01 September 2011

Arab Spring

The recent momentous events in Libya and Syria, as well as Egypt and Tunisia, have had me thinking of late. The Arab Spring seemed to have petered out there for a while, but now it looks as though Qaddafi is as good as done in Libya, and I get the feeling Bashar Assad cannot stay on long in Syria. But I got to thinking: why the long, dramatic pause?

And, having spent time in that part of the world in every season, I had a thought: what about the climate?

Winter in the Middle East can actually be very pleasant: highs are in the 80s, lows in the 70s, there's a constant breeze. It's not quite so awfully humid in those places that are awfully humid. During the summertime, on the other hand, it's horrendous. The Arabian Peninsula is completely unbearable, and most of north Africa is basically intolerable. During the day the wind blows constantly, like someone's holding a hairdryer in front of your face. At night, when the wind doesn't blow, it's like an oven. And within 10 miles of the coast there's 99% humidity any time the wind doesn't blow, or all night long, so even at night when the temperature is only in the 90s it's too awful to be outside. Given this reality, that the protests petered out as spring became summer doesn't surprise me at all.

What to make of the recent demonstrations in Syria and the rebel successes in Libya? This comes down to Ramadan. Now, Ramadan doesn't always occur in the summer (the Islamic calendar is lunar-based, so the months appear to precess compared to the Christian calendar), but it does always involve fasting and, at least in my experience, people react to this in one of two ways. Some seem to spend the entire day loafing and doing nothing but waiting to break the fast at sundown. Others seem to be extra-energetic, as if doing more will make them forget being hungry. In either case, and again this is just my experience, but during Ramadan regular work hours seem to fall by the wayside. I don't know if employers cut hours or what, but it's like a month-long siesta in some places. Why not go protest in the streets? Of course much protesting and fighting is being done at night in Syria, when the weather sucks less.

Ramadan, too, is the Muslim equivalent of Christmas, in the sense that it is a time of heightened spiritual awareness and attendance at religious services. Sure, those Muslims who attend a mosque where the imams preach the notion that good Muslims don't concern themselves with secular government probably aren't the one ones out in the streets; but there are probably many more who are going to the mosque and praying, thinking, and hearing about revolution. It makes sense to me that the holy month would see a greater awakening.

If my theory holds, then we might expect the Syrian demonstrations either to quiet down somewhat or hold steady--although they may also have developed uncheckable momentum, which would be no bad thing. And I would not expect any sudden new developments in new countries, including Algeria and Yemen and Bahrain, not yet. But, again if my theory holds, I do expect a fresh round of upheaval this winter, maybe starting as early as November. And I wouldn't be surprised to see it Algeria, in Yemen, again in Bahrain. I wouldn't be all that surprised to see it in Sudan. I would be surprised to see it in Qatar, or the UAE, or Oman, but Saudi Arabia, that remains the real question. If another three or four countries see successful revolutions this winter, it becomes a lot easier to look at Saudi Arabia--even at Iran--and wonder just how short those regimes' time remains.