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America and the Arab Spring 

Ambassador David Mack
Scholar
Middle East Institute

July 15, 2011 Interview Synopsis

Ambassador David Mack expressed his concerned that the Arab Spring protests in Tunisia and Egypt will turn quickly from being about dignity to primarily concerning economic disadvantage, and he was quite worried about the ability of a transitional or new national unity government to produce economic growth at an acceptable rate. Moreover, the Ambassador fears that the youth who spearheaded the revolutions are not using their time before the elections productively to “organize political space” and form new parties to contest older institutions. Instead, they are taking to the street to protest again and again rather than compromise on some issues to move forward.

Ambassador Mack never believed that a no fly zone was going to be effective in protecting the Libyan opposition forces and said air power alone has never won a war. Using Libya as an example, the Ambassador discussed how the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) can be problematic, since autocratic leaders who fear being tried in the Hague may cling to power. He mentioned, however, that the ICC can be an effective tool for incentivizing “good behavior” from world leaders (citing an example from Sudan). When asked about drastic actions Qaddafi could take if he saw imminent defeat, Ambassador Mack quipped, “The one thing that you can reliably predict is that Qaddafi is going to say erratic things.”

Ambassador Mack seemed to question the rapid rate of change demanded by protestors. He cautioned that even free and fair elections would not guarantee that results would be accepted as legitimate in the street. He instead favors a more tempered, evolutionary change towards constitutional monarchy in the Arab World, by which governments would combine transparency to combat corruption with the delivery of basic goods and services to their people in order to maintain good governance. The Ambassador pointed to states like Qatar, the UAE, and Kuwait as examples of this model, saying they have experienced few protests due to their wealth and their ability to provide for their people.