The “Arab Spring”

When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia in January, not only did he ignite a series of unpredictable revolts, but he also heralded a sense of Arab solidarity, a movement that has led youths to sacrifice their lives while calling for the institution of equality, democracy, human rights, and legitimate governance.

Beginning in Tunisia, the series of sporadic demonstrations of liberalism has inspired a sense of mobilization for the new generation of Arab activists.  The young people of the Arab world have begun to exercise their rights and have vowed to never again fall under an era of absolute domination and authoritarian regimes.  The “Arab Spring” has created a new identity for young people living in the region.  It has given them a dose of self-confidence and has changed their attitudes from mere scapegoating problems on the status quo to activism, a movement towards change.

“Young people now are more willing to express their opinions and to be proactive in influencing their societies in whatever context they are living in and are clearly showing their support for their fellow Arabs struggling in other countries.” – Ibrahim Mothana, youth ambassador for Arab Thought Foundation

Nevertheless, the prices have been high and the results have not been as promising for most as previously thought.  As the young people become more willing to express their opinion, the government’s have also become more willing to express their power through military suppression.  A clear distinction between Eastern Europe in 1989 (Year of Miracles) and the “Arab Spring” is the level of government resistance to reform which has led to bloodshed. In Eastern Europe, the “Sinatra Doctrine” of Gorbachev disbanded the military intervention policies of Brezhnev and with the exception of Romania, the apparatchik regimes fell without bloodshed.

Not only has the fight become a tempest of interstate warfare, but it has also turned into an international birds-nest of varying commitments, ideological polarization, and has illustrated the powder keg of cultural diversity.

Firstly, Tunisia served as the spark for the additional uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East.  Following the sacrifice of Bouazizi, his memory served as the symbol of the Tunisian people anger at the 23 year reign of President Zine El Abidine.  In just a few months, Tunisia went from decades of one-party rule to an explosion of 30+ opposition parties.  Contrastingly, the situation in Syria illustrates the birds-nest of politics that has emerged from the “Arab Spring”.  President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of violently cracking down on protesters who have demanded more economic prosperity, political freedom and civil liberties. The regime’s response was an estimated body count of 2,200 from security force crackdowns.  The al-Assad family has rule Syria since 1970 and has yet to relieve any pressure or suppression despite the sacrifices of thousands of activists.

“Muslim nations in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen or other countries need vigilance today.  They should not allow enemies confiscate the victories they’ve achieved. They should not forget that those who have come to the scene in Libya (US and NATO) today and consider themselves the owners of the uprising are the same people who used to sit and drink with those who once suppressed the Libyan nation.” – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Unlike Libya, foreign involvement will not be direct because of the threat posed by Iran, as well as the already evident geopolitical bias against Western intervention.  Moreover, the UN has been limited to words because of Russia’s arms trade with Syria, a profitable trade which Russia will not likely end.  Economic interdependence has made war less profitable; therefore, there is no reason for Russia to risk profit for a war that is does not desire.  The situation only grows more convoluted as Turkey and Jordan have threatened a united military action against Syria.  Turkey, a country culturally divided because of Kurdish militia groups and a large Kurdish population, will not be able to invest in such a war because of the interstate division that would result from such actions (Syria: The Powder Keg).  Evidently, the thousands dying in Syria have fought for a noble cause but the price of such nobility has not yet given rise to the intended “thaw” in Syrian governance.

Secondly, Libya has become another symbol of hope for the “Arab Spring” as well, an illustration of the power behind the people.  Anti-government protest turned into an all-out interstate war, a civil war, in February.  Spreading from the TNC stronghold in Benghazi, the rebels were a ragged group of fighters plagued with disorganization, made worse by the assassination of General Younis.  Nonetheless, the sense of common cause brought the rebels together to take Tripoli in August and it seems that Libya will be on it way to face the real challenges, the implementation of government (Libya: Endgame/Startgame , Libya: Crisis Looms).  With the Paris Conference resulting in widespread international recognition of the “new” Libya, as well as financial assistance, Libya will face much internal strife in the coming months.  After the collapse of the USSR and socialism in 1989, the satellite regimes were at a loss for political organization and financial rehabilitation, taking many years and still continues today.  Much of this will be mimicked in Libya as well, though rebel division will prove another counterweight as discrepancies will arise between secular and religious groups, as well as anti-West and pro-West groups.

So saying, even when the “Arab Spring” demonstration succeed in usurping the political regime, the real challenged are only just beginning.   Hopefully Libya will not resemble the chaos that still exists in Egypt after the supposed success of the military coup of President Hosni Mubarak.  The military junta that is in charge of reforms and elections has come under fire from the very activists responsible for its establishment. With the Muslim Brotherhood present, a military government and an angry populace, the Egyptian controversy is far from over and serves as a primary example of what Libya and other “Arab Spring” nations must avoid.

Furthermore, both Saudi Arabia and Djibouti have also suppressed their protests.  In Djibouti, tear gas and riot police forcibly broke up riots in February, ending almost all mentions of reform and any media coverage of any liberalism in the country.  Similarly, Saudi Arabia has been plagued by the cultural divide of the Arabic world, a conflict that has forced the international community to tread lightly or not as all.  The Sunni Kingdom has been met with Shiite protests, calling for the release of the unjust imprisonment of Shiites without trial or charges. The tension and outright hatred of Shiites and Sunnis is most apparent in Iraq and is only slightly contained through military intimidation and terror techniques throughout th monarchy.  To end the protests, Saudi Arabia’s news agency issues copies of a religious edict outlawing protests as un-Islamic.

“Since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on the Holy Quran, as well as the Sunnah, pledge of allegiance, unity and obedience, the reform and advice can’t be carried out by demonstrations and means and methods that stir discord and divide the group… The scholars of this country have agreed on prohibiting such acts and have warned against them” – Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia

Despite the many challenges, problems, and chaos still depicted throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia is not the only example of successful reform  Countries like Oman and Jordan have been able to collaborate with their government and receive compliance int he form of financial liberalization and political reform.  In Oman, financial demands have been answered with the creation of the Ministry of Manpower, to coordinate unemployment welfare and job creation.  In Jordan, King Abdullah II announced sweeping reforms in June and promised to establish a parliamentary majority government.  The King has enforced much of his rhetoric through policy, a step forward compared to other countries.  In conjunction, both Morocco and Algeria have also been successful in demanding constitutional reform to strengthen democracy, as well as economic competitiveness.

In retrospect, the “Arab Spring” has flourished, died, and flourished in many different countries but one fact remains the same, the fight for a liberal future will be a long and inevitable one for each country and for any authoritative regime that believes suppression will always succeed.  Furthermore, the fights will only grow harder and harder, more decisive and more divisive on the domestic spectrum.


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