Opinion | Columnists

Arab Spring is still work in progress

People's power is here to stay regardless of how messy, bloody and lengthy the revolution and its changing phases in the region might be

Arab Spring is still work in progress
  • Image Credit: AFP
  • Syria continues to defy logic; the regime is resorting to violence and that entails dangerous consequences for Syria and the region.

Although, the Arab Spring is still in its early stages and has not come to fruition, a few facts have emerged which should be understood and built upon. The Arab world, in various ways, is still reeling from these unprecedented and tumultuous changes. For starters, the landscape of the Arab world has changed more in the past year than it has over the past few decades.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh finally accepted the GCC plan after months of dragging his feet. He finally signed it in the presence of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, and the foreign ministers of the six GCC states in Riyadh. In theory, he has abdicated his three decades dominance over Yemen, becoming the fourth Arab head of state to depart the political scene in less than a year.

Never before in the Arab world have we witnessed change of this magnitude in such a short time. Furthermore, the Arab Spring has given impetus to other nations, from the Israelis to the Iranians, and also to the Occupy Wall Street movement. For the first time Arabs have become influential, inspiring other people. For too long, they had being influenced by outsiders and oppressed by their rulers. The four departing Arab leaders this year — Tunisia's Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Yemen's Saleh — had between them ruled for 128 years.

Two paradigms have emerged from the Arab Spring. On the one hand, we have semi-peaceful yet unfinished change that toppled the heads of states in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, with relatively minimal bloodshed. On the other hand, we have the bloody and treacherous road to change in Libya and Syria. Syria continues to defy logic; the regime is resorting to violence and that entails dangerous consequences for Syria and the region.

Refusal to change

Many lessons are to be drawn from this unique phenomenon sweeping the Arab world. One of the poignant lessons has been the wavering stance of the West, especially the US in dealing with the Arab Spring. The US flip-flopped before taking a stance that came close to reflecting the will of the Arab people. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted before the National Democratic Institute in Washington, DC earlier this month that "the greatest single source of instability in today's Middle East is not the demand for change, but rather the refusal to change." Citing Egypt, Syria and Yemen as examples, Clinton went on to argue that the US has "the resources, capabilities, and expertise to support those who seek peaceful, meaningful, democratic reform. And with so much that can go wrong, and so much that can go right, support for emerging Arab democracies is an investment we cannot afford not to make." She added that "autocrats around the world [wonder] if the next Tahrir Square will be their capital square … some are cracking down when they should be opening up." Such remarks are reassuring. But time and again, the West has favoured security and stability over freedom and democracy as former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice confirmed at the American University of Cairo in 2005.

The US did not side with the forces of change and democracy when Islamists came on top in Algeria, Egypt, Palestine and other countries; America pedalled back on its democratisation push. Islamists are again emerging as victors as can be seen from the victory of the moderate Al Nahda party in Tunisia and the triumph of the moderate Justice and Development Party in the parliamentary elections in Morocco last week. Will this trend continue with the parliamentary elections that begin today in Egypt, where the competition seems to be centred between the Islamists (i.e. Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis?).

Western officials and academics have taunted and ridiculed Arabs for too long for being passive, and suffering from ‘freedom deficit'. They spoke about ‘Arab exceptionalism' that defied reforms and democratisation.

Reuters in an analysis said: "Almost one year on from the beginning of the Arab Spring it may be too early to judge its outcome, but some crucial lessons should be borne in mind on the road ahead:

n Transitions from authoritarian rule are, for the most part, violent affairs in which all sides are likely to commit abuses. Pushed into a corner, regimes desperately cling onto power; once victorious, rebels find it hard to resist exacting revenge on members and supporters of the old regime.

  • Disparate rebel movements are united at best in their desire to get rid of the old regime, but what motivates their members is a whole range of different causes and more often than not there is no common vision for the future among them.
  • As a result, the departure of the old regime does not automatically lead to peace, stability and democracy."

At present, it is still work in progress, as we enter the critical, second phase of revolutionary changes. The jury is still out on the dividends of the Arab Spring, but one thing is for sure: people's power is here to stay regardless of how messy, bloody and lengthy the Arab Spring might be.

 

Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is the Chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University. You could follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/docshayji

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