Arab Spring, a Blessing in Disguise or Outright Disaster?

Friday, January 3, 2014

An overview of “Arab Spring” developments three winters later

Ali Qaderi
Expert on Middle East Issues

Three winters since the beginning of Arab revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, the time now seems ripe for offering a more comprehensive analysis on the achievements and the outcomes of those revolutions. However, it should be noted that it would not be possible to accurately understand and analyze popular revolutions in Arab countries without due attention to social and political grounds that led to those revolutions.

Without a doubt, the first feature common among the Arab revolutions is also their most important feature; that is, the “Arab” nature of these political upheavals. This means that all those developments took place on the background of an Arab meta-context. Therefore, despite certain points that differentiate every one of these revolutions from the others, the aforesaid common background and meta-context imparts a common spirit and content to all of them.

The fact that the Arab revolutions started in a domino-like manner from North Africa and continued to engulf the Middle East indicates that there is a common meta-context that serves as a common denominator among those revolutions.

By focusing on this meta-context, one can then find secondary contexts which are shaped by special characteristics of every Arab country. They have played a role in inciting those revolutions and their most important feature is that they have their roots inside the Arab societies and, thus, intervention by foreign factors will only serve as an impediment to those revolutions.

This means that as long as there is not a fertile ground inside the country, no foreign factor can play the axial role in bringing about a revolution. However, when the internal context is provided, the foreign factor can start to play a role as either an impetus or an impediment on the way of the subsequent developments.

These contexts are so interdependent that they cannot be actually studied apart from each other. As a result, no analysis can work by separating economic, social, cultural and political contexts that have led to those revolutions. Of course, the degree of correlation between Arab revolutions and every one of those categories of contexts differs in countries that have been swept by those revolutions.

For example, the economic issues were by no means a major factor for bringing about the Libyan revolution. This is true as the former Libyan dictator had brought relative well-fare to the North African country. The government [of the former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi] paid in full all the expenses of those students who managed to secure a scholarship with creditable universities in Europe or the United States. Also, any Libyan youth would have been entitled to extraordinary facilities after their marriage was officially registered. Such luxuries were like a dream for their peers in the neighboring Egypt. However, the political despotism and the security-based approach taken to the Libyan society by Gaddafi’s regime was so intense that they could hang a student in the middle of the university just for having criticized the policies of the colonel!

Tribal factor was one of the most important variables behind the revolution in Libya. The tribe from which Gaddafi came had absolute power in ruling the country, but in terms of size, it was smaller than most other Libyan tribes and this was not tolerable for the heads of those bigger tribes.

In Egypt, on the other hand, both economic and political factors were at work to bring about the popular revolution in this Arab country which finally triumphed on January 25, 2011. For tens of millions of Egyptians who lived in “shantytowns,” the main factor that paved the way for a revolution against the ruling regime [of the former dictator Hosni Mubarak] was extreme economic poverty of the lay people which stood in stark contrast to economic corruption of the political elites and their offspring. Of course, one cannot deny that there were fertile grounds among Egyptian universities and political parties for political activities against the dictatorial regime of Egypt.

In Tunisia, the existing grounds that gave birth to the country’s popular revolution were very similar to those of Egypt. However, in Tunisia, the inefficiency of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in political and security terms and his inability to manage the crisis served as a major catalyst which led to the rapid fall of the Tunisian regime.

In Syria, on the other hand, ripe grounds for a popular revolution were present in this Arab country. However, due to very sensitive situation of Syria, the foreign factor was superimposed on domestic developments as a result of which the unrest rapidly engulfed the entire country. A single-party political system, considerable latitude given to the country’s secret services and security forces, as well as extremely sensitive tribal issues and catastrophic economic policies adopted by the Syrian government during the past decade have been identified as the most important factors which led to the ongoing crisis in the Arab country. Moreover, extreme cultural poverty of the Syrian society should be added to the above list. All these factors joined hands in Syria to create the current catastrophic situation with which the country has been grappling for almost three years.

The crisis in Syria is, in fact, an untoward consequence of Syrian people’s demands for reforms, which due to foreign intervention, got out of hand and turned into an all-out transregional crisis. As a result, the civil war which is currently raging in Syria is not a battle for Syria anymore, but actually is a battle over Syria!

In Bahrain, widespread social and political inequalities from which the majority of the Bahraini people suffered provided the main ground for the breakout of popular protests against the ruling regime.

The demands put forth by Bahraini protesters at the beginning of their revolution mostly aimed to force the ruling regime to implement reforms in the country. However, since the majority of Bahraini people are Shia Muslims, their protests were suppressed by being labeled as having their roots in sectarian motivations. The foreign factor has been at work in Bahrain as the main factor which is protecting the ruling regime against the revolution. Saudi Arabia is the main regional supporter of the ruling regime of Bahrain and one should admit that the foreign factor is playing the foremost role in helping the Bahraini regime to survive. The same can be said about Syria where, in a similar turn of events, the fall or survival of the ruling regime is, first of all, dependent on the role of the foreign factor.

Outcome of Arab revolutions

There is no doubt that opposition to the dictatorial nature of Arab regimes was one of the main factors that triggered revolutions in those countries. Of course, establishment of democracy in true sense of the word cannot be considered as the ultimate goal of those revolutions because in the absence of more moderate political alternatives, most of those revolutions have led to the empowerment of radical Takfiri groups in countries where revolutions have taken place. So, one may daresay that the former regimes of these countries have been replaced with Islamist states that are greatly leaning toward radical Takfiri tendencies.

It should be noted that inefficiency of the Muslim Brotherhood in managing the internal affairs of Egypt during the rule of the country’s ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, was a major reason behind the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in that country. However, that experience also attests to the fact that the Sunni version of the political Islam is not capable of managing a society.

In reality, the people in most Arab countries are not faced with more than two options to choose from: the Sunni version of the political Islam, and the rule of the army. Takfiri groups grow and breed in the power void, which is created as a result of the political challenges between these two options. In this way, the more the gap between two mainstream groups and the less either of them is able to establish its hegemony over the society, the more power Takfiri groups will gain.

The situation in Syria is a good example in this regard. Under the influence of internal and external factors, the ongoing conflict between the Syrian army and the armed wing of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which is known as Free Syrian Army, has now reached a point that due to inability of either of these two sides to establish their hegemony over the other, Takfiri groups have started to grow in power. As a result, a cursory glance at the map of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and a review of the armed groups that are fighting against the Syrian government will be enough to prove that the Free Syrian Army no more exists in reality. What we are currently witnessing on the ground in Syria is that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as well as other radical groups with clear affiliations to Al-Qaeda, such as the Al-Nusra Front and Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam), are the main armed groups currently involved in Syria conflict whose Takfiri tendencies have been proven without any doubt.

From a cultural and social viewpoint, revolutions in Arab countries have, at times, led to the collapse of common social concepts and have dealt serious blows to indigenized culture of these countries. In countries experiencing the Arab revolutions, tribal and sectarian divides have reached the point of no return because cultural structures in most of those countries have been seriously damaged. As a result, many cultural figures in those countries have had to leave their homeland and immigrate to other countries. As a consequence of the aforesaid developments, one may daresay that the ominous cultural and social consequences of these revolutions will linger in their respective countries for many decades to come.

On the other hand and from an economic standpoint, the Arab revolutions have practically led to complete breakdown of the economic systems in those countries. The flight of local capital and assets and their outflow toward Turkey and littoral countries around the Persian Gulf as well as destruction of economic infrastructure in the revolutionary countries combined with unprecedented inability of new governments in managing the general affairs of their countries have led to widespread and extensive poverty and record high unemployment rates.

The Arab Spring has wreaked havoc on the countries that have experienced popular revolutions. This is no more an analysis, but a reality on the ground. It once more proves that the first and foremost principle for the Arab countries is the historical priority of security over freedom. This principle has been governing the political culture of the Arab world for many long centuries.

Key WordsArab Spring, Three Winters Later, Middle East and North Africa, Tribal Factor, Economic and Political Factors, Crisis in Syria, Outcome, Muslim Brotherhood, Takfiri Groups, Cultural and Social Viewpoint, Qaderi

Source: Asriran News Website
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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