It has been a decade since that Spring came when Arabs rose against totalitarian rule. It was the spring that brought in itself the seeds of revolution and the winds of change. It was the time when people were out on the streets seeking their rightful rights. Whatever is written here isn’t coming from an Arab. It is from someone who was glued to TV sets when it started and was inspired by the people’s power. Back in those days in 2010 when it all started from Tunisia and matured in Egypt and Libya, it seemed like it was out of history books or movies.
It was an ode to people’s power. Fast forward to 2020, many questions arise now. Did people really achieve what they wanted: freedom, a higher standard of living, and corruption-free governance? Tunisia is the only nation that had a comparatively peaceful transition back then. As far as Egypt is concerned, the Government that people chose was overthrown within a year by Army general Abdel Fateh El-Sisi.
Visuals from a Support Arab Spring protest in Pittsburgh, USA, in 2011.
The brutality which El-Sisi imposed on the freedom of speech and the impunity with which he deposed the democratically elected leader casts aspersion on the desired outcome of Arab spring. El-Sisi, who despite acting like an autocrat, happens to be liked by the western media. Putting a blind eye to his wrongdoings, he was recently honoured with France’s highest civilian honour.
This felicitation and acceptance by the Western leader and neighbour Israel made him more stringent in his measures. Was this the outcome that supporters of Arab Spring wanted? If what people chose is against the interests of western and neighbouring powers, will people’s choice still be upheld? Are those people who rightly fought against the autocratic regime of likes of Ben Ali, Hosni Al Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi happy with the outcome?
If yes, what are they happy for? These nations don’t seem uplifted, in fact, there seems to be more inequality, more trampling down of people’s rights. Libya has been in civil war since then. Everything good that was there has been washed away. It has become a battleground for the local and international players fighting hard to see their respective faction gaining control over the resources. Rather than a revolution of people, it has turned into a bloody battle between warring factions.
What started as a hope that People’s power would prevail over the despotic rulers ended leaving a bitter taste. It gave us a lesson that when people’s movement starts, it should be led by the people who have a vision. The leaders or the intellectuals must come forward during the movement itself and brainstorm over how to tackle the unseen when the current movement ends.
The ideals for which the people fought haven’t been achieved yet. The only thing that was achieved was momentarily success, the downfall of leaders who had been ruling for decades. Other things which sparked the whole movement are still there with much harsher rules in place so that people never rise again. It’s just one despot has been replaced by another autocrat. Look at the precarious situation of Yemen, it’s burning.
And all the countries are silent about it as it’s not that strategically important. What mattered also in these uprisings was who were the rebels, what were they fighting against? Saudi led western nations gave support to the parties if the rebels could further their cause. In Libya, Gaddafi’s behaviour was unruly undoubtedly. What actually proved to be the game-changer was that he wasn’t afraid of western powers so they meddled in Libya to provide logistical support to rebels so that finally Gaddafi could be ousted.
They got what they wanted: Ouster of Gaddafi, a thorn, but what people got was a divided nation. People all around have every right to stand up for what they feel is right. What Arabs in 2010-2011 tried to do was so brave and beautiful. No one would have imagined that leaders ruling for decades could be overthrown within weeks. It will always be remembered for the people’s fearlessness and perseverance.
What failed this revolution was myopic foresight of those who were managing this. Planning the outset of the revolution was perfect but sustaining and making it workable turned out to be difficult. Syria is another example of a failed Arab Spring. Syria has now become a ghost country; with millions killed and displaced, rendered homeless, social and economic infrastructure destroyed. It will take years before Syria could come to its former glory. So, the Arab Spring changed many things some for better and some for worse. It will again take many years before we can rightly judge the aftereffects of this revolution.
The aftermath of the Syrian war in the city of Aleppo.
That spring was supposed to create a new identity for Arabs. It was a time when Arabs stood up bravely. They showed everyone out there that once they put their mind onto something, they can take out even those who have been there for decades. They remained honest to their vision for more than 2 years to see it through to get the fruits of toil. If others hadn’t meddled, maybe spring would have finally arrived in Arab nations.
Perhaps it is a wake-up call to Arabs and all of us that nations with vested interests need to be called out for their role in creating the trails of destruction. It is time for Arabs to unite and adopt such policies which will lead to the development of their nations, create more employment opportunities and raise the standard of living for their citizens. And all this needs to be executed from within. Right now Arab identity is in crisis.
It seems they’re a group of fractured nations with contradictory goals. Hopefully in the times to come, Arabs will really have a spring where they will be ushered into an era of sustainable development and cultural excellence. And there will be an Arab renaissance but one that will not be created by Europeans or any outsider but by Arabs themselves.
By Shaista Nazir(Economics lecturer)