The Arab Spring: The contemporary Era

Introduction

The Arab spring is a wave of revolutionary protests and demonstrations that have been taking place in the Arab world since December 18th 2010.

The revolution has claimed entire regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as well as major protests in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Oman, Morocco and Syria. There have been minor protests that were quelled by the governments of Lebanon, Sudan, Mauritania, Kuwait, Western Sahara and Saudi Arabia, by yielding to some of the demands of protestors. The Arab spring also inspired clashes in May 2011 at the borders of Israel.

The sustenance of the revolution has been credited to the sharing of civil resistance techniques by the protestors in the different Arab countries, where there were rallies, marches, demonstrations as well as strikes that were mainly organized and communicated through social media (Sakbani, 2011).

The awareness of the people due to the flow of information was always repulsed by the respective governments’ internet censorship and even total disconnection as was the case in Syria from 2008 to 2011 February. Where this has failed there has often been violent repression of the protests by government security forces, often with a considerable amount of casualties as well as counter demonstrations by the respective government supporters.

This paper seeks to explore the political situations, in regard to the internal policies established by the leaders of the Arab countries and specifically in Syria and Egypt that led to the Arab spring.

The Arab Spring

To understand the root cause and the process of the Arab spring, we have to first explore the conditions that triggered its inception. The Arab uprising was sparked by the self-immolation of a Tunisian by the name of Mohamed Bouaziz on December 18th 2010. He was protesting the unlawful arrest, corruption and ill treatment by the police amid the hard economic situation in the country.

The protests that followed thereafter were greatly successful, with the ousting of the then president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and this inspired similar protest in other Arab countries. The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, resigned after there were 18 days of massive protests amid crackdowns by government security forces on the 11th of February 2011.

Other leaders, however, moved to quell the anger of the protestors by announcing that they would not context in the next elections, such as the Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir and the Iraqi President Nouri Al-Maliki. King Abdullah of Jordan went ahead to sack two successive governments as the protests still continued.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, announced that he would resign in 30 days back on 23rd of April in a bid to quell massive protests that had rocked the country, but he later changed his mind and retracted the statement which has led to continued protests.

The Arab Spring in Egypt

The revolution in Egypt was mainly inspired by its success in Tunisia and it started on the 25th of January. The then to be presidential candidate, Mohamed ElBaradei had already warned government officials that there was going to be a revolutionary wave of protests similar to those in Tunisia, if the pleas of the people were not addressed.

It was, however, too late before the government of Egypt could take any action to salvage the situation as on 28th January at midnight, their attempts to stop the organization of the protests by blocking all internet access in the country did not work.

Though the social media was successfully crippled, the organizers still found new ways to encourage people to join them and the internet blockade was one of the reasons they cited as a motivation to increase their protests. In a bid to salvage the situation, President Mubarak appointed a new cabinet as well as a vice-president, who was the first in almost three decades.

Mubarak later gave the vice-president, Omar Suleiman the power to rule Egypt on 10th February, though this was followed by an official statement that he would still hold on to the presidency until the end of his presidential term.

This move was not taken well by the protestors as the demonstrations still intensified. The vice president later announced that Mubarak had resigned on the next day and he went ahead to transfer power to the Egyptian armed forces. This inspired a wave of celebrations across the country with the biggest being at Tahrir square.

The military then noticed that they were also facing resistance and went ahead to lift emergency laws that had been in place for thirty years. The army then dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution, then promised to organize free and fair elections in the next six months.

The armed forces went ahead to appoint a civilian by the name of Essam Sharaf, as the Egyptian prime minister on 4th March. This was greatly approved by the protestor and the protests reduced, though there were other small protests that continued in July with the complaints that the Essam Sharaf administration together with the armed forces supreme council was slow in establishing reforms in the institutions of governance, than expected.

The Arab Spring in Syria

The Syrian uprising started with a case of self-immolation that sparked protests all over the capital city on the 26th of January. The protestors’ main grievances were political reforms and the observance of their civil rights by the government (Sakbani, 2011). They also complained that the county had been in a state of emergency for the last 48 years since 1963.

The attempts by the protestors to organize a major demonstration dubbed ‘the day of fury’ was, however, not successful, but on the 6th of March, the arrest and torture of 15 children who were accused of having written some slogans that were against the regime, sparked even more protests.

Thousands of protestors who were against the Baathist regime that had ruled Syria since 1963, gathered in the cities of Deir Ez-Zor, Hama, Daraa, Al-Hasakah, Aleppo, and Damascus, with Daraa being the first to protest on the 15th of March after the release of Suhair Atassi, a politician who became the unofficial spokesperson for the protestors in the revolution. This was followed by reports that the government had arrested over 3,000 Syrians and there had been a lot of casualties as the government security forces shot at protestors.

The climax of the protest was on 18th April when almost 100,000 protestors sat at the Square of Horns to demand for the resignation of President Bashar Al Assad. The protests continued throughout the next three months with the government conducting harsh security crackdowns and military operations in the country, with the most violent incident occurring on the 31st of July when army tanks stormed cities and killed over 136 people.

Political Conditions That Triggered the Arab Spring in Egypt and Syria

The revolution was observed to have been motivated by two main issues: the economic hardships of the citizens of these countries; and the harsh laws that were in place that discouraged democracy. The triggering incident that occurred in Tunisia involved a man whose market stall had been confiscated and his complaints were that besides acquiring an education, selling vegetables was his only option to make a living.

Analysts have specifically pointed out that in Syria and Egypt, the prolonged economic stagnation, violation of human rights, as well as rampant corruption by government officials have led to the common citizens’ suffering, and hence the need for political change. There has been decades of under-development and even in some cases there is evidence of de-development as the established economic policies have failed, and institutions of governance broken or abused (Partridge, 2011).

The overall economic growth in the Arab world has been negative since 1971 and specifically the per-capita income of citizens of gulf countries like Syria has been reducing by almost 2.8 percent every year (Gershoni, & Jankowski, 2010).

The rampant corruption in Syria and Egypt has meant that those who are already rich or are in positions of power enjoy better quality of life while the poor suffer even more. This has led to a wide economic gap between the rich and powerful in these countries, and the poor.

However, what took the rest of the world by surprise is the flow of information on the economic conditions of these countries, as previously their dictatorial governments had ensured that they filtered any information on these countries and had declined to participate in any surveys (Tejel, 2009).

The inequality and the corruption in these countries is influenced by the fact that most of the economic centers are owned and managed by government institutions, hence, discouraging private entrepreneurship. In Egypt for instance, the government has ceded most of the economic control of the country to the military. This has ensured that the military owns most corporations where they employ retired military leaders and/or their immediate family and friends.

It is also observed that state companies consume almost all the financial credit available in Egypt, hence, forcing other family owned small and medium businesses to have to rely on un-informal means of funding which are often expensive and exploitative. This has diminished the business community and those who are in business have to sell their products at high prices which have contributed to high cost of living amid reducing incomes (Odugbemi & Lee, 2011).

The failure of economic policies in Syria and Egypt has contributed to high rates of unemployment as well as under-employment, which are more common for the young who have been the back bone of the uprisings.

The rampant corruption, regional conflict and dictatorial leadership has contributed greatly to companies’ thinking of only the short-term, as there is too much uncertainty in the region (Partridge, 2011). The same uncertainty has discouraged domestic investments and the revenues generated due to the rising commodity prices end up being transferred abroad. It has been identified that in Syria, local banks have had low capacities to the point of collapse.

The Arab spring was created in such a way that it suggests a new awakening among the citizens of Syria and Egypt, which would bring with it a new political and socio-economic order. This has suggested that the Arab world will never be the same again, and the autocratic and dictatorial governments that are still existent in the region, may only have a few years if not months before they come to an end if they don’t establish political, educational and socio-economic reforms.

Perhaps the most outstanding difference between the Arab spring and other uprisings, is the fact that the people are fueled by their need for dignified lives rather than the need for political superiority, as has been the case in sub-Saharan Africa and the Balkan states in the past (Ben-Meir, 2011). The passion of these people will probably not let any politically radical group to take power without receiving resistance from them.

Previously, there was a belief that the people in Syria and Egypt could not organize themselves and speak with one voice, as the regimes had discouraged any form of organization. However, this was not to be as the Syrians and Egyptians organized amid speculation with their governments believing that the voice of the people was too fractured, too radical, too politically immature and insignificant to make any impact or even to be taken seriously.

There was also the belief among the political class that the Arab authoritarian rule was going to continue for many decades to come as there was succession of governments among powerful families in most Arab countries, where the sons of the rulers inherited power from their fathers upon them leaving office, as was the case in Syria (Partridge, 2011).

The greatest weakness of these assumptions, as is evidenced in Syria, is that they did not put into consideration the greatly educated, informed and politically assertive youth of the country.

They still thought that the loyalty of the old generation to these regimes was to be transferred to the younger generation, and they always tried to promote this through their authoritarian rule that has been able to squash resistance fro the citizens for along time. This younger generation is greatly aware of their rights, and has a high appeal for democracy which was earlier profiled as an evil western propaganda that is against their Muslim religion (Press-Barnathan, 2009).

As far as the politics of Syria is concerned, the administration of President Assad has squashed the opposition since he came to power as it was the policy before during his father’s rule. This has seen anyone who exhibited political ideas that contradicted his party’s banned from travelling outside the country, arrested and even tortured to death by the police.

There have been reports of secret police units that have been used to quell any opposition through inhumane ways. The human rights watch groups in the Middle East have ranked Syria as number one in violations of human rights and this is said to be the greatest down fall of Assad’s legislation which has fueled the revolution in Syria.

Political Effects of the Arab Spring

The revolution has transformed the geo-politics of the region as it has been observed that the traditional understanding of the political environment of the region has been thrown out of balance.

It was previously believed that the politics of the region was defined by the difference in ideologies between those who were pro-western and those who were anti-western, or those who are Sunnis and those who were Shi’a, as well as the belief that it was based on the differences between the Arabs and the Jews, in the case of Israel and its neighbors.

It was, however, observed that the great inequalities or disparities in the qualities of life, between the authoritarian regimes and the citizens they ruled were the greatest motivations of the revolution (Gershoni, & Jankowski, 2010).

The ultimate political result of the revolution has been the great spotlight cast on authoritarian or dictatorial regimes, as they feel the pressure to restructure their legislative policies or face resistance from their citizens. Some like the Kuwaiti administration have, however, been able to quell the anger of their citizens by introducing subsidies and cash handouts.

Others, as is the case in Syria, have had to give fake promises of economic and political reforms (Lunnon, 2011). The young people, who were mostly idealists, utilized the loopholes that had been left by the governments’ belief that they could not organize and therefore were at ease.

Their skillful utilization of social media was particularly impressive as it surprised many with its success. There was also the use of nonviolent means to organize protests that took the governments by surprise as they did not know what to do with them since they had always figured out that due to their foolproof control of their territories and strong security agencies, any threat would probably have to be excessively violent.

Lastly, the quick and effective success of the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt worked to fuel the revolution even further as other countries realized that it is easy and possible to remove even the harshest dictators from power.

This has been the short-term change that has brought hope to the people of the Arab countries that there can be an end to authoritarian rule and they can enjoy both economic growth and their freedom. It has also served to warn other dictators like Bashar al-Assad of Syria, or would be dictators in other countries, that their end was near (Ben-Meir, 2011).

It has now dawned on many that, autocracies and monarchies in the Arab countries have an uncertain future as the young Arabs have disapproved any cultural obligations to these autocracies.

These young people are proponents of regional sovereignty that takes a pan-Arab approach that may not be viable for any western nation that sees this as an opportunity to assert their influence on the regime that comes after. The west has to basically take a back seat and watch as the Egyptian and the Syrians try to establish their own forms of government that they think suits their political ideologies as well as their religious and cultural background.

In as much as the army may be the final political arbiter in Egypt as has been the case since 1952, there is now a chance for liberals, Islamists, repackaged elements of the previous regime and leftists of various backgrounds, to gain control of, and even influence, the country’s parliament and the government, which was not the case under the ousted Mubarak government.

The success of the emerging institutions such as the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions may be evidence of this phenomenon, as they may set limitations to the young neo-liberal economic reform project (Odugbemi & Lee, 2011). The other group, besides the army that is probably going to lose much of the influence it enjoys in these nations, is the US government as their regional political clout diminishes with the ouster of the authoritarian governments that they were previously able to influence.

The US campaign on the Palestinian-Israel conflict will now enjoy less support or even resistance from the new governments that want nothing to do with the fetishes of the previous regimes, and will probably stay neutral (Shemesh, 2008). This is evidenced by the fact that the US is currently feeling the treat of a growing Iranian regional influence, as the foreign policies of Egypt are now reflecting previously unseen popular sentiments.

Economic Effects of the Arab Spring

In the long-term, the Arab world hangs in uncertainty as everyone is skeptical of the stability of the new systems of governance that will be put up to replace the fallen ones.

This is behind the further uncertainty of whether the desired democratic system of governance will even be established in the near future as it has been previously evidenced in other countries like Somalia, that the ouster of a government by the people may not necessarily be advantageous, as there might be an eruption of violence as different groups seek to assume leadership of the country.

This spring may sadly take too long to yield any fruits in some of these countries as traditional liberals, Islamic extremists, high ranking military personnel that still want to cling to power, ethnic groups, business elites and other religiously affiliated groups, compete against each other on the basis of their different ideologies that they all want to be adopted (Lunnon, 2011).

The revival of the respective economies may take a while, and it’s dependent on the success of the transitional period and the success of the next administration amid all the international scrutiny especially by the west.

The economic consequences of the Arab revolution have affected the entire world and have been especially brutal, to struggling economies of South East Asia and Africa as the prices of oil have shot up. This has brought with it an unprecedented increase in the prices of basic commodities especially food stuffs.

There is, however, hope that with the successes of most of the protests, the oil market in the world will stabilize soon. This is not to say that there is no future threat to the oil market in the horizon since there is still an uncertainty as to how the new regimes will react in relation to the policies and the policy making process of OPEC, which is a body that most of them belong to.

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