Exactly a decade ago, a sensational event took place in world politics. The whole Arab world was at the center of the incident. Because the Arabs called for a new revolution to shift the regime in the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) region. This renaissance was dubbed as “Arab Spring” in the world media. Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Benghazi, Tunis, Sana’a, etc. cities were abuzz with the intense movement. It also resulted in the fall of dictators like Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali, Abdullah Saleh. In this way, the Arabs dreamed of establishing democracy where everyone would’ve freedom of speech, equal rights and free election.
But there’re deep doubts as to whether the Arab Spring was able to fulfill that dream of the Arabs. Because the message that the Arab Spring brought about change has been in the air for the last decade. Rather, authoritarianism has returned to the Arabian countries. Due to a lack of stable government, many countries have become failed states. The Politico-economic system has been collapsed. Also, terrorism has rampaged throughout the Arab world, threatening the global security. That’s why some political analysts refer to the post-Arab Spring period as the ‘Arab Winter’.
Nonetheless, the Arab Spring could bring about a positive vibe in the MENA region. The breezes of the Arab Spring commenced blowing with the self-sacrifice of a Tunisian vendor named Bouazizi. He set himself on fire in protest of police torture. His self-immolation acted as a catalyst against Tunisian totalitarianism. Also, Tunisians inaugurated the Arab Spring by launching a massive movement against the dictator Ben Ali. The fire against the despots deployed like wildfire throughout the Arab world. Through demonstrations & violence, they expressed their frustration against the authoritarians’ corruption, shaky leadership & sectarianism. That’s why people in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt dethroned the autocrats.
But it can’t be asserted that democracy has been established by overthrowing the tyrants. Because in the last decade, terrorism, political instability & economic hardship have multiplied in the Middle East. Even in Tunisia, which was seen as a role model for democracy in the Arab world, political instability continues to hinder people’s life. The Tunisians are the only Arab nation to have witnessed free elections & a peaceful transfer of power. But now Tunisians are under a lot of pressure from the reign of President Kais Saied. Because recently he’s repealed the constitution and centralized the power through a special decree. That’s why Tunisia is heading back to dictatorship.
The Egyptians, like the Tunisians, enjoyed democracy for some time. Intensive protests in Tahrir Square led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign. However, the post-Mubarak period wasn’t pleasant for the Egyptians. The Morsi-led Brotherhood gifted Egypt with democracy for some time. But in 2013, the Al-Sisi-led military toppled Morsi in a coup. Even the rise of Al-Sisi was welcomed by the Western world. And since then, Al-Sisi has been ascertaining authoritarianism in Egypt. That’s why freedom of the press, political stability & free elections are under threat. Additionally, militant incursions in Egypt have intensified.
Notwithstanding, the circumstance in Libya was a little different. Because NATO was directly involved in spreading the Arab Spring fire in Libya. The West backed anti-Gaddafi militants to oust Gaddafi. Although Gaddafi was very popular in Africa, the West considered him an oppressive autocrat. That’s why the Western forces conducted the operation in Libya to solidify ‘democracy’ in Libya, just like the invasion in Iraq. But Western allies had failed to ascertain democracy in Libya, as in Iraq. Although the West succeeded in toppling Gaddafi, it failed to maintain political stability and security. Because Libya’s now divided into different factions. Bombings, killings, human trafficking have also increased in Libya. The presence of ISIS has also strengthened. The economy of the oil-rich country has often declined. So, both the Arab Spring and Western intervention have been a nightmare for the people of Libya.
Furthermore, like Libya, Yemen is captaining for a failed state. After the fall of the late President Abdullah Saleh, Mansur Hadi came to power in 2012. But since 2014, Saleh-backed Houthi rebels have been contesting Hadi. Added to that is the Saudi-led coalition’s strike on Houthis. As a result, thousands of civilians have died. ISIL & al-Qaida have also been involved in the Yemeni Civil War. And so, the multifaceted onslaughts have displaced millions of people in Yemen, leading to food shortages and famine. Political analysts deem that this instability will continue in the days to come.
Regardless, the dark chapter of the Arab Spring has been composed in Syria. The fragrance of the Arab Spring spread to Syria as well as to other countries in the Middle East. But Syria is in ruins today due to a complex conundrum of world politics. The Westerners have been plotting to depose President Bashar al-Assad since the Arab Spring hit Syria. But every time Bashar’s allies Russia, Iran, China have been defending him. On the one hand, Bashar has resisted his internal opponents robustly. Also, Russia and Iran have been bestowing military assistance to Syria. On the flip side, the US-led Western alliance has endeavored a lot to topple Bashar. And ISIL has exploited this division of the international community. The emergence of ISIL in Syria & Iraq has created a security dilemma not only in the Middle East but around the world. ISIL has proved its barbarity by carrying out attacks in several Western countries. The presence of ISIL has consolidated in Africa and Asia also. And the Syrian crisis is accountable for everything. The crisis has also displaced about 12 million Syrian people. Even the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe has been a matter of great concern. The international community can’t avoid this responsibility.
In this way, political instability & security threats have been overstated in the countries that played a key role in the Arab Spring. Taking advantage of the power vacuum in the Middle East, autocracy has returned to power. We can take Egypt and Tunisia as illustrations here. Additionally, the civil wars in Libya, Yemen, Syria have sabotaged the security of the entire Middle East. Added to that is the emergence of Islamic extremism. Besides, more than 1 million people have died in the last decade due to the chaotic situation in the Middle East. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Chinese scholar Zhang Weiwei referred to this turbulent situation as the ‘Arab Winter’.
Furthermore, the Arab Spring also occurred in Bahrain, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Jordan, etc. countries. But nowhere has there been a significant change. So, we can say that the Arab Spring was a farce for the Arabs.
Still, the Arab Spring could’ve been a movement for democracy and liberty. It could’ve been a great opportunity for free elections, freedom of speech. Socio-economic and political stability could’ve been pursued if desired. But we don’t see any of it today.
Also, the West can’t refute its liability for this confrontation in the Arab world. In particular, Western powers are largely responsible for the current situation in Syria and Libya. The Westerners also supplied weapons to Saudi Arabia to prevent the Houthis in Yemen, which amounts to crimes against humanity. Therefore, the biased policies of the Western world have contributed to this catastrophe.
Thus, the Arabs have a role to play in resolving the post-Arab Spring predicament. The enthusiasm that was brought about a decade ago for changes in the Arab world requires to be rekindled. The Arabs must realize that they’ve to solve their own problems.
In conclusion, the Arab Spring was a milestone for the Arabs. Although the Arabs have erred to bring about change, the time isn’t over yet. Only they can change their destiny. They can illustrate a new future.
*Ashiq Iqbal Jishad is pursuing undergraduate education from the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka. His research interests include migration, transatlantic relations, Eurasian issues, European Union, and NATO affairs.