Arab Spring proves winter to nuclear ambitions
Along with lifetime presidencies, emergency laws, and personalised security forces, the Arab Spring uprisings of the past year have claimed another illustrious victim: nuclear energy.
"All the plans, all the agreements, all the studies; everything has stopped," said Abdelmajid Mahjoub, director of the Arab Atomic Energy Agency (AAEA), a regional atomic energy body affiliated with the Arab League.
According to the AAEA, nearly a dozen Arab states had either embarked upon or revived peaceful nuclear energy programmes during the last decade to fuel energy-costly desalination projects and meet skyrocketing electricity demand spurred by demographic growth.
Yet, a few short years later, such atomic energy dreams have been shattered by the new political realities of the Arab Spring, as months of political upheaval have transformed a region once destined for a nuclear renaissance into a blackspot on the nuclear industry map.
"No-one wants to invest in long-term projects in the Arab world, especially anything with the word 'nuclear' in it," Mahjoub said.
Industry observers say no nuclear programme has been harder hit by the Arab Spring than Egypt's, where popular protests pulled the plug on the country's fifth attempt to go nuclear in nearly half a century.
"After years of moving ahead, everything changed in a single day," said Ibrahim Shaway, vice chairman of the Egyptian Nuclear Power Plants Authority, which invited international firms to submit bids for the country's first reactor the very day protestors began gathering in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
According to Shaway, the popular uprising and the resulting political instability "scared off" once eager investors, leaving energy officials struggling to find a firm willing to take a chance on a programme that once envisioned the construction of four nuclear reactors.
"Until stability is restored and we can regain investor confidence, we just can't get anyone interested in taking part in our programme."
While the Egyptian programme has grounded to a halt, nuclear energy has completely fallen off the policy agendas in countries such as Libya and Yemen, where revolutionaries face the tall tasks of uniting bitterly divided nations and building state institutions from the ground up.
"We have an entirely new set of priorities," said Al Mukhtar Ashur of the Libyan Atomic Energy Establishment.
"How can we even talk about nuclear now when we don't even have a government?"
While the series of popular uprisings may have shattered investor confidence, the democratic governorates brought by the revolutions have been less than reassuring, energy officials say.
The fall of various dictators has led to the rise of Islamist-led governments, who industry leaders view as "inexperienced" and "unpredictable" decision-makers unwilling or unable to make the difficult policy decisions or financial commitments required by national nuclear programmes.
"After the revolutions, investors face even more unknowns: will these inexperienced governments have an energy strategy? Will they uphold previous agreements?" Mahjoub remarked.
"We have to answer all these questions before we can get the Arab nuclear drive back on track."
Unlike their dictatorial predecessors, post-Arab Spring governments are also beholden to a public ready to mobilise at a moment's notice - an additional condition that makes divisive issues such as nuclear energy a much harder sale to make.
"If there is anything we have learned from the revolution is that we must take the public's will into account every step of the way, from the technology selection to the site of the reactor," Shaway said.
"It has become a delicate process."
Regional political shifts have even impacted the nuclear ambitions of more politically stable states such as Jordan - where an Arab Spring inspired anti-nuclear movement has forced energy officials to relocate the site for the country's planned nuclear reactor and even prompted parliament to vote to suspend the programme entirely.
"The recent changes have made public outreach a main goal and a challenge," said Khaled Toukan, head of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, which aims to establish the country's first reactor by the end of the decade.
"If we can get the public on our side and show them the facts, we know we can succeed.
Yet, as the fallout of the Arab Spring continue to reshape and recast the region's political landscape, experts say the future of Arab nuclear programmes remain as unclear as the very movements which brought them to a halt.
"One day we will stop talking about the Arab Spring and talk about a nuclear spring," said Mustafa Bahran of the Yemeni Atomic Energy Commission.
"But first we may face a long winter ahead."