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High Stakes In The Gulf

The Arab Spring could be the ultimate antidote to al-Qaeda’s jihadist ideology, but it’s unclear whether the uprisings will produce a liberating revolution or a backlash.

Within minutes of the announcement that U.S. special forces had killed Osama bin-Laden, crowds gathered outside the White House and the former World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan to cheer and sing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The celebratory atmosphere didn’t last long, though.

The U.S. has spent too much blood and treasure in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the diffuse and unpredictable nature of terrorism doesn’t allow for declarations of victory. A weak economy, high unemployment and crushing debt burdens seem more pressing problems to most Americans. Quite simply, the world has moved on in the decade since the September 11 attacks.

Nowhere is that more true than in the Middle East and North Africa. The popular uprisings that have swept the region since a frustrated fruit vendor set himself on fire in Tunisia in December hold the promise of a historic transformation. Countries that only a few years ago were supplying bin-Laden with his foot soldiers are seeing their own people rise up and demand genuine political power and economic opportunity.

The Arab Spring could be the ultimate antidote to al-Qaeda’s jihadist ideology, but it’s unclear whether the uprisings will produce a liberating revolution or a backlash. The stakes are especially high in the Gulf, home to the world’s biggest reserves of oil and gas. In “Change Shakes the Gulf,” Contributor Mark Townsend describes how the region’s ruling monarchies are spending freely to address economic needs but so far giving little ground to political dissent. It’s the old bargain of stability at any price. Real reform that meets the aspirations of these countries’ citizens could produce both prosperity and stability.

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