Arabs have become used to seeing the years pass without any significant change. Monotony follows monotony, and people surrender to the status quo they experience, in terms of repression, backwardness and a loss of dignity. The Arab order's inability to halt the continuing decline in the confrontation with Israel, the desire of the Jewish state to eliminate the Palestinian identity, and its denial of the existence of a regional peace partner has only exacerbated this situation.
Only 2011 proved an exception to the rule, after the spark of change appeared in Tunisia at the end of the previous year. It is expected that 2012 will also be an exception to the usual monotony, after the current year saw many developments, from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria and other countries.
However, 2012 will see the movement for change continue in all of these countries, albeit with a very different flavor, due to what is taking place in Syria. This is also whether or not 2012 sees change in Syria, because many expect the country's crisis to drag on; Syria might enter an extended confrontation, or movement in the direction of civil war. The difference with this year is that what happens in Syria will reflect directly on the regional scene, in comparison with the indirect change in this scene that was caused by the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and the movement experienced in Bahrain.
The aspects of direct impact of the popular movement in Syria appeared in 2011 in the policy of the current leading ally of Syria, Iran, in two vital areas of Iranian regional policy: Iraq and Lebanon.
Iran is anticipating the possibility of losing its geographical and political connection to the Arab East, and between these two countries in particularly. The Gulf and western states have been unable to de-couple Iran and Syria, but this could succeed in the Syrian intifada, if it changes the regime or weakens it, which would change its relationship to Tehran. This has prompted Iran to anticipate the change in Syria by being more hard-line in taking the reins of power in Iraq. The conflict there between presumed coalition parties has fallen apart, and this goes beyond the competition over filling the vacuum left by the United States' withdrawal. It is a conflict between powers which have different regional loyalties and calculations and view of the Iranian regional role and Iraq's position therein. The calculations and viewpoints of these powers have diverged even more, not only because Washington has rid itself of Iraq, but also because of the change in Syria, no matter what its magnitude, on Iranian-Iraqi cooperation and the role of Iran in the make-up of Iraq's ruling authorities. The harmony between Tehran and the Syrian leadership has helped the allies of the former in this arena in 2011, and will maintain their position in 2012.
Lebanon is not an exception to this rule. The harmony between the Syrian leadership and Iran and the requirements of Iran's influence in Lebanon have foiled attempts to draft an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Syria (the so-called "S-S" formula) and thus abandon the national unity government headed by Saad Hariri at the beginning of this year.
This was preceded by the disintegration of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Syria in Iraq, through supporting Iyad Allawi, the head of the Iraqiya list, for the prime minister's job, or a third person who was not the head of the State of Law list, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Since then, Syria has cemented its position as the lynchpin between Iran's influence in Baghdad and in Beirut.
In Lebanon, it is natural for Iran to try and head off the possibility of change, or at least the continuing popular action in Syria and its crisis in 2012, by taking the reins of its influence in Lebanon, in isolation from this change. Its allies insist that the current government will not fall, since it provides a cover for this influence, which is exercised by Hezbollah in various ways in power, as it restrains its allies from causing any domestic tension. It is no coincidence that March 14 forces are trying to hurry change in Damascus, while March 8 groups try to slow it, to the degree of even denying that there is an uprising underway in various parts of the country.
Those who want to see things speeded up might be getting ahead of themselves, while those who deny there is a domestic crisis refuse to recognize its consequences, as a prelude to openly saying that their influence is an acquired right with Syria's present leadership, or with a different Syria.
In short, 2012 will be a year of hard-line Iranian stances in Iraq and Lebanon, to compensate for the weakness of its lynchpin, Syria.