Bahrain National Day Anadolu Agency

The Year Ahead 2017

The Middle East’s Next Moment of Reckoning

When the Arab Spring erupted in December 2010, advocates for change in the Arab world had reason to be hopeful. But, as we saw in 2016, authoritarianism has returned, and whether that trend can be reversed in 2017 will depend on how well regional and international leaders have absorbed lessons from the recent past.

STANFORD – When the “Arab Spring” erupted in December 2010, advocates for change in the Arab world had reason to be hopeful. But, as we continued to see in 2016, authoritarianism has returned, most notably in Egypt, which is now ruled by a repressive military-backed dictatorship.

Meanwhile, Syria has been so ravaged by civil war, vast refugee outflows, war crimes, and human rights violations that it will take at least a generation to rebuild that country and its society – that is, if it can ever be rebuilt. Yemen, for its part, is being sundered by civil strife and a Saudi Arabian-led military intervention; and, since Muammar el-Qaddafi’s overthrow in 2011, Libya has remained a deeply divided, largely ungoverned country. And, of course, no one can ignore the rise of the Islamic State.

Tunisia is often seen as the Arab Spring’s one “success” story. But while its democracy has miraculously survived in the midst of so many failures elsewhere in the region, Tunisia is not exempt from geopolitical forces that burden its security apparatus and threaten its economy. And the Tunisian government’s repressive use of anti-terror emergency laws has now called into question the future of its democratic experiment.

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  1. A giant election campaign board supporting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi i KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

    The Struggle for Egypt’s Future

    • The ideological war between Islamists and nationalists has defined the politics of the Arab world for at least 60 years, and shows no sign of ending. 

    • While the impending reelection of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi suggests that the nationalists have won, all it will really mean is that the Egyptian people have lost, yet again.
  2. Financial planning report Getty Images

    The Metric God That Failed

    • Over the past few decades, formal institutions have increasingly been subjected to performance measurements that define success or failure according to narrow and arbitrary metrics. 

    • The outcome should have been predictable: institutions have done what they can to boost their performance metrics, often at the expense of performance itself.
  3.  Laborers fill orders of machine grade steel to be shipped throughout the Pacific Northwest Natalie Behring/Getty Images

    Trump and the All-American Trade Debate

    • Donald Trump’s recently announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum have raised fears that his administration will roll back the rules-based free-trade system that has facilitated global commerce since World War II. 

    • But a closer examination of the history of US trade policy shows that Trump’s protectionist gambits are neither new, nor likely to have a lasting effect.
  4. Pictures of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Financial Secretary Paul Chan of Hong Kong ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

    The Asian Values Debate Returns

    • For the time being, concrete evidence of policy success in countries like China and India may well be the most effective way to buttress the case for applying non-Western perspectives to national development strategies. 

    • But, in the longer term, non-Western thinkers will need to translate their ideas into testable models and theories.