Professor Sohail Inayatullah is a political scientist/futurist at the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies, Tamkang University, Taiwan; and the Centre of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, Macquarie University, Sydney. He is one of 2010 Laurel award winners for all time best futurists as voted by the Shaping Tomorrow foresight network, an association of 2900 foresight professionals.
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Whether the trigger event was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, the earlier WikiLeaks cables describing Tunisia as run by a mafia-esque elite, or the rap music of Hamada Ben Amor—known as El Général—the Middle-East has irrevocably changed. Dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have been overthrown and the stage is set for potentially deeper economic and cultural change. As of this writing, Bahrain’s leadership survives through mercenary violence, renting the armed forces of Saudi Arabia; Yemen is in the midst of regime change; and the future in Syria remains uncertain.
To develop hypotheses on how these situations may play out, this article will use a macro-historical framework to develop alternative futures of the Arab Spring. For example, in Iran, over a year ago, change seemed imminent. Protestors took to the streets, and the rule of Ali Khamenei appeared to be ending. Through the use of surveillance technologies provided by Nokia-Siemens networks, shutting down the Internet, bullets, and the fascism of the Revolutionary Guards, Ayatollah Khamenei prevailed. This signaled that any idea of an Iranian Spring will have to wait. But for how long? Theories about the future of social change in Iran can be developed using the macro-historical framework developed by the scholars Ibn Khaldun, Pitirim Sorokin, and P.R. Sarkar. From the perspective of these scholars—who wrote on cyclical decline and pendulum shifts—the rot has already set in, and Khamenei’s successor will find it far more difficult to keep the youth’s desire for systemic change at bay. With over 60 percent of Iran’s population under thirty years of age and with a history of political activism, minor concessions on the part of the regime, such as the raising of the voting age to eighteen in 2007, are unlikely to placate the citizenry. A long-term pendulum shift is potentially underway—one that opposes the religious right in Iran, and will perhaps lead to an integrated modern and ideational society.
This article first analyzes the factors driving the various protests that have taken place across the Middle East, then uses a macro-historical framework to develop alternative futures of the Arab Spring. In the first future, there is linear progressive change, continuing the tradition of the Enlightenment. In the second future, change is superficial with an eventual return to the status quo. In the third future, there is foundational political-economic and cultural transformation.