The Arab Spring, a second try!


The so-called Arab Spring that swept across much of the Arab world eight years ago appears to be having a resurgence.

An incident in a remote Tunisian town in 2010 sparked a wave of rebellions across the Arab world.

It was on December 17, 2010 when Mohammad Bouazizi, who had for years been selling vegetables on a street cart in the town of Sidi Bouzid to provide his eight-member family with basic living needs, set himself on fire in protest at the confiscation of his unlicensed vegetable cart by police. Bouazizi was also subjected to painful police humiliation and, when he tried to report his case to the local municipality officials, they refused to see him.

While he was languishing in hospital before his death two weeks later, the national outrage caused by the incident led to a countrywide uprising against the Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year-old dictatorship. The public outcry was so resolute that no amount of official appeasement was able to calm the escalating revolt. On January 14, 2011, only 10 days after Bouazizi’s death, Ben Ali’s rule was brought to an end, with him fleeing the country.

The fast and quite successful Tunisian experiment must have awakened similar sentiments in other Arab countries that had, for extended periods, been subjected to similar dictatorial and corrupt regimes. Emulated in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and later Syria, the Tunisian popular revolt had transformed into a trend, with the term “Arab Spring” coined as its label. Why so, because, hitherto, the Arab world was lagging behind in terms of democratisation. Finally, many believed, the dawn of democratisation that had for decades stayed away from the Arab world was knocking at its doors. Within months, three more Arab dictators were toppled. Demonstrations and street marches were simultaneously seen in many other Arab capitals calling for political reform, better governments, improved living conditions and combating corruption.

However, the euphoria generated by the few initial Arab uprising successes was soon reversed. The removed dictatorships were not, as had been desired, replaced by real and genuine liberal democracies and competent governments. Actually, it was the exact opposite. Libya and Yemen are still struggling hard to establish any kind of public order, let alone functioning democracies. The situation in the other countries that managed to oust former autocratic rulers is barely settled either. While under the former dictatorships, the concerned countries were lacking most of the benefits and rights often guaranteed by representative liberal democracies; those countries at least had a relative degree of stability, safety and economic adequacy.

In no way should this imply that the toppled dictatorships should have been left endlessly unchallenged as suitable systems of government. Rather, it simply means that the overall Arab Spring experiment was successful in toppling regimes, but it failed in replacing them with better ones.

But this was not without objective reasons; foreign intrusive, ill-intentioned tampering, combined with effective and obstructive local counter-reform elements. And although most Arab Spring failures were the direct result of these factors, they ended up, nevertheless, reflecting badly on the idea of Arab awakening in its entirety, leading many to condemn the Arab Spring as an ominous phenomenon and blame it for the chaos that prevailed in the aftermath of the first round of regime change.

That may not be fair. The initial popular uprisings were unquestionably driven by genuine long-suppressed national sentiments, seeking freedom from oppression, dignity, rights, equality and corruption-free representative administrations. But during the transition, other latent forces were also unleashed, and those included political and business opportunists and corrupt elements that thrived under the removed dictatorships, in addition to traditional reactionaries, who resist change for any reason. Unfortunately, those retractive forces have succeeded in some countries in blocking an orderly transition towards functioning democratic administrations and in precipitating instability, uncertainty and violent domestic disputes; situations for which the Arab Spring was also blamed.

However, and for the last few months, there are clear signs that after an extended break, the Arab Spring seems to be resuming its mission: in Sudan and in Algeria. It may be too early to predict the outcomes, but sustained popular uprisings in both countries seem to be gathering force.

Surprisingly, and despite countless lessons of history, some heads of state continue to devise methods and amend constitutions so as to cling on to power indefinitely, clearly against the expressed will of their people, and mostly at the expense of their countries’ well-being and prosperity. They strive to remain at the head of incompetent governments that impoverish the people and deprive them of their dignity and rights. Their unique failure to recognise the fate of those who preceded them is quite amazing.


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