The Arab Spring,10 Years On…

I believe that one of the most important political/cultural/social movements of the last ten years was the Arab Spring. Therefore, I thought it deserved the initial post here at the relaunch of STL. But as I tried to put something together as a coherent argument on something about it, I realized that I am at a loss. The way in which it did not substantially work for the better leaves me lost even after ten years. I have no sure feelings, beliefs, or convictions on the period, or what is now called the “Arab Winter.” I can say I was so hopeful at the time that it almost lent itself to elation, but now I feel nothing but such dense disappointment; almost hopelessness. I have read books, articles, and saw many documentaries and news pieces on this most important set of events, yet I cannot put my finger on any argument to be made. Maybe it’s because I am a Westerner; a Roman Catholic. Maybe it’s because I was not there on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, or the destroyed streets of Aleppo, or at the Libyan storm drain where Qaddafi was found and killed. Maybe it is because I do not want to believe something negative. I don’t know. But below is a strategy, something I hope that can salvage the movement using the stories of the those times. Maybe something to look to inspire the future.

Simply put, What happened between the end of 2010 and the end of 2020? My thoughts are scattered below: 

Up until December 2010, the North African country of Tunisia was as typical of an Arab state as it gets: a history of empire and colonialism; a hopeful independence; a state-centered, socialist economy; a slide into dictatorship implemented through secret police (Feldman, 2020). This small, coastal nation on the Mediterranean Sea did not seem out of the ordinary in any way compared to its’ neighbors..

Then on December 17, 2010, a young Tunisian named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself afire to protest against police harassment. He died on January 4, 2011, but not before his gesture went viral, sparking protests against the country’s authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the people’s poor economic situation. Ben Ali’s 23-year-rule ended 10 days later when he fled to Saudi Arabia, becoming the first leader of an Arab nation to be pushed out by popular protests. What happened next across the Arab world, what we now refer to the as the “Arab Spring,” followed something like this:

On January 25, 2011, thousands of Egyptians marched in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities, demanding the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for 30 years.  Then on February 11, as more than a million took to the streets, Mubarak resigned and handed control to the military.

The Muslim Brotherhood-linked government of Mohammed Morsi was then elected in 2012, but was overthrown the following year by the military led by the general, now president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

On February 15, in Bahrain, protesters took over the Pearl Square roundabout in the capital which they renamed “Tahrir Square”, and demanded a constitutional monarchy among other reforms. But their camp was stormed by riot police three days later, killing three people and injuring many.

The same day the Bahrain protests started, the Libyan police used force to break up a sit-in against the government in the second city, Benghazi. The country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi pledged to hunt down the “rats” opposing him. The uprising turned into a civil war with French, British and American air forces intervening against Gaddafi. On October 20, 2011, Gaddafi was captured and killed in his home region of Sirte by rebels who found him hiding in a storm drain. The country is now split between rival eastern and western-based administrations.

On March 6, a dozen teenagers tagged the wall of their school in southern Syria with “Your turn, doctor”, referring to President Bashar al-Assad, a trained ophthalmologist. The torture of the youths sparked mainly peaceful protests at first, and calls for democratic reform. But with violent repression by the government, the revolt turned into civil war. Syria’s war also contributed to the rise of the ISIL (ISIS) group and renewed conflict in neighboring Iraq, culminating in a genocidal attack on minorities in the north of the country.

On October 23, 2011, Tunisians streamed to the polls for their first free election, in which members of the Ennahdha movement triumph.

On February 27, 2012, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled for 33 years, handed power to his deputy Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, after a year of protests. The Arab world’s poorest country, Yemen also descended into violence following initial protests.

Russia, who with Iran is al-Assad’s biggest ally, started air attacks against Syrian rebels on September 30, 2015, changing the course of the war. After 10 years of fighting, which left 380,000 dead, al-Assad was able to claim significant victories.

Ten years after Tunisia, It all seems for nothing when put together like that, does it not? All those aspirations for a more liberal-democratic pan-Arab region. A Guardian-YouGov poll published on December 17 even finds that a majority of populations of nine countries across the Arab world feel they are living in significantly more unequal society today than before the Arab Spring. And read here about Bouazizi’s legacy in his own country.

But maybe not all is lost. Let’s look at some social movement theory from Han and Wuk Ahn (2020) that may pick up the Arab Spring up from the canvas someday:

“Studies of social movements have benefited from the examination of narratives. Social movements are defined as networks of informal interactions between a plurality of individual, groups, and/or organizations engaged in political or cultural conflicts, on the basis of shared collective identities. Activists use stories to make sense of the reality surrounding them, motivate collective action by forging collective policymaking. Narratives unite participants in social movements and are utilized as tools. To be effective…social movements should not just mobilize financial and human resources, utilize political opportunities, and present solid transition plans but should also adopt effective frames. Narratives provide actors with tools to turn themselves into heroes with a powerfully mobilizing identity when they lack established organizations or coherent ideologies [38]. Narratives translate feelings of shame and individual responsibility into feelings of empowerment, efficacy, and entitlement.”

So maybe the people of the Mid-East will someday be able to launch a new uprising, one taken from the stories of the those contentious politics that have occurred over the last decade. At this point, I admit I really do not know. I feel as if I’m just clinching at straws to pull something positive out of it all, something positive in this Arab Winter.

What do you think? Leave comments below. 

Here is a good video piece from Al-Jazeera I find particularly moving that centers on the professional and amateur reporters who documented the movement. Maybe those reports and films will serve to inspire those of the next Arab Spring, if it ever occurs. 

Egypt’s Lack of Democratic Values

02egypt-articleLargeOn Thursday, three journalists working for Al Jazeera’s English-language network were ordered a retrial ain Egypt after a sham proceeding in which they were given between 7-10 years in prison for “…conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports.” The reason for this is two-fold:

1) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, like all new strongmen, wants to possess as much control over the press as he can. He is afraid that a currently tumultuous political climate may sweep him out of power just as quickly as it brought him in. This is why the three were arrested in the first place.

2) Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar, a state that has long shown favor towards the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But the Brotherhood was also former President Mohamed Morsi’s movement, who was brought in after democratic elections that resulted from the Arab Spring. Now since the ouster of Morsi, and the installation of el-SiSi, Al-Jazeera has been leading a critical viewpoint against el-SiSi for the last 18 months. But under pressure from Egypt, the Saudis, and the UAE, Qatar has put an end to its anti-el-SiSi campaign. Therefore these latest events may lead to the release of the three A-Jazeera reporters as a quid pro quo for the less critical look at el-SiSi.

So all in all, these three men were fulfilling their obligations to the essential ingredient of a functioning democracy, namely, the freedom of the press. We cannot make informed decisions without the information pertaining to the matter at hand.

The Mid-East region demanded more rights in the streets and squares just a few years ago and yet these events come right out of the old ways.

Also, for more on this cause, checkout the website for the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) where you can find a good graphic entitled “2014 prison census: 220 journalists jailed worldwide.” It is a worldwide map of states currently imprisoning journalists with the offending countries highlighted and the number of prisoners being held. The page also includes some good charts and even a listing, nation by nation, of each journalist known two be serving time their.

 

 

 

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Egypt 2013 or France 1848 from Marx

11EGYPT-articleInlineI wrote a post a while back about the need for the experts and press to not to sound a death knell regarding the democratic revolution in Egypt just because of the difficulties having occurred their. But the “difficulties” are getting quite serious, I now observe.

So related here is a great article in the NYT by Sheri Berman, a political science professor at Barnard College, who applies Marx’s analysis of the 1848 French uprising to the current uprising in Egypt, and hopefully Egypt will not hold such a bloody experiment in politics as the Europeans did in the 19th century.

Read Here.

Romanticizing the American Revolution to Criticize the Arab Spring? Not so Fast

Live TV gives political pundits all kinds of opportunities to make silly observations about the world.  On Real Time with Bill Maher this past Friday night, conservative writer Charles C. W. Cooke made one of the strangest and silliest I’ve witnessed in quite a while.  When discussing the ongoing battles over new governments in the Arab Spring countries, Cooke made the following point:

You have this revolution in America in which the British fight the British and then they codify classical liberal values into a constitution and it’s great. But that’s not how it goes down normally. Normally there is bloodshed and its horrible and especially in the Middle East what they want to replace their dictatorships with if you look at the polling it’s Sharia law…What the Americans did was a massive step forward. It wasn’t perfect. It was resolved in a Civil War that was bloody and awful. But if we are going to write off the greatest revolution, the greatest constitution in the world because it was imperfect and it was flawed then we should all go home.

The implication being made here is that the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution was mostly “great” until the Civil War and then it was really “great”.  Gutsy claim, particularly when he was sitting right next to an African-American with lady parts who then proceeded to give him a bit of a verbal smacking around for his statement.

The reality about the American Revolution is that we would be appalled by the rights given to people in the immediate aftermath if a new country began that way today.  And let’s not forget that the first government structure the U.S. formed, the Articles of Confederation, failed and was replaced by the Constitution less than a decade after ratification.

That being said, let’s take a look at some of the “great” conditions in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War:

  • If you were a slave, even if one of the Founding Fathers owned you and did naughty stuff with you, you were still a slave.
  • If you were a woman, you would be allowed to get a college degree…just a little over five decades later.  (This to go along with some other equal rights violations noted here.)
  • If you were a homosexual in most of the country, you would not be given equal marriage rights…wait, we still haven’t fixed that one?  Seriously?
  • How about some voting facts.  If you were a white, land-owning, 21+ year old man, you got to vote.  If you did not fit that description, no ballot for you.
  • If you were a woman, you would be granted the right to vote…132 years after the Constitution was ratified.
  • If you were Native American, you would be granted the right to vote…159 years after the Constitution was ratified.
  • Asians-Americans followed five years after Native Americans.
  • We are all aware of the Civil Rights movement needed to grant African-Americans the right to vote without being oppressed in the mid 20th century.
  • 18 year olds would have to wait nearly two centuries to be granted voting rights despite being “allowed” to die for their country.

The list could go on and on.

The point being the American Revolution has worked out pretty well but it has taken quite a while for this to happen and the conditions in the country were downright disgusting, in some cases, for many, many decades.  To expect the countries that were a part of the Arab Spring to magically be anything resembling “ideal democracies” after such a short period of time is lunacy and shows no understanding of history.

With the ease in which information travels now, it should be expected the Arab Spring countries will improve their democracies much quicker than the United States.  But we must recognize it will take quite some time, just as it did (and continues) with America.

Difference in Egypt and Tunisia Transitions Affected by Education More Than Religion?

A recent op-ed in Foreign Policy discusses the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt becoming more ‘Islamist’ as time goes on as they seemingly increase their power in government but notes a slight difference between Egypt’s transition and Tunisia’s:

In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda movement quickly found that, despite a landslide election victory in 2011, secular parties and a vibrant civil society would resist any attempts at “Islamization,” particularly when it came to writing the country’s new constitution...Ennahda decided to withdraw several proposed clauses, including one that would enshrine sharia as a “source among sources” of legislation…Tunisia…is generally seen as the closest thing the Arab Spring had to a success story. One reason is that Tunisia — unlike Egypt — has been able to take its time. The drafting of Tunisia’s new constitution has been a slow…process.  But slowness is the price of consensus. Once the process is completed, Tunisians will be able to point to a constitutional document that enjoys broad support across the political and ideological spectrum.(Emphasis added)

New democracies but what government awaits?

The author warns that some believe Tunisia will still be debating how much “Islamization” is allowed for some time to come but there seems to be a more tolerant tone in the country than in Egypt.  What might explain this more moderate process when debating the infusion of religious values in their new governments?  The answer could be education.

If we look at some of the rankings where education is a key factor, we see Tunisia ranks higher (albeit somewhat slightly) than Egypt in education index, human development index, and school leaving age.  Comparing the two at Nation Master also shows Tunisia better in nearly every education category given.

The debate over level of education versus level of religiosity goes back and forth at times but the more important factor possibly playing a role here is religious tolerance.  As noted in this polling data from Gallup a decade ago:

education level correlates positively with the likelihood to be tolerant of other faiths, even if they don’t actively seek to understand them.

But the most interesting and, maybe, the most relevant info to this case is in this article of polling data from Gallup.  It finds:

even though they do not belong in as great a number or attend as frequently as their more highly educated counterparts, those on the lower end of the educational scale have much more faith in religious institutions, perhaps reflecting a broader tendency to rely on institutions in other areas of their lives — unions, HMOs, government agencies, etc. Those in this group have far less faith in the individuals at the head of their religious institutions — the clergy — than in the institutions themselves.

This reality coupled with the tolerance data suggests more education leads to a more active push from people of their direct leaders for what they want instead of a more passive faith in them.  In other words, the people in the institutions are forced to be more responsive to their better educated constituents because they tend to be more active and vocal.  And this verbalizing may tend to more tolerance of other religions and skepticism of religious implementation in government, as seen in Tunisia, while lower education levels may tend to more passivity and more allowance of religious fervor in government, as seen in Egypt.

There is still a long way to go before things have settled in both of these countries and their governments could take paths to either more “Islamization” or more secularization in the years to come.  Only time will tell.  But there certainly seems to be, at the very least, a more gradual and more moderate movement toward creating a new government in Tunisia while Egypt continues its apparently more conservative path with increasing inner turmoil still disrupting the country on a regular basis.

Friedman on Palestinian Strategy for Peace

Thomas Friedman has some interesting ideas here about Palestinian strategy in order to reopen the peace process. The point that I agree with in this piece is that the only way Palestine affects any movement by Israel is by peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience. The U.N. would really get involved in the process if this were to be their new means of protest rather than by violent means.

Read Here.