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The Many Faces of the Arab Spring

MADRID – The attack by a Western-led alliance on Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya is driven largely by principled motives. Had it turned its back on the Libyan rebels, the West would have betrayed its very identity.

Of course, the same principles are not being applied to save the brutally repressed masses in Yemen or the Shia protesters in Bahrain. It is doubtful whether they will be extended to Saudi Arabia and Syria, let alone to Iran. Nor is it improbable that a protracted war in Libya would end by vindicating the warning of the region’s authoritarian rulers that the Arab Awakening is but a prelude to chaos.

These built-in contradictions are compounded by the domestic conditions in each of the Arab states, as well as by strategic constraints, all of which define the shades of this uneven Arab Spring.

The legitimacy of hereditary monarchies, a principle established by Metternich, the architect of the post-Napoleonic order, eventually prevailed in the 1848 European Spring. So far, the same principle remains in effect throughout the Arab world today. Monarchies – in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and most of the Gulf dynasties – still appear to their subjects to be more acceptable than secular autocracies. The vulnerability of the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, which rely on rigged elections and a repressive state apparatus, reflects their lack of any acceptable source of legitimacy.