10 years since the Arab Spring


Washington watch

Ten years ago, we were in the throes of what Western observers called the “Arab Spring”. An evaluation is now required.

Because Western analysts first assumed that these uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen were organically linked, mirroring the revolutions that toppled communist regimes that had operated under the protective cover of the Soviet Union, they called them “the” Arabs. Spring. ”These Arab uprisings, however, were not the threads of a collapsing region. While sharing some common characteristics, in each case local factors shaped them.

A common feature was their almost exclusive occurrence in the so-called “Arab Republics” – countries that had been ruled for decades by military regimes that lacked legitimacy and had become increasingly sclerotic, estranged from the needs of their audiences. and corrupted by the privileged. elites who have drained wealth for themselves and their buddies. Furthermore, each of these uprisings had started as largely non-violent youth-led protests focused on poverty, jobs, the need for services, and the desire for more freedom and political rights.

While some Western analysts have wrongly called these uprisings “revolutions,” Tunisia was the only real revolution, bringing about a change in governance, even if its outcome remains rather fragile. Our survey shows that despite the withholding of grievances, Tunisians have some hope in their situation. Our poll also shows that other Arabs view Tunisia as the only moderately successful Arab Spring country.

While developments in Egypt have seen their ups and downs, nothing close to revolution has happened, as the military has maintained control throughout. They deposed Mubarak in a nonviolent manner, then later violently withdrew the Muslim Brotherhood, amid growing concern from the Egyptians, according to our polls, that the Brotherhood was trying to impose their politicized version of Islam as the law of the land. .

The United States must understand that any new deal with Iran must include pressure on Iran to stop exploiting sectarian divisions and end its indiscreet and violent behavior in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq. and Yemen. And the United States should tailor future assistance programs to these governments to focus on creating jobs, growing the private sector, and improving education, health care, and service delivery. social.

In the process, however, the Egyptian military may have created a problem for itself. The crackdown has increased with tens of thousands imprisoned or silenced. Our poll also shows that as a result, Egyptians’ approval of the military has dropped by more than 35 points. By more than three to one, the Egyptians now say they are worse off than before, and by a margin of two to one say they have less hope that their situation will improve in the future. Despite the confidence of the government, the situation should be seen as quite worrying.

The experiences of Syria, Libya and Yemen have been different. Because they were fragmented societies – Syria by sect and tribe, Libya by tribe and region, and Yemen by sect, tribe, region – with the dismissal of the old regimes, groups wanted or wanted by outside powers, resulting in bloody civil conflicts whose outcome remains uncertain.

Even with this checkered record, new uprisings are still occurring in several other Arab countries. In recent years, there have been sustained mass protests in Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq. Again, while different and not fundamentally linked, each of these uprisings exploded for similar reasons: lack of needed jobs and services, poor governance, and lack of hope.

The revolts in Algeria and Sudan are somewhat similar to those in other “Arab Republics”, only Sudan being a potential success. There, the military dictator was deposed, and after continued protests, the military agreed to form a new government with equal participation of military and civilian leaders. Given that this “experiment” is expected to last for three years, only time will tell whether the transition will lead to full civilian control.

The results in Lebanon and Iraq are even more difficult to predict. While the demands of their uprisings are similar and include an end to sectarianism, the repressive violence of Iranian-backed militias in both countries (and the stubbornness of corrupt sectarian feudal elites in Lebanon) pose real obstacles to change.

Ten years after the first uprisings, the fragile “stability” that once characterized the old order of “Arab republics” has largely given way to chaos. Despite the uneven record of these troubling events and their uncertain futures, there are lessons to be learned.

Regimes need to know that repression does not replace callous governance that does not provide services, opportunity and hope. They should understand that those who protest, especially the young, are not the enemy, but their citizens and the future of their nation. Leaders must respond to the protesters’ legitimate concerns and offer them real hope for change.

Protesters, especially in Lebanon and Iraq, must develop coordinated leadership, a coherent program of demands and a plan for implementation. Whenever possible (as in Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Iraq), protesters should organize themselves politically for the next elections. In too many cases, due to the lack of political organization, the uprisings were co-opted by the Muslim Brotherhood or other politicized sectarian movements, as they were the only organized political forces in the country. The United States must understand that any new deal with Iran must include pressure on Iran to stop exploiting sectarian divisions and end its indiscreet and violent behavior in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq. and Yemen. And the United States should tailor future assistance programs to these governments to focus on creating jobs, growing the private sector, and improving education, health care, and service delivery. social.


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