From Sidi Bouzid to Damascus: The Tragedy of the “Spring”

Why have the fruits of the "Arab Spring" not been met?

Over one year ago, Casper Wuite and I became published authors when our book, The Arab Uprisings: An Introduction, was released. An incredible feat for the two of us aside, the revolts that swept the Middle East and North Africa from December 17, 2010, have certainly been the most seismic event of the 21st century so far. Indeed, as we mentioned in the book, the impact of the revolts will continue to be felt for decades.

A Primer

Looking at the uprisings from the other side of the tunnel as 2014 is in full swing, one can see results that have failed to meet the initial optimism that activists and analysts both rightfully envisioned.

Tunisia continues to see political uncertainty with Mehdi Jomaa set to become the new caretaker prime minister. His task will be to form an interim government that will satisfy all parties — a formidable challenge for a country that not too long ago was dubbed the model for Arab nations coming off a political transition.

The National Constituent Assembly in Tunisia has struggled to agree upon a comprehensive draft constitution that is accepted by all actors, while terrorist attacks — once unthinkable in the tiny Maghreb nation — and politically-driven murders have been a reoccurring nightmare. Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Uprisings, is in a state of flux. Beyond civil unrest in Tunis and Sidi Bouzid in December 2013, lawmakers have received death threats as the assembly struggles to agree upon a constitution that is deemed satisfactory by Islamist and secular parties.   

In Egypt, the so-called "deep state" has made a comeback as the military is back on the scene after a coup d'état against an Islamist president who forcefully imposed his — and his party's — controversial and authoritarian policies upon resilient Egyptians. Egypt's military rulers, under the face of interim President Adly Mansour, have brought back much-hated and oppressive laws, including a controversial curbing of protests as well as a recent state of emergency. Aside from the mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters that have been criticized by human rights organizations, youth activists of the 2011 uprising were recently handed suspended sentences — the imprisoned blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was one of them.

The spirit of Tahrir Square, which donned the colors of the Egyptian flag and brought down a long-standing military dictator in Hosni Mubarak, has indeed faded into the abyss. Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were certainly not the right leaders for Egypt as they upheld their own dictatorial and inexperienced policies at the expense of everyday Egyptians.

However, neither is the repressive military under General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — the same military that countless Egyptians stood against on many occasions one year prior. If Tunisia is in a state of flux, Egypt's so-called "revolution" has taken more than two steps back. Should Sisi run for office — as is expected by some analysts — all eyes would turn towards revolutionary groups to see if they would accept such an outcome, even if it comes via the ballot box.  

Meanwhile, Libya's government has failed to enforce a solid security strategy, while arms trade and proliferation are a significant concern for Mediterranean countries and sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority of militias that were involved in the civil war did not disarm and have since sought to challenge the state's security forces. Weapons from Libya have even made their way to West Africa and the Levant. In fact, these same militias managed to destabilize neighboring Mali and drag the country down into its own conflict. Alarmingly, Tripoli's inadequate security policy meant that the country's prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was recently kidnapped by extremists.

Tribal militias had even managed to block 80% of Libya's oil exports for months on end, while the country's daily output plummeted severely throughout 2013.

The demise of Libya's security situation has a number of implications not only for the wider region, but also for everyday Libyans as threats of a second civil war are not farfetched.

If the Libyan government fails to curb armed militias — of nearly a few thousand — and secure the abundance of weapons throughout the country, Libya will not progress economically. Libya is in dire need of investment and infrastructure as the country needs to be rebuilt. It is quite clear that foreign companies will think twice about investing in a nation that is severely unstable. The outcome will be a likely increase in unemployment and, as a result, the Libyan people will grow more and more restive. For southern Europe, this will mean an increase in migrants sailing across the Mediterranean.   

Yemen's transition in a post-Saleh era is still marred by corruption, violence and drones. President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi — who was elected in a farcical one-horse race in February 2012 after a GCC-led transition agreement that forced Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down — is overt regarding US drone strikes in Yemen. In fact, when visiting Washington, D.C. in September 2012, Hadi praised and all but welcomed the attacks by stating: "They pinpoint the target and have zero margin of error, if you know what target you’re aiming at."

Aside from the moral implications of US drone warfare, Yemen's security situation is clearly of core concern to regional states as well as the international community. Any rise in terrorism-related activity in Yemen has the potential to impact upon Western interests in the Gulf but also abroad, as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed bomb attempt in 2009 showed. However, a "zero margin of error" is definitely a false assertion by President Hadi when a wedding party can be mistakenly hit by a drone strike. Hadi is simply a new face for an old, corrupted regime.

Bahrain's al-Khalifa family continues to rule with its oppressive hand. The Gulf kingdom's Shi'a majority has a right to stand up against the state when it fails to cater for all its citizens. Indeed, Manama's human rights record is nothing short of atrocious.

With arbitrary arrest and military-style trials of civilians, Bahrain has managed to present its political unrest as a sectarian issue with Iran at the forefront. While Iran does hold its own agenda over the nation's unrest, a sectarian-led explanation for Bahrain's uprising is far from the truth.

The majority Shi'a population are wrongfully discriminated against and treated as third-class citizens. With all moral issues of human rights abuse aside, Bahrain should empower its Shi'a populace to reduce the much-warranted grievances against the Khalifa family. A united population is imperative for economic growth and social cohesion.  

As civil war in the Levant approaches its third anniversary, it is Syria which is perhaps the most heartbreaking story of what Marc Lynch had dubbed the "Arab Spring" — a term which he himself admitted was not an accurate assessment of the region's uprisings. As battles rage on between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and armed opposition fighters — consisting of Syrians and non-Syrians, including Islamists, Salafists and the drowned-out voices of secularists — it is the innocent bystanders of the war who have to bear the brunt of both sides' brutality, unending violence, and unyielding stance.

While NATO hit the trigger alarmingly fast in Libya without giving diplomacy a thorough try, the international community has failed to diplomatically bring about peace in Syria. As hopes of a ceasefire in the upcoming Geneva conference fade, the civil war sees no end in sight as innocent men, women and children watch their lives being torn apart on a daily basis.

The Fruits of the "Spring"

Indeed, Syria is the tragedy story of the so-called "Arab Spring," with over 130,000 people having been killed by Assad loyalists and armed opposition fighters. However, while the third anniversary of Mohammed Bouazizi's self-immolation has passed, it is worthwhile to assess the Arab Uprisings in a "then" and "now" fashion.

As each nation's uprising or political unrest differed in terms of its specific causes and outcomes, it is imperative to look upon the countries on an individual basis and evaluate how they have progressed from 2010/11 until now, while also providing suggestions for each nation on a social, political and economic basis.

What will follow as 2014 surges forward is a series of articles which tackle exactly that — on Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, as well as Morocco, Algeria and Jordan. Such a comprehensive analysis of these nations is necessary as the fruits of the "Spring" have not been met — at least not yet.     

*[This article was produced in partnership with the Foreign Policy Association.]

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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