The Unintended Consequences of the Arab Spring

The ruling elites created following the Arab Spring, the state structures set up to replace the old and the capitalists cashing in on the wave of change have not disappeared, rather they’ve strengthened and taken over the role of their deposed despots.

Day by day, the post-revolutionary societies emerging out of the Arab Spring seem to be less likely to ever be in a position to deliver on the hopes and aspirations that so fervently united the protesters, from Tahrir to Tunis and Benghazi in their struggle for liberation.

Beyond the streets of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, the countries who became the symbol of hope and change, the protests across the wider region were all motivated by the same demographic realities, failed states, demand for liberty, fairer representation and democracy. Much of these have failed to emerge, and while we may have seen glimmers of regime change, in the 4 years since, we can safely say that that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. While the Arab Spring was a pivotal moment in the political history of the Middle East, it may yet be the most bloody failure too.

The revolutionary Arab awakening created a new economic and  socio-political reality across the Middle East and transformed the balance of power, but not in the way we expected; not because nations have become stronger, but rather because their leaders have become much weaker.

The uprisings released an internal dynamic of political change across most of the region, affecting the long-standing political order of the Arab world. Today, we see a region that is at a crossroads; facing security challenges from both outside their borders in countries such as Iran and Israel, to their own nationals and political parties. Coupled with the challenges from neighbouring countries affected by their own revolutions, the end can either be stability as a result of the holy grail known as regional co-operation or, as we are seeing, disintegration and collapse.

The uprising in Syria began as a peaceful protest movement demanding much the same as all the others; social justice and the reform of the political structure. However, unlike many of the other states, it ended in civil war, mainly as a result of the excessive force of Assad’s regime. This coupled with the ISIS battle spilling over into its borders, has resulted in the radicalisation and subsequent militarisation of the the rebel opposition.

Syria has entered a phase in its history which will be known for its lost generation. There have been thousands of deaths and continue to see every day the constant flow of the millions of refugees. The country has seen destruction on a scale unknown before and its infrastructure has completely collapsed, and it will be many years before normality can return.

The scale of the refugee numbers needs a shared worldwide response, however, while there was an outpouring of grief and concern for the refugees at first, there has been a rise in anti-refugee sentiment over the last few months. When a country takes in a large numbers of refugees, it accepts that there may be a change in their identity. Throughout history, this has largely been a very positive outcome. Many countries around the world are made of refugees, who have, in some cases, literally, paved the way for generations to come to build a prosperous future, both personally, and for the country as a whole. But it seems the current refugee crisis we are experiencing today is happening during a time in history where the majority of countries are regretfully, too uncomfortable or scared to accept this.

Zainab Al-Deen

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