Dhaka Courier

The Arab Spring is suffocating in a dark tunnel

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Oct. 22, 2011 file photo, buildings ravaged by fighting are seen through another damaged building in Sirte, Libya. Ten years ago, an uprising in Tunisia opened the way for a wave of popular revolts against authoritarian rulers across the Middle East known as the Arab Spring. For a brief window as leaders fell, it seemed the move toward greater democracy was irreversible. Instead, the region saw its most destructive decade of the modern era. Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq have been torn apart by wars, displacement and humanitarian crisis. Photo: AP/UNB

On January 28, 2015, I wrote an article published by a Japanese news site, Nippon.com, entitled "On their fourth anniversary, the fate of the Arab Spring revolutions is mysterious…Why?!" The article was published in Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish, in addition to Arabic.

The introduction of the article at the time included the following text: The main goal of the Arab revolutions that broke out in five countries -- Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria -- focused on eliminating corruption, economic deterioration and injustice, and establishing a modern democratic civil state.

After four years (that was, in 2015) the revolutions have been turned back, and have not achieved any of their goals. Instead, most of them have entered a dark tunnel, without knowing where it will lead and how long it will last.

In two meetings organized for me by the Bangladeshi newspapers, Prothum Alo and the Daily Star, during two visits to the capital Dhaka, in 2013 and 2014, I recall repeating what I wrote on the Japanese news site, and adding that the revolutions disappointed the hopes of most Arab people. They also resulted in division and civil war in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, while Egypt and Tunisia were somehow spared.

Now, ten years after the start of the Arab revolutions referred to as the "Arab Spring", I return to the same questions that I asked in 2015, about the goals of the revolutions regarding eliminating corruption, economic deterioration and injustice, and establishing a modern democratic civil state.

But I add to them this question:

Is the time ripe to take stock of the gains and losses that came out of the popular revolutions in the five countries, or does such an evaluation need more time?

Qantara.de website published an article entitled "The Arab Spring Revolutions .. The giant came out of the bottle", in which it stated that the Arab Spring, like the spring of all peoples, has structural causes and historical roots. It was not born of a specific moment, and it is an example of the failure of Arab states following their independence.

In this article, published on December 7, 2018, Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Cambridge in Britain, Khaled Fahmy, stated:

"I have never been impressed by the term 'Arab Spring' in reference to the revolutions and protest movements that swept across several Arab countries from 2011 to 2013. This is because this term is Eurocentric, meaning that it was originally coined in the West by Western analysts and journalists, and it did not originate from any of the Arab countries that witnessed these revolutions and protest movements."

In his analysis, Professor Fahmy said:

"The 'Arab Spring' revolutions, in my opinion, were launched from a deep realization that the Arab political system, whose rules were established after the First World War, is no longer acceptable or defensible."

All Arab regimes have failed to achieve even the minimum level of development, stability and defense on their national soil.

Even Arab countries that were able to improve the standard of living for their citizens, did so not as a result of adopting rational and sustainable development policies, but rather as a result of their reliance on rentier sources, the most important of which is oil and natural gas.

Even this success has been accompanied by a profound lack of democratic norms and self-empowerment for their people.

As for the non-oil producing countries, they have also depended on this rentier source in the form of transferring the savings of their citizens working in oil-rich countries. This rentier source contributed to delaying popular protests and gave the regimes and governments leeway, sometimes for decades.

Professor Fahmy says: "The forces of the counterrevolution have succeeded brilliantly in restoring control in the Arab Spring countries, but the questions raised by the Arab Spring revolutions, questions stemming from awareness of the need to change the Arab system and put an end to its historical failure - these questions have become clear and are raised more powerfully than ever."

The Arab Spring revolutions raised existential questions about the relationship of rulers with government and the empowerment of people to govern themselves.

 It raised questions about the position of women in society and the need to end all forms of discrimination against them; questions about adopting rational economic policies that wean our societies off of rentier sources of income; and questions about the role of religion in public life.

Professor Khaled Fahmy concluded his assessment of what the Arab revolutions have yielded, saying: These questions were claimed by the ruling regimes to have answers to them, until the Arab revolutions erupted in 2011 to clarify the falsehood of the claims and the lies of the Arab regimes. What the counter-revolutions claim about the return of stability and security to their citizens is an illusion. It is only the Arab revolutions that have presented good efforts in an attempt to address the crises of Arab societies. As for the regimes, what they offer does not go beyond the brutality, brute force and abuse of their enemies.

In another article published on January 17, 2021, entitled "Ten years after the Arab Spring," the director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Muhammad Fayez Farhat says: "The Arab Spring phenomenon needs to be evaluated for a relatively longer period in order to reach more realistic results."

He adds: "The scientific study of the phenomenon must go beyond the assumption that the 'Arab Spring' was part of a 'conspiracy', although it cannot in any way exclude the existence of the 'conspiracy'. They are part of the phenomena of international relations, just as their presence in the 'Arab Spring' phenomenon itself cannot be excluded. There is much evidence and writing that can be invoked to support this hypothesis."

The reality is that the region fell into two main categories: The first is the group of countries affected by the Arab Spring, which included Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

On the other hand, there is also a group that managed to escape from this phenomenon. And then there is an important question: Why were certain countries able to escape from this phenomenon, while others were not?

The reality also indicates that some "spring" countries have fallen - and are still in the clutches of a "failed state", civil wars and foreign interventions, leading to military intervention, while a country like Egypt escaped from all of these phenomena.

Farhat concludes with a number of lessons about the Arab Spring phenomenon:

The first: Reform, not revolution, is the safe path to change. Revolutions are associated with ideal moments and ambitions, but they are associated with huge economic and human costs. They are also considered an ideal moment for opportunistic currents, foreign projects and terrorist movements and organizations to take advantage of these revolutions.

The second lesson is development, and the relationship between development and democracy, which comes first, which represents an end versus which is a means, and which is a condition or a result.

There are two schools of thought that have emerged in this area. The first affirms that there is no development without democracy, as the latter represents a necessary and sufficient condition for achieving development. This school was based mainly on Western experience and remained the dominant one, until experiences of Asian countries came to tell us that there is no real and sustainable democracy without real, sustainable and balanced development, and that development is a necessary condition for democracy.

Kamal Gaballa is a Cairo-based journalist and ex-Managing Editor of Al-Ahram

  • dark tunnel
  • injustice
  • economic deterioration
  • eliminating corruption
  • Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria
  • Arab Spring

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