Commentary

Some Reflections on the Arab Spring

Middle East In Focus

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Ever since December’s Tunisian revolution and the subsequent upheavals throughout the region, pundits and commentators have been asking, What next? The consensus, to the degree that there is one, is that in most cases the victories of the popular uprisings have not yet been consolidated. In other cases, it is unclear whether one can speak of victory at all.

In an article published in Khaleej Times, Sri Mulyani Indrawati wonders, Is “the Arab Spring turning into a gloomy autumn?... Although Egypt and Tunisia’s pro-democracy movements achieved rapid regime change, uncertainties remain in those countries, too. After a brief period of hope, many observers now wonder whether the region is capable of producing viable, and economically vibrant, democracies. Revolutions and their aftermaths, of course, are always fluid and fickle times, and the outcome is often perched on a knife’s edge. Bridging the vast gap between high expectations and the reality of limited budgets and capabilities is a test in itself. Redressing past injustice and building an economy that offers opportunity to all are major challenges as well, fraught with volatility, uncertainty, and the dangers of political opportunism.”

Commenting on the shifting fortunes of the Egyptian revolution, in another article posted on Khaleej Times, Mohamed El Dahshan argues, “The January revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak did not bring about regime change, and protesters are back at Tahrir Square to complete that task. But amid frenzied politicking and maneuvers by the military, young revolutionaries whose fearless struggle instigated the change risk being left out.... The young revolutionaries on the street — the salt of the democratic movement — are cast aside from the political development of the country, held hostage by an undemocratic Army Supreme Council, a caretaking government with populist tendencies and opportunist political parties with token youth representation. The revolutionary youth are aware of this — yet disorganized and knee-deep in what can only be qualified as the day-to-day protection of their revolution…The young revolutionaries, hailed in the beginning of every political speech but thereafter disregarded, must find a way to participate in the electoral political process — and fast.”

Also on the Egyptian turmoil, The National editorial sees the achievements of the uprising in a more positive light and pleads for stability “ahead of [the] ballot…. There is much to like about the election law that Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces unveiled this week. But legislative elections are just one part of the country's post-revolutionary rebirth, and many hard questions still must be answered before the new Egypt takes shape.... A presidential election is expected for early next year. Any reformist president and prime minister will have to cope with the army's entrenched power somehow, and any who are not committed to reform will find Tahrir Square reflecting public anger again. Egypt has so many challenges ahead. It cannot confront any of them if society degenerates into violence before these elections.”

Meanwhile, the situation in Bahrain remains tense. That at least is the assessment of Mohammad Ali Mohtadi, who writes in Tehran Times, “[In] Bahrain dialogue is a monologue…. Al Wafaq withdrew from Bahrain’s national reconciliation talks for several reasons. First, the leaders of the party felt that the talks are not serious in nature, and the government is not looking for reform but is trying to put on a show.... [T]he Bahraini government is performing an absurd show of illusionary reforms in the country; it is not interested in implementing the real process of reform expected by the people and political parties. Now that Al Wafaq has completely withdrawn from the talks, the continuation of the ceremony cannot be regarded as a dialogue, but rather a monologue in which the government of Bahrain is repeating its old rhetoric.”

Judging from some views expressed on the pages of several Gulf dailies, not everyone seems to have been equally affected by the Arab Spring. In a largely self-congratulatory editorial, Oman Tribune notes, “Oman is on the right path, thanks to the policies and vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said. Progress at any cost making any kind of sacrifices, was the maxim right from the beginning of the Blessed Renaissance on July 23, 1970. The results are there for all to see with the rapid pace of development in the oil and non-oil sectors and other areas like education, healthcare and infrastructure.... In the final analysis, it would be correct to state that the Sultanate has witnessed all-round development in most spheres ever since the start of the Blessed Renaissance.”

A very similar sentiment is expressed by Shaikha Al Maskari in The National, declaring the UAE a “land of dreams.” According to Al Maskari, “For the past six months, Emiratis have been shocked spectators of the live coverage of the Arab world's mass protests.... Here in the UAE, the reality is much different. The UAE stands out as a haven of stability in a turbulent region. Even in the midst of the global financial crisis, the UAE remains a land of dreams for many because of its far-sighted leadership and respect for the law, human rights and liberal policies. The UAE's leaders are on a relentless pursuit to achieve the highest standards for our society.”

Others have commented over the past week on the intersection between the Arab Spring and Western influence and whether the latter is at all relevant to the current developments in the region. Commenting on the Arab Spring and Western media, Ramzy Baroud writes in the Saudi Arab News, “Arab revolutions are attempting to examine larger issues that have tremendous impact on all aspects of life. They are actively confronting the suffering caused at the hands of local dictators supported by Western and other foreign governments. Western media and intellectuals, however, continue to seek only easy answers to intricate, multifaceted questions. In doing so, they follow the path of the same superficial, stereotypical and predictable discourse. While Arab societies discuss democracy, freedom and social justice, Western writers continue to follow the imagined paths of al-Qaeda, Islamists, moderates and extremists. In all of this, they are embarking on yet another futile hunt, a hunt that will yield no concrete answers, and more misguided policies.”

Raghida Dergham, on the other hand, makes a call in the pages of Al Hayat for greater involvement on the part of the European countries: “In truth, the Middle East, the Gulf region and North Africa are all geographically proximate to Europe, in addition to being the theatre where many European strategic and economic interests come together.... Their natural ally is Europe, which has a special role to play during this period of American regression, Russian reversion and the reactionary positions of the Arabs as represented by the Arab League. It is a strategic partnership of a different kind. Meanwhile, Catherine Ashton is competent and capable of charting a role for the European Union to play, one that would serve democratic aspirations and place Europe on the map as a political player and as a partner, not merely as a fund or as a proxy as in the past.”

Not all agree with that sentiment. As Marwan Al Kabalan asserts in a Gulf News guest commentary, “In the Arab world, too, people are no longer yearning for outside help to end authoritarian rule and bring about more representative governments. Arab people are now absolutely convinced that they can make the future by their own hands and that they are capable of changing their destiny without the assistance of the ‘civilized’ world. Iraq and Libya have shown how catastrophic foreign military intervention is. One must also acknowledge that the ongoing Arab revolutions are not even inspired by the outside. They are completely local and are likely to produce an Arab version of democracy.”

Finally, there are indications that the Arab Spring might be rubbing off on others in the region, including Israel, where over the last few days people have taken to the streets to protest government housing policies. As a result, there has been a vigorous debate within the country on the wisdom of any such mass protests, given the current international situation. A Haaretz editorial, however, seems to be supportive of such actions: “Even those who don't entirely agree with the messages coming out of the protests, marches, hunger strikes and demonstrations blocking traffic can't ignore the protests' vigor, in contrast to the apathy and even impassiveness that [has] characterized the Israeli people in recent years. In the surprising reversal of a process in which sectors of society turned inward, splintering the country and weakening it, the protest has swept up a broad public that has displayed a kind of solidarity and involvement that seemed gone forever.”

 


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