Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Arab Spring –A Reality Check

On Dec. 17, 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire in a show of public protest. That triggered unrest in Tunisia which resulted in the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The unrest spread to a number of Arab countries and was dubbed the “Arab Spring” by the Western world. It was assumed that oppressive regimes had been sitting on a volcano of liberal democratic discontent. The belief was that the Arab Spring was a political uprising by masses demanding liberal democratic reform and that this uprising, supported by Western democracies, would generate sweeping political change across the Arab world.

This view is still shared by many in Europe and America. But does this view hold up to reality? Now, 8 months later, how has the Arab Spring turned out?

Tunisia succeeded in forcing out the President and a handful of Ministers and government officials –but the people that are in power now are many of the same people in power before the unrest. The government in Tunisia is essentially unchanged. In Egypt the Arab Spring brought down President Mubarak but the county is in the hands of a ruling Military Council, a Military which was always the most influentially in control even under Mubarak. Many of the Ministers in the civilian government held positions of power under Mubarak. There have been no substantial changes except one important one. The Islamic fundamentalists (i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood) now have far more influence on government policy and this influence threatens the Peace Treaty with Israel.

In Bahrain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia the regimes are unchanged. In Yemen the government is changing, but here again, the people who are emerging in power were in similar positions before the protests. In Syria the government is showing no signs of collapse or substantial change anytime soon. Finally, in Libya there is a civil war underway but it does not appear that Gadhafi’s government will relinquish power in the very near future and even if and when that happens it looks as is, just as in Egypt, the Islamic fundamentalists will have a great deal of influence –and will be hostile towards Western powers.

The awakening of repressed democratic desires in the Middle East, hailed as the Arab Spring, was nothing more then a pipe dream in the West. If anything, the results will be a more volatile region even less cooperative and more hostile.

Live Long and Prosper....

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