By Arab News
By Sinem Cengiz*
Seven years ago in December, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, immolated himself in protest at economic repression and political corruption. It was a catalyst for demonstrations throughout the Middle East that became known as the Arab Spring.
Most protesters demanded democracy, freedom and dignity. The uprisings were a clear indicator to regimes that the time had come for reform, if not revolution. Youths, women, workers, Islamists and secular people all played a part, but in the end they lost. The Arab Spring ate its own children.
As women played a prominent role in organizing protest movements, many were hopeful for an improvement in their status post-Arab Spring. But seven years on, with the region more destabilized, hopes for women, democracy and human rights in the Middle East have faded. Despite women having been leading figures in the uprisings, cases of violence against them have increased dramatically in war-torn countries, such as Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Young people were at the forefront of the uprisings. They demanded work and equality, and used social media and technology effectively to express their grievances. But seven years on, not much has changed for them as the region continues to struggle with youth unemployment, leading to radicalization and recruitment by extremist groups.
The Arab Spring initially included both Islamists and secular people, but subsequent competition between them contributed to the eventual failure of the uprisings. Islamists, who had the most organized groups with strong networks, had quite an advantage at the start of the uprisings, but they too turned out to be losers, with secular people accusing them of hijacking the revolutions.
The winners were international, regional and non-state actors whose interventions played a significant role in the failure of the democratization process, and the creation of spheres of influence and fertile ground for extremist movements to expand and destabilize countries.
Many hoped the Arab Spring would lead to regional democratization, with new governments addressing the demands of people who took to the streets. But it only brought chaos and war, with most of the region’s leaders remaining in power. The terminology of the Arab Spring was problematic from the start, because “spring” refers to a temporary event, with winter coming later. A harsh winter is what the region is experiencing now.
* Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz