Arab Spring Round 2: Lessons in Protests

Published November 13th, 2019 - 04:57 GMT
Beirut protests (AFP File)
Beirut protests (AFP File)
It looks unlikely that the current uprisings’ determined rebellions would be compromised, let alone suppressed.

After few years of consternation and reassessment of its previous round, the Arab Spring seems to be returning with renewed vigor. During the eight years that separate the first round from this one, lessons must have been learned. As a result the strategy of the protesting crowds in many Arab capitals now are somehow different. 

During the first Arab Spring round, back in 2011, Arab protests swept across no less than five Arab countries: Tunis, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria. Peoples’ demands were generally similar. They did not want the then existing dictators to remain in charge forever. They sought their removal. They also sought justice, democratisation, crack down on corruption, better services, competent governments, healthy economies based on better utilisation of national resources, and, most importantly, the angry crowds fought for their dignity.

What apparently went wrong was the belief that the fall of the dictators would solve all the other problems. Under popular pressure, four leaders had, in fact, been deposed. But that did not achieve much. In fact, it proved counterproductive. Chaos prevailed in Libya after the former regime collapse. It is hard to predict a time for recovery. The situation under Muammar Qadhafi was by no means ideal. But although under the dictatorship people were deprived of many of their basic rights and routinely subjected to injustice, the country was stable and safe. The same can be said about Yemen, where regime change led to foreign intervention, endless war, misery, destruction and massive suffering. There again are no signs of recovery any time soon.

In Tunis, where the Arab Spring first landed, years of turmoil and floundering political experiments seem to be settling well with the recent general and presidential elections. The years in between have been difficult and there were setbacks, but at least the outcome is promising.

Syria was the last to be hit by the political storm. What started in the southern part of the country as a genuine peaceful popular move for democratisation, political reform, end of dictatorship and social justice quickly turned out to become a major regional crisis, with international dimensions, opening the country to massive foreign powers' intervention that sent in money, arms and they recruited fighters, including known terrorists and ruthless mercenaries, not just to fight the regime but to also destroy the state. The resulting war, in its eighth year now and still raging, has so far displaced millions, killed hundreds of thousands and destroyed most of the country. With Russian and Iranian help, the Assad regime managed to survive, thus saving the country from total disintegration and endless political and military chaos. If that were to happen, not only Syria would suffer but the entire region's stability would be seriously threatened as well. 

In Egypt, the removal of President Hosni Mubarak led to the election of the first civilian president in six decades. But the change did not live long. With the quick reversal, not many take long-term stability in Egypt for granted. 

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Iraq had witnessed regime change much earlier as a result of the American-led war on the country in 2003. The change in Iraq, though not part of the Arab Spring, was also disastrous. Not only it destroyed the state structure plunging the country into years of violence, uncertainty and internal strife, but it also opened the country for foreign intervention; and worse, a massive invasion by Daesh, which nearly controlled and viciously devastated much of the country. 

After years of seeming recovery, Iraq these days is facing a mighty general uprising rejecting all the post-war arrangements, particularly a constitution based on sectarian division of power-sectarian allocation.

The conclusion I am trying to reach is that the first round for the Arab Spring was not responsible for the chaos that followed many genuine popular uprisings that occurred in some Arab countries. The failure was not of the people who demanded reform as much as it was the direct result of the domestic counter forces that mobilised enormous efforts and resources to protect their existing privileges however illegitimate by preventing change; as well as by foreign regional and world powers that viewed any threat to the existing client regimes in the region, the status quo, as direct threat to their own interests. To a large extent, the counter reform movements, the deep state or the reactionary groups that managed to monopolise power and wealth for years at the expense of the rights of the majority, had succeeded, but just in temporarily suppressing peoples’ frustration and deep political discontent. 

Over the past eight years, anger piled up again bursting determinedly in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq. In all the four cases, the popular demands are quite identical. Not just targeting heads of state this time, but demanding the removal of deep layers of corrupt politicians who robbed their countries’ assets. The current uprisings demand the restoration of the pillaged wealth, crack down on corruption, ending sectarian rule, liberation from foreign intervention, revising existing constitutions and creating clean representative and competent governments. They also want states of equal citizens not clans and sects.

It looks unlikely that the current uprisings’ determined rebellions would be compromised, let alone suppressed. People seem to have had enough of decades-long injustice, official negligence, deprivation and suffering. They do not have much to loose. Radical change to the better may have to be inevitable.

Hasan Abu Nimah is a columnist for the Jordan Times


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