The Successes and Failures of the Arab Spring: Iran, Sectarianism, and Jihadi Splintering

On Wednesday, May 14th, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted an event titled, “The Successes and Failures of the Arab Revolutions: A Discussion with Gilles Kepel.” William McCants, director of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution, joined a panel discussion with Gilles Kepel, Frederic Wehrey, and Sarah Chayes. The event was moderated by Karim Sadjadpour, senior associate for the Middle East Program at Carnegie.

Kepel began the discussion by examining three phases of the Arab revolutions. According to Kepel, the first phase took place in the North African countries of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and the civil war that erupted in Syria. The second being was the rise of sectarianism in the region and the ‘ikhwanization’ of the Arab Spring, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power within the domestic political sphere. A critical piece of this second phase, according to Kepel, was the rise of Iran as a counterweight and the panic of regional leaders at the prospect of Iran striking a nuclear deal with the West. In the current phase, as described by Kepel, Iran will play a much more important role in the future of the Middle East. When asked about the most pressing issues for Gulf monarchies, Kepel noted that, in the short-term, “the Sunni-Sunni tensions” within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are more of a pressing issue than Iran.

The jihadi movement in the region and its trajectory throughout the Arab Spring was the main topic of conversation for McCants as he explained that “the movement is currently fragmented, with al-Qaida copy-cat groups emerging in North Africa as well as splits within al-Qaida occurring in Iraq and al Sham [Syria].” McCants also argued that if presidential candidate former Field Marshall Abdel Fattah El Sisi fulfills his pledge of eradicating the Muslim Brotherhood, this will not only create an enduring counterterrorism problem in Egypt, but in the region as a whole.

McCants and regional leaders from government, academia, and civil society will be discussing the social and political dynamics of the Arab Spring during the upcoming U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha. Keep checking this space for updates on the upcoming forum, as we post videos previewing the lively discussions to come. Follow us on Twitter or tweet your own ideas with the hashtag #usislam14.