In this 8 part series RO will analyse where the Arab spring stands after 4 years, analysing each of the countries that saw large demonstrations. In part 1 what went wrong with the revolution is assessed.
Four years ago Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had been in power for decades, with the army well entrenched in the country. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya maintained his position with ruthless precision and there was no threat to his rule. In Tunisia Zine al-abidine Ben Ali controlled every strata of his nation’s society, whilst Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen had imprisoned or killed most of his competitors. Then a historical event of global magnitude took place in the Middle East. What began with a single man in the markets of Tunisia spread to thousands on the streets in Cairo and evolved to hundreds of thousands demanding political change for the entire region. The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia created a sweeping wave, which crossed the artificial border to Egypt, then to Libya, Yemen and Bahrain until it engulfed most of the Muslim world. The Euphoria of four years ago has now given way to chaos, civil war and disorder whilst all of the pre-revolutionary systems remain firmly in place. Four years on, Syria, Yemen and Libya are blighted by civil war, whilst Tunisia and Egypt have seen the return of the pre-revolution architecture. The hopes, wishes and sacrifices of the masses who took to the streets trying to survive the bullets, baton charges, sniper fire and military intervention has turned into a disaster and this is due to four fundamental reason.
Firstly, in the countries where new revolutionary governments successfully overthrew longstanding dictators, they themselves turned out to be incompetent and as pragmatic as their predecessors. In both Tunisia and Egypt Ennahda and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) for long advocated Islam as their solution and won elections on Islamic tickets, but they both abandoned this once in power justifying it on implementing Islam gradually and not scaring the international community. Despite winning overwhelming victories in presidential and parliamentary elections, with huge mandates from the masses (as well as their hopes and dreams) both parties refused to implement what they had long promised the masses. Both Ennahdah and the MB maintained the secular systems and abandoned any prospect of Islamic rule, despite promising this for decades. For many, having elections was considered progress from an era when dictators monopolised the countries rule. But the elections that took place were flawed from the outset. The elections were for parliaments which were a relic of everything that was wrong in the Muslim world. The Ummah rather than change and replace such a system, entered the corrupt system and replaced Ben Ali and Mubarak with liberal Islamic groups who maintained the corrupt, secular systems.
Secondly, being the most important region in the world, the global powers were never going to allow the region to slip through their grip and this resulted in the US, Britain and France interfering in the uprisings to ensure the underlying systems remained in place even if the personnel changed. Many movements across the Middle East incorrectly believed calling for western values such as democracy, liberal values and secularism would bring them western support and aid their attempts to overthrow the likes of Mubarak, Saleh, Ben Ali and Gaddafi. This foreign interference allowed the US to maintain its role in Egypt, with the army protecting US interests in the region through maintaining its treaty with Israel. When Muhammad Morsi could no longer maintain domestic stability the US abandoned him and justified Sissi’s coup, describing it as ‘Democracy restored.’ In Libya both Britain and France worked with the transitional and permanent government, which consisted largely of Gaddafi era officials. With the US, France and Britain having historical links to the political class in the Middle East they not only influenced the regions foreign policy but also maintained influence over many domestic institutions, political parties, the security services and individual personalities. When abdul Fattah al-Sissi became the army chief, US officials described him as a known entity, i.e. someone the US was well aware of. US influence goes deep into Egypt’s domestic society.
Thirdly, the lack of vision and long term agenda meant there was no blueprint for the masses to follow and account its leaders on. The reasons for this are understandable as places such as Syria and Libya have never had a real opposition, whilst the opposition in Egypt and Tunisia were just a façade. As a result the mass uprising was focused towards removing the rulers and their focus was restricted to this. The problem then arose of what to do once the rulers were overthrown, leading to places such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya using the existing system to move forward, which was the problem in the first place. The rulers in the Middle East had driven the regions economies to bankruptcy, used sectarianism to maintain their grip and little prospects existed for the medium to long-term for society. As a result, when new governments emerged they were unable (and incompetent) in dealing with the regions inherited problem. All of this shows that public opinion exists for change, but the shape and form of this change has been vague in the minds of the people. As a result, liberal Islamic groups have been able to navigate away from applying what they promised.
Fourthly, in many of the countries where the rulers were overthrown the different groups have turned on each other, leading to civil war in some cases. In Libya chaos and militia violence stalks the land, strikes threaten to cripple the oil industry, violence is on the rise and economic stagnation is everywhere. Two rival governments exist looking to impose their will on the nation. In Syria the wests support of moderate rebel groups over the other groups has led to the various rebel groups fighting each other. The arrival of ISIS has only complicated the landscape in Syria. In Yemen the Houthis, long marginalised by the Saleh government took to the streets for his ouster. But when he was replaced by his own crony and then were sidelined by the Hadi government the Houthis took to the streets of the capital – Sana’a and overthrew the government. Currently the country is being ripped apart with the south of the country predominantly supporting the old government with the Houthis dominating the north of the country. The euphoria of real change has now been replaced by anarchy, violence and instability – a far cry for the positive developments from 4 years ago.
All these issues combined have driven the Arab spring into a direction which largely maintains the pre-revolution systems. This is a significant result for the west who created the artificial nations in the Middle East, in order to divide the people and maintain their influence in one of the key regions of the world. The great hopes of the masses are in serious trouble if the Arab spring is not brought to its original path of bringing real change to the region. What is definitely certain is the region Britain and France created 100 years ago – Sykes-Picot is unlikely to survive whatever the outcome of the Arab spring.