The Arab Spring is waiting for revolutionary alternatives

Eyad Abu Shakra

Published: Updated:

It was a pleasant occasion last Saturday to listen to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as he delivered a speech during a private event in London.

In his speech, Fayyad addressed the Arab Spring, the concept of rejecting submissiveness and the notion of conformity particularly if imposed by foreign powers. After an introduction displaying a gentle nostalgia for the memories of past decades in which the legitimacy of the policy of rejection was crystallized, Fayyad went straight to the political point regarding the Arab Spring and its consequences. The fundamental point of his speech was that we are now confronting “revolutions that have not produced revolutionaries.”

I clearly remember the experience which Fayyad lived through and which I have also lived through since the 70’s.

Turning point

The death of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nassar near the end of September of 1970 was an important turning point, especially since it came in the thick of the struggle regarding who has the legitimacy to lead the rejection of continuous Israeli aggression and what power is needed to revolutionize the region during what was described as the struggle between the emancipating socialist east and the colonial imperial west throughout the years of the Cold War.

The “September Events” of 1970 in Jordan were the indication that the commando Palestinian revolution had reached the peak of its revolutionary radicalism at the Arab and international levels. On the other hand, Gamal Abdel-Nassar’s attempts in what were the last hours of his life to stop bloodshed and contain Jordanian’s events were the last opportunity for an Arab political regime – namely, the Nasserite experience - to convince radicals calling for a “popular liberation war” that the Arab regime chiefs were still capable of leading and accomplishing the mission of liberation.

The Nasserite experience

The Palestinian prime minister’s speech did not address this particular part of that phase of Arab rejection. During that period, the prime minister was finishing his secondary education. But he did live in the next years after the end of the “Nasserite experience”. Those years were the ones which witnessed regimes’ resignation from the task of rejection, and their moving forward in a path of dealing with challenges in a manner similar to Anwar al-Sadat’s realism. His realism is marked by the statement, when he said “America holds all the game’s cards”.

The result of this realism actually paved the way towards Camp David and getting Egypt out of the Arab-Israeli struggle arena.

The death of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nassar near the end of September of 1970 was an important turning point, especially since it came in the thick of the struggle regarding who has the legitimacy to lead the rejection of continuous Israeli aggression

Eyad Abu Shakra

However, Palestinian radicalism was not the only victim in September 1970. The realistic Hafez al-Assad also toppled the radicalism of Salah Jadid and his three leftist friends (Noureddine al-Attasi, Youssef Zo’ayyin and Ibrahim Makhous). Furthermore, during the 70's, the October 1973 War saw the realistic Anwar al-Sadat and Hafez al-Assad getting involved in a venture that practically ended the Soviet presence in the Levant, and created two long-lived pseu-republican regimes many examples of which later appeared throughout the region.
Back to Dr. Salam Fayyad’s speech, the Palestinian prime minister said that any prudent observer felt that Arab Spring uprisings were inevitable, and that the surprise was not that uprisings happened but that they came many decades too late, given the communications’ revolution that spelled the end of anachronistic censorship and continuing information blackout while the whole world around us was changing.

Supressed frustration

Fayyad added that even Mohammad Bou Azizi’s setting himself on fire could have been a mere passing incident, but the people’s uprising and the then Tunisian regimes’ failure to understand how to deal with the long-suppressed frustration soon turned the uprising into revolts that toppled the presidents of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and is currently raging in Syria.

Fayyad then wondered “it is certain that what we have been witnessing for two years and what is still happening in the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and other (countries)...are popular revolutions. They are real revolutions on the popular level. But when looking at what (these revolutions) have produced, one wonders whether the proper definition of a revolution is accurate.”

He added “we understand that new leaders request some time to reform the economy given the pile up of mistakes (committed by previous regimes) and the world economic crisis. But is a leader who requests time for political reform a revolutionary? Isn’t this the same familiar and ready excuse that was used by leaders of regimes toppled (by the Arab Spring)? Give us some time...Wait some more...We need more time!?"


Fayyad’s statements are mostly true. He is right in questioning the revolutionary alternatives that the Arab Spring has brought about. However, his statements require two clarifications which I believe are important.

The first clarification, is that it is too early to judge Arab uprisings after only two years. When looking at political experiences across the world, a two-years phase is not long enough to make decisive judgments. This political change produced in the Arab Spring countries has so far only uprooted regimes that had virtually destroyed the concepts of citizenship and institutions, thus slogans, interest-based groupings and circumstantial coalitions need more time to prove themselves. The Islamist alternative which has gained power in Tunisia and Egypt and which is emerging in Syria is not necessarily the fate of all these countries in the near or far future, just like Hamas’ experiment has shown in the Gaza Strip. In the end, the people will surely hold rulers and officials accountable. All that the Arab Spring did so far was ending previous regimes’ stranglehold on the people and granting them a voice that has long been suppressed.

The second clarification is that the Palestinians, who were the first to suffer from collective injustice among the Arab peoples in modern history, have to convince themselves that the right to self-determination and rejecting injustice is a natural right for everyone. Thus, it was and is a grave mistake for Palestinian leaderships, organizations and figures to side – some until this moment – with Arab rulers who persecute their own people just because they falsely profess resistance, steadfastness and liberating Palestine, for reasons of their own.

To conclude, in my estimation, doubting the benefits of the Arab Spring was not in Dr. Fayyad’s agenda.

This article first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat on March 19, 2013.

Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. He Joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.