control of its affairs meaningfully.

Accountability Mechanism:

Before discussing accountability mechanisms, we must address the issue of society's independence from the state. This independence is never possible as long as the state remains the primary player controlling the economy. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek mentioned in his influential book "The Road to Serfdom," the changes in institutions accompanying the establishment of the paternalistic state and its socialist policies carried within them the seeds of political tyranny and slavery. In other words, if democracy and accountability are the foundations of good governance, then the process of economic liberation embodies the institution of market freedom and gives meaning to the entire process.

Final Thoughts:

In conclusion, the correct answers are only provoked by the right questions. We have exhausted all the questions in our attempt to understand the reasons for the Arab uprisings in 2011 and the requirements for development in the post-Arab Spring world. Describing the events of 2011 as a spring or a conspiracy, the truth is that Arab youth were the driving force behind the significant political explosion in the Arab world. Toppling regimes clinging to power is one thing, but building a thriving society is another. As the Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes said, the challenge is not accepting new ideas but getting rid of the old ones.

Conspiracy Theories:

Among the questions posed by Dr. Mohammad AlSabah: Is conspiracy the cause of the Arab Spring? He answered, "If neither the economy nor ideology is the cause of revolutions, then they must be the result of an evil conspiracy."

Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal emphasized last October that what the Arab world is witnessing is not a spring but multiple conspiracies. He claimed that there are now three conspiracies and a half conspiracy being hatched against the Arab world.

Sykes-Picot Agreement:

The first conspiracy is a version of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement to redistribute Arab resources between the United States and Europe.

The second is to restore Turkish influence in the Arab world, while the third conspiracy is led by Iran to spread the Shiite doctrine.

As for the half-conspiracy - according to Heikal - it is Israeli attempts to bury the Palestinian issue, adopting the Vatican's option.

Independence of society from the state:

Dr. Mohammad AlSabah pointed out the need to address the issue of society's independence from the state, emphasizing that this independence cannot be achieved as long as the state remains the main player controlling the economy.

The needs of Arab youth:

1. A good educational system.

2. Opportunity for freedom and expression.

3. Not ignoring their political role.

4. Confronting the issue of unemployment.

Youth Explosion:

Mohammad AlSabah emphasized in his lecture that correct answers only arise from the right questions, affirming that Arab youth were the main driving force behind the significant political explosion in the Arab world.


Source: Al-Qabas

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