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Arab turmoil to have far-reaching impact on regional landscape

(Xinhua)

08:51, September 02, 2011

CAIRO, Sept. 1 (Xinhua) -- As a contagion of anti-government protests has overthrown long-ruling leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya over the months and put the rule of Syrian and Yemeni leaders in danger, the overall landscape in the Middle East is expected to turn on a new look.

And it is widely anticipated that the historic transformation will bring about both opportunities and challenges to the Arab world.

RESHAPING OF REGIONAL POWERS

"The power of people opens a new era in the Arab world," said Hoda Ragheb, political professor with Cairo-based Misr International University.

The collapse of the rule of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, the longest in the Arab world, will have an impact on other Arab countries such as Syria and Yemen, whose governments, resorted to similar governance, will not last for a long time, said Ragheb.

Meanwhile, Akrm Houssam, researcher with the National Center For Middle East Studies in Egypt, said Egypt and Turkey would become more influential while Libya and Iran might be less.

Egypt, with a population of more than 80 million, has rich human resources and will become more democratic in the future; and it is accepted that the slowdown of its economy would be temporary, given its oil and gas resources, tourism and Suez Canal revenues.

Therefore, the most populous Arab country boasts the abilities of being a big country economically and politically, Houssam told Xinhua.

After the fall of ex-president Hosni Mubarak in February, Egypt 's diplomacy remains fruitful, as it succeeded in persuading Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas to reach a reconciliation deal in early May.

Meanwhile, Turkey, a NATO member and a big economy, is also capable of playing an important role in the region, Houssam said.

Although Qatar was actively involved in the military intervention in the Libyan crisis, analysts say it could not match Turkey in terms of influence; while Iran might also lose its influence due to the crisis in its close ally Syria, whose president is under mounting pressure from both inside the country and the West that urges him to step down.

In the meantime, experts worry that the lasting conflict in Libya would weaken its role in Africa and the Arab world.

"The changes taking place in many Arab regimes must lead to a break in the current balance of power in the region, especially in the Gulf countries and in Iran, where the opposition is demanding political freedom from the existing regimes," said Ragheb of Misr International University.

POLITICAL REFORMS

It is predicted that, in the near future, more political reforms will be visualized so as to ensure the lofty causes of democracy and freedom in the region.

The opposition groups, which have long been marginalized politically in some countries, are the major forces behind such reforms.

According to the transitional constitution in Egypt following the turmoil early this year, the president can only be in office for no more than two consecutive terms, while no cap was imposed on the presidency terms during Mubarak's era.

Meanwhile, countries like Algeria and Morocco, where anti- government protests also erupted but were then calmed down, have also begun reforms. Algeria has abolished its emergency law, while a draft constitution, approved in Morocco in July, enhanced the powers of the prime minister and the parliament and promoted other political reforms.

Sayed Mustafa Kamel, political professor at Cairo University, said Egypt and Tunisia would be democratic countries despite the Islamic forces in these countries.

It is too early to predict where Libya would go from its tribal society, he added, but it is certain that these countries would not go back to the old regimes.

Gulf countries are relatively rich and have good social welfare. But Kamel warned that despite the calm situation, these countries need reforms and the monarchy there faces challenges as well.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ISSUE

The dramatic changes in those countries will undoubtedly affect the regional peace process, either positively or negatively.

"The changes after the Arab Spring will complicate the solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially the Israeli- Palestinian conflict," said Houssam. He pointed out that Israel is very worried about the success of the kind of "revolutions" in the Arab world.

"If the Islamic movement or front reaches power or at least have big influence on political decisions towards Israeli-Arab conflict, this will affect the relations between the two countries, " Houssam said.

This is in fact very likely to happen, as Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party set up by the Muslim Brotherhood aims to compete for half of the parliamentary seats.

Bilateral ties between Egypt and Israel, regarded as "cold peace" by some analysts, have encountered a number of setbacks after the fall of Mubarak. The relations became even more strained after five Egyptian border soldiers were killed by Israeli troops when the latter were firing at militants on Aug. 18 at the border area.

The Arab people may no longer accept any political solution to the conflicts with the change of their attitudes after the unrest, Houssam added.

However, different views exist.

"The unrest in the Middle East could help pushing forward the negotiations to finalize the two-state solution," said Ragheb from Misr International University.

The Palestinian side plans to seek the recognition of the United Nations as an independent state in September, in an effort to break the stalled talks with Israel.

"The changes in the region should not dilute the importance of the Palestinian issue, which remains a regional issue and needs close attention," said Wu Sike, Chinese special envoy to the Middle East, in an exclusive view with Xinhua.

China supports the Palestinian efforts, but to seek the UN recognition could not be a substitute for negotiations, said Wu, who stressed the two-state solution to the conflict and that the decades-long conflict could not be solved in one day and needs further talks.

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