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. 

5 Quick Political Facts for Today (2/11/15)

  • The situation in the Sudan is still really terrible and children are being raped.  Despite the splintering of the country into two pieces, things are still horrific as stated in a new report by Human Rights Watch:

Sudanese army troops raped at least 221 women and girls in a Darfur village in a series of organized, house-to-house attacks last year…the new report, based on more than 130 telephone interviews with survivors, witnesses and army defectors, says girls as young as 10 were raped by Sudanese forces, and that some women and girls were assaulted multiple times and in front of their families.

  • “We are punishing people for their poverty.”  Part of the cycle of poverty in the U.S. has to do with the fact the poor are put in jail and can’t pay the fines they accrue so they sit in jail longer which means they cannot go to work or take care of their children.  And these are not because they are committing violent crimes, as noted:

Although violent crime has declined almost 50 percent in the past two decades, annual admissions to jails have almost doubled to 11.7 million…75 percent of the population of people in jail are awaiting trail and are there for nonviolent offenses.

  • Yemen continues to provide proof the U.S. can’t kill its way to victory in the War on Terror.  The U.S. and other Western allies will be shredding their documents and leaving their embassies in Yemen this week.  It’s been noted heavily since the coup (or allegedly not-a-coup, as pointed out in the article) that Yemen was held up as a “model” for how to conduct the War on Terror through a persistent and heavy amount of drone strikes.  That worked out well…
  • A U.S. drone burned a 13-year old Yemeni boy to death.  Just another incident in that “model” country that goes unnoticed by most Americans.  But hey, according to sadistic U.S. law, he was “military age” and a male so he’s an enemy combatant and not just a child.  Some of his family won’t have to mourn his death since his father and brother were already killed by drones.  I’m sure an attack like that will offend absolutely no one that will want to seek revenge against the West sometime in the future.  Because that’s how an-eye-for-not-an-eye works.
  • Wisconsin Governor and potential Republican 2016 candidate Scott Walker dodges a question on whether he believes in evolution.  Which is fantastic if you are cheering for the Democrats to hold the White House in the next election.  The hilarious aspect of questions like this and the recent spat on vaccinations is there are clear majorities of Americans that are on one side of these issues and these potential presidential candidates are sometimes choosing the side of the minority.  They aren’t issues that will win you too many voters but they are issues that will turn voters off when you take seemingly crazy positions.  So, for Walker to dodge the question and make himself look a little wacky when there’s an obviously easier path, I say go right ahead buddy!

What if Drone Hit American Wedding”

e6c59edbbAn excellent piece in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf on a recent drone strike that attacked a wedding party convoy in Yemen killing 17 and critically wounding 9. Friedersdorf explains that if that happened in America all drone strikes in the U.S. would stop. He also goes on to make many other good points regarding the killing of innocents through drone strikes and how the government does not care.

Read Here.

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Effects of Gitmo Detention

father_in_gitmo-620x412A good article by Letta Tayler at Salon.com based around the story of a Yemeni family whose father is a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The man was determined to be a non-threat to the U.S. in 2006 and yet he sits in his cell only allowed a 30 minute webcam meeting once every 2 months with his family. The article also goes into a good amount of analysis regarding drone strikes and how they kill civilians which serves as a recruitment tool for terrorist groups.

Read Here.

Killing Awlaki: Step by Step

10awlaki-popupAn excellent, excellent piece in the NYT outlining the events that led up to the killing of Al-Quaida member Anwar al-Alwaki and his son Abdulrahman. It has great info into each determining event and legal decision on how they were destroyed by drone missile fire. Extremely thought provoking.

Read Here.

CIA Looking to Expand Drone use in Yemen

The CIA is reportedly asking the Obama administration for loosened rules in its use of drone attacks in Yemen in order to strike more frequently at potential terrorist activity.  The agency wants to expand this use “even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed.”  Should we be concerned?

Asking for this loosening of rules suggests the current rules are of the highest standard.  One can only assume the strikes being carried out in Yemen now are only involving people who have the most detailed evidence against them showing they are without a doubt an enemy.  So is this true?  Apparently not.

According to the article, “The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks drone operations, estimates that there have been 27 strikes in Yemen since 2009 and that 198 militants and 48 civilians have been killed.”  This means with the “toughest” rules in place for the drone strikes, the ratio of terrorist to civilian killed is 4 to 1.  With the loosening of the rules, would the potential for civilian deaths increase and what would the new ratio be?  3 to 1?  Possibly 2 to 1?

This information raises two important questions.  The first question: how many terrorists tend to be created when a civilian is accidentally killed by a drone strike?  Anyone who has an innocent friend or family member killed by a foreign entity because of that entity’s ’cause’ in life generally wants retribution.  Think of how we as Americans felt after 9/11.  This isn’t meant to draw any comparisons between the actions themselves but only to compare the feelings and reactions in the aftermath.  When people see the blood of their countrymen spilled, they want blood in return.  It’s only human.  Why should we expect the people of Yemen, Iraq, or Pakistan’s reaction to be any different from our own?

So if the current ratio is 4 to 1, are we creating more than four new terrorists with every civilian killed?  Even if we are only creating four with every civilian death, the current policy would be nullifying itself.  (All of this assumes that non-terrorist friends and family members in these countries have no feelings for terrorists when they are killed by drones.  Assuredly an inaccurate assumption but let’s just assume for now.)  Which brings us to the second and more important question.

What is ‘acceptable’ in terms of a terrorist to civilian casualty ratio with these loosened rules?  Or maybe another way to ask that: what is ‘unacceptable’?