In the first plenary session of the 8th AlJazeera Forum, panellists revisited the path of change movements in the Arab world not only since the start of the Arab Spring in 2010, but even prior to that with Iraq and Morocco’s change movements. Soumia Benkhaldoun, Morocco’s Delegated Minister for Education; Burhan Ghalioun, former president of the Syrian National Council; Nadia Abdullah, youth member of Yemen’s National Dialogue Committee; Alain Gresh, reporter for the French paper Le Monde; Louisa Ezslavkova, Executive Manager of the Sofia Forum; and Atheel Al-Nujaifi, Iraq’s governor of the Ninawa province, discussed the past decade of major change affecting the Arab world.
While many of the Arab Spring change movements are compared to elements of Iraq’s process of change in the Arab world, a key difference has been that external rather than internal forces were the key catalyst in Iraq’s change process. Furthermore, Iraq has practiced democratic norms, including elections, for ten years, but still has not achieved stability. Morocco is another example of a state that has experienced change but not by revolt – in fact, Morocco has been characterised by change in a stable environment.
In comparison to Iraq and Morocco’s cases, the Arab Spring countries have experienced decidedly different paths of change – paths marked by serious sectarianism and violence as well as counter-revolutions from within and from beyond each country. For example, polarization in Syria has been very strong coupled with sporadic and often merely symbolic regional and international support.
Participants in the forum’s first panel proposed that each country is acting in a vacuum, leaving the entire region exposed and allowing Iran to find a vital role in Syria. Some of the speakers theorised that Iran is the primary beneficiary from what is happening in Syria and that the real danger lies in the fact that Syria may turn into a "Vietnam" for Iran, going so far as to state that the West is planning to drown Iran in the “Syrian swamp”.
The panellists came to the conclusion that revolutions in most Arab states are based on two axes: the first is stopping unchallenged political domination of despotic regimes, and the second is addressing the deteriorating economic situation in more than one Arab state.