An Exit Strategy for the Leaders Refusing to Step Down

03/26/2011 04:18 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2011

The coalition participating in imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, as well as the one that may get involved in Yemen, seems to have neither a clear exit strategy in the event of a protracted confrontation, nor an exit strategy to incite the leaders entrenched in their seat of power and refusing to step down. The absence of such a strategy will most likely lead to further bloodshed and devastation in the countries the coalition says it seeks to save from tyrannical rule, in support of democracy and reform. What is also lacking here is the rather crucial popular awareness of the costs of what may come after victory, so as for the shock of bitter reality not to tear apart the fabric of the new assembly emerging from the bliss of liberation.

Some world leaders seem all too ready to ride the wave of Arab uprisings, presenting themselves as their champions. There are also those leaders who have taken upon themselves the task of liberation under the guise of democracy, while their intervention seeks to further the oil interests of their countries' major corporations. And then there are those who could not stand idly by, while the revolution of reform was being brutally crushed, as in the case of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and were dragged into the coalition endorsing the "responsibility to protect" civilians under such circumstances.

Whatever their purpose or motive may be, global and local leaders must ensure that they, whether inadvertently or intentionally, do not mislead the civilian opposition or the armed revolutionaries by adopting their cause today, without paying heed to their prospects and the consequences of possible disappointment.

It would be better for the Arab peoples rising from under the burdens of submission and obedience to be prepared for worst case scenarios, so that they may not suffer frustration, disillusionment and lose their trust in change. Indeed, fears of what is to come after the change in Tunisia and in Egypt have begun to surface, especially with respect to the scenario where Islamist political parties reap what the secular youth revolution has sown.

In parallel, there are growing fears that Libya might be reduced to rubble or might be partitioned. This is an especially valid concern given that Gaddafi is insisting on settling the matter on the battlefield and that the military intervention that the international coalition came after the international community closed the door to political engagement with Gaddafi.

Meanwhile, the Arab world is rife with concerns about possible sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites, which started in Bahrain and began reverberating in Lebanon, with Iran being the common denominator between the two cases.

Then there is Yemen, with the nightmarish situation, in view of the political time bombs waiting to explode there, and which go beyond the issue of Ali Abdullah Saleh clinging to power. The consequences are far reaching should there be a regrettable failure of the international community in engaging in mediation or negotiation before matters deteriorate.

Although delayed action and short-sightedness seem to have driven everyone to the edge, and although it might already be too late, a last-minute initiative might still be able to stop the descent towards the abyss.

This does not mean that the Libyan model ought to be replicated in Yemen, in the sense of international military intervention under the umbrella of enforcing a no-fly zone. Nor should the Bahraini model be copied in Yemen, in the sense of a regional military intervention by GCC countries under the Peninsula Shield. Instead, political intervention must be carried out immediately with both the authorities and the opposition in order to provide Ali Abdullah Saleh with an exit strategy to avoid a quagmire that would require an exit strategy for all those involved.

Opinions on change in the Arab region are abundant and some are contradictory, which in the end is only natural.

There are those among the "extremist reformists" who want change at any cost, and under any circumstances. Those purport that rulers have "fabricated" the danger of Islamists in order to cling to power. They also assert that al Qaeda is a mere "invention" by these rulers and that one should not fear it or fear similar groups.

Those who champion this opinion do not want to listen to any reservations or fears regarding the revolutions of change and what they could engender, especially in terms of the organized and proactive Islamist political parties carpet-bagging these revolutions.

The extremist reformists hence want to overthrow the regimes and the regional order, and are convinced that ousting rulers is a historical achievement in and of itself. Fears in such a context are not justified, nor is there a need to think and evoke the Islamist factor or otherwise, after change has taken place. What matters for them above all is overthrowing rulers and regimes in order for true reforms to be introduced.

By contrast, "moderate reformists" are concerned about a scenario whereby the change brought about by reformists and secularists would be exploited by the traditional Islamists.

Such reformists do not want to overthrow the regime as an end in itself, regardless of who would fill the power vacuum. In their view, the Arab uprisings and revolutions have awakened rulers to the inevitability of reform. Rulers can no longer dispense with the urgent need for reform either in the transitional period or in the inevitability of relinquishing power.

Moderate reformists also fear chaos and destruction, which would undermine achievements and dreams of change.

They are equally worried that the well-organized Islamist political parties would take advantage of the poor organization and the lack of organizational experience by the Secularists. They fear the ambitions of the leftists and the demagogy of their political participation, while the Islamists skillfully play the game of power.

The moderate reformists are afraid that regret will set in, only in hindsight, when it would be too late, and they want an exit strategy for their rulers instead of ousting them amid bloodshed and chaos.

But moderate reformists are not among those who are entirely afraid of the revolutions of change, even when some of them oppose the Arab revolution only because they are more afraid of Islamists in power than the military in power.

They are more optimistic and have greater trust in the capabilities of civil society for building on change with awareness, determination and the ability to surprise.

In Tunisia for example, women represent perhaps the most powerful opposition force in the face of Islamists, for the obvious reason that the late President Habib Bourguiba had introduced radical reforms giving Tunisian women rights and eminence in the heart of an Arab World that still refuses to recognize their rights or pass laws to protect them.

Tunisian women are spearheading the movement that refuses to let the Jasmine Uprising be hijacked and turned into a playfield for Islamist political parties.

In Egypt, there is a mixture of pride and disappointment among the secularists. They are proud that 4 million Egyptians voted "no" in the referendum on constitutional amendments that would have parliamentary elections take place first -- not the presidential elections. They are concerned that the parliamentary elections will be a golden opportunity for Islamist parties to impose their influence on government.

On the other hand, they are frustrated because 14 million voted "yes" to the amendments, meeting the desire of Islamists to have parliamentary elections before the presidential elections. This is while being aware that Islamist parties are highly organized, all while the secularists are new to the political game.

In Egypt, signs of disenchantment and some remorse have begun to appear among some, not because they yearn for the return of the culture of fear, submission and corruption that accompanied the rule of Hosni Mubarak, but because they are aware of upcoming challenges, including some pertaining to economical issues aside from the concerns regarding the Islamist parties.

The coming transitional phase in both Egypt and Tunisia is of the utmost importance, and is in fact decisive on the path of democracy and the path of change. The banners raised in front of the prime minister's office in Cairo have demanded housing and jobs in daily protests that gathered thousands.

Indeed, in Egypt, the strategy that should be pursued is one that would keep the promise of change, in lucid partnership with people, which would require a candid assertion that swift change has a narrow scope, and expectations to be toned down lest disappointment reign.

Most importantly, the best approach the Arab and international communities can pursue in Egypt is to intervene there with economic aid. The country is teeming with aspirations and pride in its ability to stand up and meet challenges. But at the end of the day, there are daily needs such as jobs, housing and the daily livelihoods of the families and people.

Meanwhile, the common denominator between the rulers of Libya, Yemen and Syria is that they are refusing to acknowledge what is happening in their country, albeit at varying degrees.

The Syrian regime at first denied that there were any protests taking place against the regime, but then found itself forced to explain the snowballing events, claiming that the protesters demanding reform were a mere band of thugs and outlaws.

Reactions to the developments in Syria were very lukewarm, including those of Nicolas Sarkozy's government, even when he has set himself up as the champion of the Libyan revolution.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon also came across as being overly cautious in dealing with the uprising in Syria, while the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Amr Moussa purposely diverted attention away from Syria, focusing exclusively on Bahrain, Yemen and Libya.

There is a need for creative ideas now, on how to emerge from the predicament of bloody confrontations, and such ideas are exactly what the opposition needs in the countries in which demonstrations demanding reforms are taking place.

With the Syrian government, creative ideas must focus on how to introduce reform into the leadership's thinking, to enable it to meet the demands of the Syrian people aspiring more freedom, political participation and economic reforms. The Syrian leadership must also realize that it must give up its ambitions of hegemony and influence beyond its borders. It must be given stern messages that it is not above being held to account, but that it has nonetheless the chance for an exit strategy, out of the dark tunnel of confrontation, before matters become complicated and making the wrong bets is repeated.

In Libya it seems like it is too late to find an exit strategy for the Libyan regime, especially as Muammar Gaddafi appears to be determined to fight to the last Libyan and seems convinced that he will prevail.

The problem here is this: What if he indeed has the capabilities to prolong the fighting and carry out his threats of destroying the country?

Perhaps there still are creative ideas for an exit strategy for the regime and the Gaddafi family, in preparation of ousting him from power.

Indeed, the international/Arab coalition is divided over the goals of military operations, and there is no consensus over toppling Gaddafi or getting rid of him no matter the cost.

It is therefore necessary for the leaders of the coalition to discuss with the Libyan opposition all kinds of ideas, which could perhaps lead to an exit strategy for the regime, one that would stop, rather than carry on, the bloodshed.

The same applies to Yemen. There is a dire need there for an exit strategy for the regime, one that falls somewhere between the Tunisian and Egyptian model -- where both presidents were toppled without a gradual exit strategy -- and the Libyan model on the other hand, where toppling the Libyan leader has proved extremely difficult.

This is not a call to striking deals with the rulers who are rejected by their own people, so they may remain in power. It is a call for thinking of exit strategies that lure them into leaving power in a manner that would prevent more bloodshed.