The protests brought forth by Arab Spring changed the regional and domestic politics in Arab countries. The recent event of Gulf countries’ normalising relations with Israel cannot be isolated from it
Nine years have passed since the surprising Arab Spring took place in the Middle Eastern countries. Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation sparked the flame of massive revolutions in neighbouring countries against their regimes in 2011.
Those protests brought massive changes in regional and domestic politics in Arab countries.
Notably, the recent event of Gulf countries' normalising relations with Israel cannot be isolated from the Arab Spring, as it is tied to the power transition and shifting balance of power in the Middle East. The Arab Spring hardly needs any elaborate description.
Bouazizi's death was a symbolic event that stirred protracted grievances among citizens against their respective regimes in the Middle East. Protesters found their governments acting insanely against citizens by endangering their lives instead of saving them.
Strong internal security apparatus was maintained in those countries to sharpen political grip and shoot down the opposition or whoever was deemed a challenge to their legitimacy.
Miserable performance in governance, human rights abuses, unemployment, poor living standards and widespread corruption were common in these countries.
Different Middle Eastern governments reacted differently to the Arab Spring, which brought different outcomes. The Arab Republics (e.g. Egypt, Syria) had chosen hard-line measures to dismantle anti-regime protests, which eventually backfired.
Long enduring head of states Muammar al-Gaddafi (42 years in power) of Libya, Ali Abdullah Saleh (33 years) of Yemen and Hosni Mubarak (30 years) were overthrown from power..
The Syrians also rose up against the Assad regime but he managed to hold on to power despite losing the grip he had in the past.
A group of Islamic parties appeared in the political field after the uprisings.
Initially, the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in the Egyptian election, so did the Islamic party in Tunisia. These parties, however, could not maintain continued success in other countries.
Interestingly, the Arab kingdoms survived in the wake of massive protests challenging their legitimacy of rule. Tricky monarchs used incentive and force to mitigate dissatisfaction among their citizens.
Oil-rich kingdoms like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait had given disproportionate amounts of cash to the accounts of citizens to buy their loyalty. The republics did not have adequate resources like monarchies to bribe their citizens.
Besides, hard measures were also used to supress popular dissidents who were dissatisfied with the so-called royal bribe in Gulf countries. The fall of Arabian dictators in a few powerful republics brought a power balance shift in regional politics.
Initially, the Iran-led Shia alliance went on the backfoot since both Iraq and Syria were in uncomfortable situations. Interestingly, Erdogan used the Arab Spring as a political opportunity to brand Turkey as a model of democracy and development in emerging realities.
Saudi Arabia spent a handful for expanding Salafi ideology in neighbouring countries, especially in Egypt where a number of young people were challenging old authoritarianism and craving for civil rights. Notably, the Arab Spring strengthened internal ties among Sunni monarchies under GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).
GCC promptly reacted to the internal protests of Bahrain in 2011. Saudi Arabia mobilised direct force to crush the Shia protest against the Sunni monarch.
On one hand, GCC paid close attention and provided visible support to Jordan and Morocco where both Sunnism and monarchism were under deep threat from popular uprisings.
Qatar patronised the Muslim Brotherhood on the other hand. Surely Sunni monarchies feared the rise of political Islam, which could shake the superficial foundations of monarchism.
Emergence of Islamic States and other sectarian entities intensified superpower involvement throughout the Middle East. Syria, Iraq and Yemen became the hotspots of rivalry among power seeking players.
Entities turned to hard balancing mode in battlegrounds, leaving soft balancing secondary. Superpowers remained virtually silent about protesters' vision of a more democratic and changing Middle East.
Keeping old authoritarians in power had given a level of stability to this region but the uncertainty of Arab Spring forced superpowers to rethink their positions in the Middle East.
Historically, it resembled the US tension after the collapse of Soviet Union, which could have destabilised the whole of Europe through spill over effect.
Meanwhile, in Syria, Russia soon came to save the Assad regime with heavy military on ground assistance.
USA left its vision of overthrowing Assad gradually, but continued supporting the Free Syrian Army while limiting its presence in Iraq.
It surely paved the way for Shia emergence. These developments altered regional balance of power in the Middle East.
Iran is now experiencing its highest supremacy with the waning power of USA and the failure of their Sunni counterparts to hold their supremacy gained by Arab Spring.
The superficially consolidated Sunni alliance has fallen apart from its internal contradictions. The Qatar crisis is the prime example of it.
GCC's branding of Khaleeji, a sub-regional identity of Arabian Peninsula among Sunnis, also collapsed.
This division also opened up new opportunities for Iran and Turkey in regional politics, who strongly supported Qatar during its hard days against fellow Sunnis.
The demise of Sunni alliance gave Iran an excellent opportunity to slap opponents via its modest assistance to Yemeni rebels. Overall, Iran has successfully gained more grounds in regional politics, especially after building the "Shia Crescent" of Iran-Iraq-Syria.
Alongside, the US position has surely been hampered by Russian advancement in the Middle East. The recent historical move of the UAE and Bahrain to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel is another development of Arab Spring.
But Arab monarchies kept unofficial communication with Israel from long ago, since it is a decisive actor having close ties with USA.
Obviously Trump has a short-term gain from this diplomatic breakthrough during the US presidential election campaign.
But the long-term strategic reason behind this move is curving Iran's domination in this region, while impeding the rise of Islamic parties, which could challenge both monarchies and Israel.
Arab monarchies have a strategic interest in getting closer to Israel as balance of power is tilting towards Iran. Saudi Arabia has carefully applauded this new normalisation but abstained from official recognition of Israel yet.
As a leader of the Sunni bloc, it is undeniable that Saudi Arabia has consent to this normalisation process. Evidently Saudi Arabia is moving slowly, since it has a guardianship role of Islam and holy sites.
The voice for an independent Palestine state is waning with Gulf states' appeasement policy with Israel. It is uncertain whether the Palestinian authority can bounce back or will surrender to the Gulf states' normalisation process with Israel.
Imran Nazir is a student of International Relations at the University of Dhaka