After Egypt, Tunisia, Libya overthrows, Arab upheaval begins to settle

Egypt quietly moves into another phase of voting, while the monarchs in Morocco and Jordan have stabilized their rule through reforms. 

By , Staff writer , Correspondent , Correspondent

Tumult. Tragedies. Victory. Exulta­tion. That was 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, where longstanding dictators were swept away by popular revolts that are still reshaping the Arab world.

"We started the revolution, but we're still completing it," says Ahmed Salah of Cairo, who quit his job at a stock exchange last year to help unite revolutionary forces.

Indeed, 2012 is the year of what comes next, of deep breaths after a furious sprint, of political strategizing, building on gains made, and repairing economies damaged by a year of almost unprecedented upheaval.

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That is, for the three countries mentioned above. In the rest of the region, the popular calls for political change have stalled.

In Bahrain, state repression has shoved mass protests back into their box, and the jails remain filled with political prisoners.

In Syria, there's an increasingly entrenched and violent conflict. At least 5,600 have died in the yearlong revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's rule, and while there's much international hand-wringing, a foreign military intervention like the one that helped turn the tide against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya at the moment appears very unlikely.

Moroccans keep calm

Elsewhere, public demands for change have been much less dramatic, though discontent continues to burble across the region. In mid-January, two unemployed Moroccan university graduates set themselves on fire, in a protest inspired by the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian whose suicide started the uprising that swept Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from power, electrifying the Arab world.

But the recent immolations (one of the men later died) has not inspired an uprising in Morocco against the constitutional monarchy of King Mohammed VI. That perhaps is a measure of the success of steps taken thus far to mollify protesters.

Last year, the king allowed constitutional reforms and called for early elections, which saw the Islamist Justice and Development Party take power in early January. But the king has also appointed a shadow cabinet of long-term loyalists that look set to be a check on, if not ultimately more powerful than, the new Parliament. The royal cabinet has occasionally vetoed actions of the elected government, and retains those powers going forward.

Jordanians speak out

In Jordan, another experiment of a king finding ways to bend, without breaking his regime, is under way.

There has been a steady drumbeat of democracy demonstrations in Jordan since early 2011. Leftists, communists, Islamists, and tribal leaders have all expressed their various demands. Western commentators have occasionally predicted that King Abdullah will go the way of ousted President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, but so far the protests have produced little beyond what Jordanian blogger Naseem Tarawnah calls "political theater."

In February, Abdullah sacked his prime minister in response to the first round of protests and installed a new one with orders to carry out a reform program. In August, with protests ongoing, he did the same again. Various committees were formed to address undemocratic aspects of the country's political system. The resulting reforms were decried as wholly inadequate by both the left and the Islamists, but they were accepted by the king in late August anyway – to little noticeable effect.

The government, as is typical throughout the region, has dismissed protesters as troublemakers and foreign infiltrators, deepening the divisions between East Bank Jordanians and those of Palestinian origin. Thugs have attacked protesters, which both Islamists and leftists accuse of being hired by the government.

But it hasn't all been one-way traffic. Many Jordanians say there's a new willingness to criticize the state and make political demands.

"I think the public movement has achieved some change in the political arena in Jordan – quite a lot of change actually – and I think it's for the better," says Nimer al-Assaf, the deputy general secretary of Jordan's Islamic Action Front, which has led many of the protests. "The people do not fear, now, to talk about how they feel and what they want."

Saudi Arabia, for its part, has managed internal calls for change much as it always has – with large dollops of cash.

In the months following Mr. Mubarak's ouster from Egypt, Abdullah announced more than $90 billion in new subsidies and social spending, and also dispatched troops and money to Bahrain to help his fellow monarch put down protests.

Al Qaeda concerns in Yemen

Finally, there is Yemen. Whether the recent departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh will do much to satisfy opponents of the region, who have been involved in a bloody struggle against Mr. Saleh for much of the past year, is uncertain.

In the south, which was only reunified with the north in 1990, the winds of secession are blowing.

The United States has been deeply involved in drone assassinations and efforts to rein in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based group that appears the most potent of the Al Qaeda franchises, leaving it balancing its security priorities against support for full democracy that could result in less cooperation from a new Yemeni government.

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