America and the Arab Spring 

Ms. Mona Yacoubian
Special Advisor
Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention
U.S. Institute for Peace

July 21, 2011 Interview Synopsis

Ms. Mona Yacoubian said that the Arab Spring crossed a “threshold of leaving fear behind” and had been a major step for people in the Middle East towards seeing themselves as citizens rather than subjects. She appreciates the role of both new and old media in the Arab Spring. Ms. Yacoubian said that social media was useful in both “helping to ignite tinder” that was already present in the region and allowing for regional dialogue where leaders could share the “best practices” of nonviolent resistance, but also cited the tremendous importance of pan-Arab satellite TV in drawing the huge crowds of protestors.

Ms. Yacoubian suggested that the case of Syria in the Arab Spring is “as pivotal” as that of Egypt as protests enter into their fifth consecutive month. She cautioned against using the International Criminal Court as a tool for regime change, saying that the combination of dubious effectiveness and the probability it would worsen the situation made it untenable. Ms. Yacoubian said that “speed was the key” in Syria, citing concerns about internal sectarian violence or possible spillover into states like Iraq or Lebanon. She also said it was too early to tell if the heterogeneous ethno-religious nature of Syrian society would inhibit the process of democratization.

Ms. Yacoubian said the clearest way forward for the United States with regards to the Assad regime was a policy of “economic strangulation,” carefully and creatively crafted to avoid past mistakes with sanctions as in Iraq, where civilians unfortunately became more dependent on the regime. Additionally, increased diplomatic pressure on states—particularly Russia—that are resistant to issuing a condemnation is necessary. To be effective, such pressure must be accompanied by assurances that no military intervention in Syria is being contemplated. Ms. Yacoubian stated that the Obama Administration had “fallen short” in its response to the crisis in Bahrain, but otherwise did not feel that much criticism of the Administration’s policy decisions was warranted.