A decade has passed since the so-called Arab Spring, which began sometime between December 2010 and January 2011. The time has come to look back at a decade of events in the Arab era, and whether you celebrated the “Spring” or saw it as more of an “Autumn,” today, no one is celebrating this anniversary. Everyone wants to forget those times filled with anxiety and hope, when some of us believed that the light at the end of the tunnel had begun to appear, while others felt plunged into a bottomless well.
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Indeed, there are no celebrations of the event in the Arab region. Four Arab regimes have witnessed drastic changes, others have been destroyed and their citizens plunged into endless civil wars, draining energy and resources that it will take over a decade to replenish. All this has failed to truly change the nature of the “Arab regime” in depth. Today, we need answers to questions left unanswered, including: Why did the events of a decade ago take place in the Arab world? Why have they failed, or succeeded, depending on how we look at it?
I don't think there is a definitive answer to these questions. Only some can be answered with some measure of accuracy, while others can receive only our uncertain speculations. Why did the Arab Spring happen? Mostly due to regimes that were ineffective and had lost touch with reality. Most of them came to power through a military coup, but with no accurate reading of the developments in their own country and around the world. These regimes wanted to maintain the status quo using repressive power, ranging from intimidation to incitement, while believing what their own media outlets reported to the point of complete unconsciousness. In the midst of all this, the Arab Spring movement took everyone by surprise.
We witnessed tens or hundreds of thousands of people in the streets and squares... the movement created dynamism, eventually toppling the existing regime in several Arab countries and causing damage, whether deep or superficial, in other countries. However, these movements of the masses failed to ultimately produce modern systems, because it was “The Leaderless Revolution” as documented in a book bearing the same title by Carne Ross, which we translated in the World of Knowledge series earlier this year. In this book, the author tackled the dilemma of a revolution without leadership, which, naturally, does not have a clear agenda, and which organized social forces benefit from. This is what happened in several places, where the organized forces were political Islam of all sorts.
A remarkable phenomenon is that most of those who were killed in Tahrir Square in Egypt during the movement were among the poor classes, and if we went back to the names published in Al-Ahram newspaper, some would be surprised by this category of destitute who lost their lives. Some have interpreted the decline of the Arab Spring or its failure in comparison with the revolutions in Europe in 1848, which were called the Springtime of the Peoples and were some of the most widespread revolutionary waves in Europe. These revolutions achieved little success and then regressed after thousands fell victim to the conflict. The revolution subsided, but after a few decades it returned more organized and clearer in vision and objectives, and as the nineteenth century drew to its end, it achieved its objectives of a greater degree of freedom, independence and good governance. With the turn of the twentieth century, Europe became more advanced and independent to the point of believing that it had entered the golden age of progress. Some have compared the Arab Spring 2010-2020 roughly to that age, on the basis that the “second” wave is coming, but that is wishful thinking, and history does not repeat itself.
For optimists, there may be some glimmer of hope in some subsequent events, such as what happened in Algeria getting rid of the old regime in part, through the Revolution of the Streets, and similar events in Sudan, or the Iraqi attempt in 2019 as well as the Lebanese. The latter two did not produce much in the interest of the popular protest movement. Even what some believe to be the only success, sparked by the iconic martyrdom of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia, is no longer deemed a success. Despite the country having obtained a modern constitution that guarantees civil rights, the experience on the ground carried a lot of “rigid” political culture, whose actors now wish to take over completely, framing themselves as the ultimate saviors.
The Arab political scene after a decade of protest is confusing, to say the least. The awaited modern state project has not yet appeared, and some countries in the region are plunged into crippling civil war while others fail to achieve the minimum level of development. This is a catastrophic failure to build the new state model. What is lacking in this space is an intellectual renaissance that draws upon lessons learned and provides a modern intellectual matrix to build a fair and independent nation state. However, we have not yet initiated this much-needed intellectual project to dispel this lingering fog and arrive at a model for a nation state that is based on the principles of tolerance, justice, freedom, and respect for human rights.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese news outlet Annahar al-Arabi.