A striking comparison of Brexit and the Arab Spring

Published June 30th, 2016 - 04:00 GMT
A demonstrator wrapped in a European flag leaves an anti-Brexit protest in Trafalgar Square, London. (AFP/File)
A demonstrator wrapped in a European flag leaves an anti-Brexit protest in Trafalgar Square, London. (AFP/File)

Brexit bears too much resemblance to the Arab Spring, and, unfortunately, this is not meant in a good way. In fact, in terms of both pretext and the handling of the surprising outcome, there is just so much in common, that one cannot but fear that the same disastrous aftermath of the 2011 Arab revolutions will – inevitably – also be replicated in Europe.

First, as recently noted by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent, protesters in both cases "attributed far too many of their country's troubles to the regime they were trying to overthrow". Indeed, so many voters actually believed that by simply leaving the EU, Britain would magically become great again, just like the Muslim Brotherhood sought to convince frustrated Egyptians that "Islam is the solution" to all their political, social and economic woes.

Then came the intense demonizing of political opponents. Just like people were accused of treason in Arab countries (either by the government if they were for the revolutions, or by the revolutionaries if they were with the government), Britons who argued for Remain were called unpatriotic, despite their rationale that staying within the EU is actually better for Britain.
Of course, Friday's shocking win for the Brexit camp made the situation much more complicated, and much more similar to the Arab Spring in truly unexpected ways!

Following the disastrous outcome of the 2011 revolutions, several intellectuals argued that the Middle East was simply "not ready for democracy".

"The Arab Spring would have succeeded in Europe, where the masses are educated and opposition leaders would have had plans for the day-after," observers would argue as they criticized the "leaderless-revolutions" which saw our already-troubled region descend into further chaos and conflict.
It turns out, however, that Europeans – or at least Britons in this case – are not proving to be any better.

As the British pound plummeted to its lowest value in 30 years, UK media outlets (including ones which sensationally promoted leaving the EU) began reporting how Brexit will negatively affect people, and many of those who voted Leave are now regretting their choice, stating that they were not fully aware of its impact.

Of course, while we, in the Middle East, blame lack of education and lack of democratic tradition for what proved to be wrong choices, the same does not necessarily apply in Britain's case.

The UK's issue seems to be the lack of leadership on all fronts, which is something many of us in the Middle East can relate to. On one hand, you have Brexit campaigner and UKIP leader Nigel Farage backtracking on a previous campaign pledge that leaving the EU would secure 350 million pounds for the country's National Health Service (NHS).

On the other hand, Brexit leaders seem to have admitted that they did not have a post-referendum plan, arguing that this was the government's responsibility. However, Prime Minister David Cameron – now being labelled a historic and disastrous failure – has announced his resignation in response to the referendum which, to start with, was seen by many as an unnecessary gamble in its own light.

This all means that the UK is now, technically, facing unprecedented upheaval – including the potential departure of Scotland, which has voted to remain in the EU – without an effective head of government (Hello, Lebanon!).

In parallel, the UK's Labour Party is having its own Middle East moment, with leader Jeremy Corbyn refusing to step down, despite facing votes of no confidence from his own back-benchers.

You guessed it right: just as the Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia, created copycat movements across the region, we are now witnessing far-right parties in France, Holland and Germany calling for similar referendums.

Finally, no major disaster would be complete without its fair share of conspiracy theories, which brings us to yet another similarity between the Arab Spring and Brexit: both major events were apparently "orchestrated" by the United States and Israel in a bid that serves their own interests!
Indeed, according to recent comments by Iraqi Shiite cleric, Muqtada Al-Sadr, the United States and its "spoiled son" Israel, have "conspired to bring down the EU", just like they sought to do with the Middle East.

However, Sadr did get one thing right in his statement when he argued that the British government was "in an ivory tower" and "very distant" from what the people it represents wanted; this is something which we thought only us, Arabs, suffered from.

Apparently, we were wrong!

By Faisal J. Abbas 

Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Arabiya English.


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