The ten-year anniversary of the Arab Spring has elicited reflection and discussion from writers, both Arab and other, as well radio and television outlets, as we look back on the events that swept the region. There are different perspectives according to the perceived center of gravity, with some looking at the broader picture of the entire Arab World, and others zooming in on a particular country or society where the storm brewed and struck.
In a country like Egypt, which carries a great demographic and strategic weight in its region, we hear from some writers that “the Arab World was hijacked” and that the nearly year-long rule of the Muslim Brotherhood is the aspired model. Others see that American intervention is what ruined matters and incited the military to a coup. And in a country like Libya, a decade onward things are still not settled, and they do not appear to be settling any time soon for many reasons including external interference, a weak political process, and also the tribal and regional demographic makeup of Libya. As for Tunisia, there is a tension between the state and chaos. In Syria, the state is no longer effective to any degree, the opposition has not been able to unite its ranks, and the situation is going from bad to worse. In Yemen, a civil war is raging with a group that believes it has a “divine mission” and is also reliant on financing and support of a foreign state.
In most of what I have read at least in the past few weeks, the writer was looking for an explanation of what happened, but this explanation never looks inward, and only points the finger at the “other”, either “revolutionary”, foreign or counterrevolutionary interventions. And I think the time has come for us to look at the causes of failure, if possible, in our own culture. Perhaps the causes of failure are the absence of a clear program of what is aspired to combined with the absence of a leadership that has a clear method and a large support base. The interplay between these two factors has created a “braking” factor, and has not been addressed or dealt with on an intellectual level. Slogans like “Freedom” or “Social justice” are empty slogans.
Nobody wanted the existing regime to continue, but nobody knew what they wanted instead. If the unspoken desire is an independent and democratic civil state based on a strong economy, then that is a pipe dream, because our Arab culture, so far, does not tolerate pluralistic democracy, and because the organized and semi-organized forces are closed with a select group of members who have pledged blind obedience to the leader, president, or imam! They are undemocratic groups internally and closed to outsiders who deviate from the point of view of the leader.
Another important aspect is that, with the exception of Libya that has reasonable economic resources, all other countries have a medium or weak economy, which, without plans that include a certain level of sacrifice, cannot support society at a minimum. Tunisia is an example of this, but the rest are similar or even worse. Addressing the economy, which is important to the general public, requires controlling the street and curtailing public freedoms, because freedoms without an economic basis may turn into chaos that worsens the economic downturn and social unrest. So we have a difficult equation in front of us that has angered some people to the point of saying, “Give us back Mubarak, Ben Ali, and even Gaddafi or Ali Saleh, we were better off in their time!” Such a sentiment indicates a great deal of frustration over what happened in those countries. So, in fact, the problem is not from abroad, but in the political-cultural space in which we live; it is a failure to create a modern, sophisticated mechanism respected by all to run society. Even in Arab democracies, even in small countries, we find this social lack of cohesion, economic bankruptcy, and blind allegiance to political sects led by leaders who are reaping financial gains.
Given this interest in our affairs, is it not our duty, not just our right, to look at ourselves and point out the core flaw in our deterministic, enclosed culture, along with the leaders who refuse to come to terms with reality and are happy to live in an imaginary, virtual reality. I think that the discussion that took place in recent weeks about the Arab Spring confirms once again that rupture with reality, because everyone wants to justify that failure is due to the “other” when in fact it is due to our political culture! The dilemma is that we have taken on the “appearance of modernity” and resisted “civilized modernity” which is based on institutions, individual choices, unmoderated communication between the individual and the state, and the application of the law that emanates from the people.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Annahar Al Arabi.