Beyond The Arab Spring – OpEd


By Osama Al Sharif

The year 2011 is coming to a close, but it will be remembered as a watershed as popular uprisings swept through the Arab world like wildfire toppling autocratic regimes and forcing others to adopt political reforms in an attempt to absorb public anger.

In Syria the regime has been unyielding as it waged war against its own citizens resulting in more than 5000 deaths and tens of thousands of detainees.

The phenomenon of the Arab Spring, which no one had predicted as it engulfed Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and to some extent Jordan, is slowly being transformed into a relentless struggle to achieve a variety of objectives. In Tunisia, which triggered the first wave of anti-regime demonstrations, appears to be on the right course to fulfilling national reconciliation, democratic transition and rebuilding state institutions. It now has an elected president, provisional national assembly and a new coalition government.

Egypt is a different case altogether. More than 10 months after President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, the country is struggling to transfer power from the military to an elected civilian government. Legislative elections are yet to be concluded successfully, but secular and nationalist parties are wary of a deal between the Muslim Brotherhood, whose party is expected to win more than 40 percent of the legislature, and the ruling supreme military council. The bloody confrontations of the past few weeks between mostly rebellious youth and government forces are casting a grim shadow over the country’s future.

In Libya the challenges are rife. A provisional government is yet to confront the issues of absorbing thousands of armed rebels into the new army and security forces in addition to rebuilding a devastated country. Other tests include the nature of the new political system and the role of conservative Islamist movements in it. The tribal structure of the Libyan society and the fact that all civil, legal and social institutions will have to rebuilt from scratch makes the task of the country’s new leader near impossible to achieve.

In Yemen a deal between President Ali Abdallah Saleh and the opposition has not been welcomed by the majority of Yemeni people who want to see the president tried for his crimes. The recent killing of peaceful protesters in Sanaa underlines the precarious position of the new government, led by opposition leader Mohammed Basindawa. He has to win over an angry public, prepare the country for elections and save Yemen’s near collapsing economy. In addition the partnership government will have to deal with the rebellion in the north, Al-Qaeda presence in the southeast and separatist movements in the south. On top of all that Basindawa will have to rid the country of Saleh’s supporters in the army and security, which remain under the command of the president’s close relatives.

In contrast to these countries’ mounting challenges as they attempt to deal with the repercussions of the Arab Spring, Morocco and Algeria appear to have weathered the storm — for now. In the former King Mohammad VI was quick to react to the kingdom’s first wave of protests last February. He has enacted sweeping reforms leading to multiparty elections in November which were won by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (JDP). Its leader Abdelilah Benkirane, was appointed by the King as prime minister, kick starting a new and controversial phase in Morocco’s history.

In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to end two decades of emergency laws, imposed after the 1992 elections, while carrying out much needed constitutional reforms. Last week he announced that multiparty elections to be held in April will be open to international monitors. Like in other North African countries parties affiliated with the moderate Muslim Brotherhood are expected to make major gains.

In Jordan, where peaceful protests have been held almost every week since the beginning of the year, a state of anticipation and frustration is building up in opposition ranks where Muslim Brotherhood is playing a leading role. Constitutional amendments approved few months ago have not satisfied the opposition which is calling for elected governments. King Abdallah of Jordan has promised to carry out political and economic reforms and the task to do so was handed over to a new government headed by former international jurist Awan Al Khasawneh.

But Jordanians complain of the slow pace of achieving these reforms at a time of harsh economic realities and regional upheavals. Recent confrontations, which targeted Muslim Brotherhood loyalists in the northern governorate of Mafraq and at Jordan university students’ elections, have raised tensions and may reflect negatively on the mandate of Khasawneh’s government.

The Arab Spring, the phenomenon of spontaneous and peaceful anti-government/regime demonstrations, is now over. Instead we are entering an unpredictable and complex phase of political dealing and wheeling, brutal reaction to demonstrations and protests and bloody confrontations that may lead to civil infighting; or a combination of all of these.

The Arab Spring was not an end in itself but a mean to achieving common goals such as freedom, democracy and accountability. The culmination of each episode will differ from one country to the other. In the case of Syria, and to some extent Egypt and Yemen, danger looms ahead. Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco appear to be heading toward safer shores. Jordan has reached a fork in the road; the coming days will be crucial indeed.

— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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