The Arab Spring’s global echo

Abdel Monem Said

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Finally, the death of the Arab Spring was declared by the same chorus that announced its birth two years ago. This was noted by U.S. writer Thomas Friedman who always praised what he at times called the “spring,” and at other times called the “awakening” or the “revolution.”

He welcomed what took place in several Arab countries because it confirmed views he has always adopted on globalization and its impact on transferring revolutionary experiences to people and nations. It also confirmed the role of new technologies in linking countries and different social echelons within the same country.
The Arab Spring was idealistic and pure on one hand, but bound to happen on the other hand. Friedman is not just a writer who offers facts and analyses, instead he has a theory on global transformation.

Across the world

In his last article in the New York Times, Freidman said that he was wrong about the blossoming spring in the Arab world and the awakening that followed a lengthy state of lethargy. It was not, he wrote, similar to the Prague Spring that took place in 1968 nor was it like the Spring that swept Eastern Europe in the 1990s or other countries across the world when youths came to power and brought with them both democracy and capitalism. What happened in the Arab world is rather similar to what happened in Europe in the 17th century when the 30-year war erupted.
In short, the new Arabs were progressing backwards and this was demonstrated in sectarian strife, narrow-mindedness, the persecution of women and minorities, and suspicion of any faction that does not belong to the incumbent system.

In fact, nothing remains of the Spring except the Syrian revolution where toppling Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be the greatest of the Arab Spring achievements and would signal the elimination of one of the most fascist regimes in the region

Abdel Monem Said

It might be too early to reach a conclusion, for the story has not yet reached its middle. All that we have at the moment is a series of interactions that can be compared to Europe in the 19th century following the French Revolution, which did not also fulfill the objectives it had demanded in the beginning and which gave way to chaos and vengeance, allowed demagogy to replace progress and development, and saw the elimination of freedom at the hands of the Napoleonic phenomenon. In short, there was no model to emulate or an example to follow.
In the United States, where a revolution also took place, George Washington had to issue a law that allowed the imprisonment of everyone who promoted the ideologies of the French Revolution. Shortly after, the French Revolution collapsed, Napoleon was defeated, and France became the weakest state in Europe and remained so possibly until Charles De Gaul came to power in 1958 and managed to restore France’s position.

But the French Revolution and its slogans created a different reaction across Europe, that might have been echoed in the Arab world. The revolution divided Europe so that France was in one camp and another camp was formed under the name of the Concert of Europe, which reflected the 1815 Vienna Conference and included Britain, Austria, and Prussia. They established a European system that lasted until 1914 when the First World War erupted.
This camp was said to have maintained the balance of power in Europe. However, it’s most important feature was the fact that its members were conservative, yet were determined to effect a change, especially concerning rights and duties, citizenships, minority rights, and the acknowledgment of the social outcome of the first Industrial Revolution. Rejecting the uncivilized approach of the French Revolution did not mean overlooking the principles it had originally called for or resisting the change that was necessary to cope with the demographic and economic transformations that were taking place at the time.

Reverse progression

Something similar to that is happening in the Arab world, which is now divided into revolutionary countries, whose economic, political, and intellectual reality has deviated from the romantic course of the Arab Spring, on one hand, and monarchies that have embarked on a path of cautious change on the other hand. In the second case, the change took the shape of constitutional modifications that restricted the powers of the head of state and gave more leverage to other echelons of society, especially women and minorities, in addition to economic reform. This might not be enough, but what happened in Arab Spring countries, whose citizens started losing their enthusiasm for the revolutions of 2011, makes any comparison favor the non-Arab Spring countries.

In fact, nothing remains of the Spring except the Syrian revolution where toppling Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be the greatest of the Arab Spring achievements and would signal the elimination of one of the most fascist regimes in the region. However, it is not certain whether this revolution will lead to a democratic, civil state that respects minorities. The problem is no longer dealing with Muslim Brotherhood and making sure they will respect democracy, but rather the role played by al-Qaeda which forebodes a disaster not only in Syria, but in the entire Levant.

History will have issued its verdict on all the tyrants of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Baath Party, but if al-Qaeda is the alternative then an Arab entity modeled after the Concert of Europe should be established to deal with this ordeal that directly compromises the security of the region. There will be no other way out!

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 18, 2013.

Abdel Monem Said is the director of al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He was previously a board member at Egypt’s Parliament Research Center at the People's Assembly, and a senator in Egypt's Shura Council.

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