Tunisia Will Be Keenly Watched By Arab Powerbrokers

The crucible of the uprisings has been where the Arab spring's legacy has been hammered out in the decade since it began. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the three countries where it all started in mid-December 2010, have remained central to the theme of what happened when autocracies fell in the face of unrest on the streets. All three north African governments have subsequently been at the center of an even greater battle for dominance among the region's powerbrokers.

The so-called Arab nationalist police states – led by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and a resurgent Egypt, which recovered after the violent coup of 2013 and reclaimed the protection of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh – have been lined up on one side. On the other hand, Qatar, Turkey, and the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood have been supported by Doha and Ankara after being forcefully ejected by Egypt's president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Both sides have dug in over the fate of the brotherhood. Ennahda, a pro-Muslim Brotherhood party, has ruled Tunisia for much of the last decade. And in Libya, a government was created early this year — with Turkey's blessing, a long-time opponent of the UAE, which claims to be watching and waiting.

Following costly proxy battles in Libya and excessive expenditures to prop up Egypt, Abu Dhabi appears to have a stake in Tunisia's fate as well.

The collapse of Tunisia's government on Sunday night appears to have been precipitated by a confluence of events: the country's excruciatingly slow progress toward democratic standards, a deteriorating economy, and a global downturn that provided little hope of a turning point. Indeed, the domestic response to a coup that shook most of the area was deafeningly quiet. While the coup's politics looked to be internal, regional players' reactions, particularly the UAE's, remains uncertain for the time being.

Tunisia had been backed by Turkey's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose incursions into Arab politics are resented by UAE officials, some of whom feel Libya has produced meager returns as a political investment and are concerned about the consolidation of political Islam.

Tunisia's new strongman, Kais Saied, has pledged to take on the ruling Ennahda party. And, after dispatching the country's prime minister, who fled discreetly following his dismissal, he looks to be facing few difficulties – at least for the time being – in solidifying his new authority.

The politics of the government's fall are very much local on the streets of Tunis; a tired people, many of whom have lost faith in the speed of change and lost trust in the raw, fumbling Tunisian democratic experiment's ability to deliver.

If internal events were the only motivator for such an anti-democratic step, the region's heavyweights will be watching with bated breath – several without reservation. On Tuesday, though, there was a growing perception in several European capitals that some of their regional equivalents were dissatisfied with the situation.