Arab Spring

Etel Solingen’s view is that post-1989, the fundamental choice regimes face is integration into international capitalism, or resistance. Either choice serves its own distinct faction internally. Resistance means protectionism, which ends up propping up state-dependent sectors, especially those related to military spending. The ideology which supports this protectionism will be nationalist/confessional, and justifies protectionism by a stance of conflict toward other states. Solingen’s purpose is to explain war but this also explains revolution, and whether it succeeds or not.

I elaborate: This will in turn create poverty and discontent at the bottom and frustration in the (non-oil) trade-dependent middle class, unless it is ameliorated by oil revenue to state-owned oil companies, or US foreign aid. Where these revolutions replace nationalist regimes with confessional ones or vice versa to the exclusion of the liberalizing, trade-friendly middle-class, there will be no fundamental change (and no peace or amelioration of poverty); where it is the economic liberalizing faction that gains the upper hand, this will result in economic diversification, de-militarization, interdependence with surrounding states, etc.

Arab Spring is ambiguous, because nationalist regimes have two enemies: economic liberalization, and Islamism. Whether the Arab Spring is meaningful thus remains to be seen: since nationalist and confessional ideologies ultimately serve exactly the same political and economic interests, revolutions which trade one for the other will have no lasting effect on democracy, economic liberalization, nuclear non-proliferation or peace. By contrast, those which trade economic liberalization for protectionism have a chance. But the greatest obstacle to this will be anything which subsidizes the state sector and helps it thrive without regional trade: oil revenue, or US foreign aid.

The left and right in the US will tend to get it wrong, thinking that outcomes consist merely in a more or less positive stance toward Israel, or a more or less positive stance toward populist democracy. But these are surface effects. The driving force behind more peace or more freedom is ultimately more non-energy regional trade, and greater influence politically from those who, internally, depend upon it.

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