Arab Spring: A Mirage
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 14 Sep , 2012

Nonrevolutionary Impact of Arab Spring

In essence, governments have been pushed out of power in four countries. While Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on 14 January 2011, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resigned on 11 February 2011, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown on 23 August 2011 and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah was replaced by Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi on 27 February 2012. In Libya, Gaddafi was overthrown after the National Transitional Council (NTC) took control of Bab al-Azizia and was killed in his hometown, Sirte, on 20 October 2011 after the NTC took charge of this city. In Yemen, Saleh signed a power-transfer deal, following which presidential election was held, leading to al-Hadi taking over as president. Saleh stepped down and signed this deal in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

It is well known that Gaddafi never had cordial ties with the West. There have been attempts in the past too by external powers, primarily the United States, to dislodge him from power.

Ahead of the change of rulers at the helm, there prevailed some hope in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt about this spelling a major sociopolitical turn for the people and their respective countries as a whole. Regarding Libya, it is astonishing why this country is included as one that is witnessing Arab Spring. It is well known that Gaddafi never had cordial ties with the West. There have been attempts in the past too by external powers, primarily the United States, to dislodge him from power. Prospects of Gaddafi being removed by rebels in his own country were practically nonexistent. Undeniably, the role played by external military intervention led to his being overthrown and then being killed. Libya stands out as an outstanding example of what apparently is the prime motive of nations propagating the importance of Arab Spring, which sociopolitically for the affected people is only a mirage. The West, particularly the United States and its allies, is keen for complete control of this oil-rich and geostrategically important area. Installation of governments “friendly” towards their concerns thus is their prime motive. Removal of Gaddafi forcibly and then his being killed, with external military intervention, without being given a chance to face any trial, proves this intention of the West. This also supports the point of Arab Spring, promoted to install puppet regimes in these nations, as a totally undemocratic move. It has nothing to do with a few protests or demonstrations that have probably been incited by external support, which cannot be described as either revolutionary or part of any people-oriented movement. Libya illustrates these as being neocolonial designs deliberately promoted to suit interests of a few external powers, which are not from any angle in line with what the Libyan community desires.

While in Libya, the United States and its allies have succeeded, they are still trying hard in Syria. Ironically, with each passing day, the Syrian crisis is beginning to be viewed as more of a new cold war between the United States and Russia than as a part of the so-called Arab Spring. Despite the Syrian crisis having continued for more than fifteen months, prospects of it ending in the near future seem bleak. More than 12,000 people have died in the exchange of fire between the rebels and the supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Paradoxically, their prevails a certain rigidity between the warring groups, preventing them from reaching out to each other, because of which the crisis seems nowhere near the point of coming to an end.

United Nations–Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is still hopeful that his peace plan could avoid a civil war in Syria. Yet, more than 900 people have been killed since the UN-brokered 12 April ceasefire went into effect. The credibility of Annan’s peace plan is certainly facing a strong litmus test. Despite it still being nowhere near the stage of spelling any success, the European Union remains committed to helping Annan and the UN observer team in Syria. Ironically, the external forces keen for an end to the Syrian uprising do not hold the same stand on how it should be achieved. The United States has, for instance, categorically stated that the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad must step down. Annan’s peace plan expects Assad to implement the same, with its priority being to “stop the killing.”

…the European Union has displayed its stand against the Assad government by announcing more sanctions against Syria.

Meanwhile, the European Union has displayed its stand against the Assad government by announcing more sanctions against Syria. These include a travel ban and assets freeze on three people and two entities suspected of playing a major role against opposition forces in Syria. Restrictions, it may be noted, have not helped in controlling the unrest in Syria.

The parliamentary elections held in Syria earlier this year in May were projected as a part of political reforms promised by Assad. Describing the polls as a “farce,” the opposition groups boycotted them. Against this backdrop, the situation may take a positive turn if greater importance is given to initiating a dialogue between representatives of the Assad government and opposition forces.

On one hand, while opposition forces are supported by the United States, the European Union and other countries, Russia remains committed to help the Assad government. Defying Western criticism, Russia has continued arms deliveries to Syria. Russia has justified this move, favouring defence of government forces, by pointing to rebels receiving arms from abroad.

Despite a strong backing from external powers, the opposition forces are weakened by there being divisions within themselves. There is no leader who can be named as representative of Syrians rebelling against the Assad government. This weakness has repeatedly come to the fore, with their being no unity amongst them to decide on the fate of the next Syrian government if Assad, by choice or by force, decides to relinquish his hold on power. To a degree, this is also responsible for the failure of Annan’s peace plan in Syria.

The opposition forces have not given adequate importance to moves made by regional groups to end the Syrian crisis. The Syrian National Council (SNC), an opposition group, has opposed participating in talks initiated by the Arab League to unite the Syrian opposition. Absence of unity among the Syrian opposition is also responsible for it failing to gain international recognition as representative of the Syrian people.

Undeniably, the external powers are alarmed at the limited prospects of the Syrian crisis ending soon. The regional countries are apprehensive of its negative impact within their borders. This apparently explains their growing concern at the failure of Annan’s peace plan. This probably prompted the Arab League members to get together and discuss the issue among themselves. Partly, their attempt has been punctured by refusal of the SNC to participate in their talks. Now, it is to be watched whether this move succeeds in the near future or not.

A fortnight’s time is certainly not sufficient to label the overthrow of Mubarak as a result of protests and demonstrations that began in Egypt. Protests are still taking place here.

Where Syrian citizens are concerned, they have started giving greater importance to nonviolent and peaceful means of resistance. They have accepted that prospects of Assad being pushed out of power as Muammar Gaddafi was in Libya are practically nonexistent. Besides, the instability and chaos in other countries that have witnessed political unrest in recent months has made Syrians wary of their country facing the same fate. In this context, Annan’s peace talks may succeed if the government and opposition forces agree to start talking and stop indulging in conflict.

In Egypt, the situation is different. Despite the “success” of Arab Spring being marked by the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, people are now beginning to question the reality of what they have gained. Please note the speed with which action has taken place here. Protests began here on 25 January 2011, and the government was overthrown on 11 February 2011. A fortnight’s time is certainly not sufficient to label the overthrow of Mubarak as a result of protests and demonstrations that began in Egypt. Protests are still taking place here. In other words, just the overthrow of a leader does not mark the success of a protest or even a series of protests and demonstrations painted as part of a revolutionary movement. It was envisaged, without any sociopolitical planning, that Mubarak’s dismissal from power would spell Arab Spring for Egyptians. Ironically, his dismissal from power has not spelt good tidings, politically, socially or diplomatically, either for the people or for the external powers keen for this change.

Ahead of the presidential elections held this June, Egyptians expressed disillusionment at what they were facing. Sharing his views with the media, Nobel peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei said, “We are in a total mess, a confused process that – assuming good intentions – has led us nowhere except the place we were at 18 months ago (when Mubarak fell), but under even more adverse conditions.” Interestingly, ElBaradei withdrew from the presidential race earlier this year, saying that a fair vote could not be held in the circumstances the country was gripped by. “We are going to elect a president in the next couple of days without a constitution and without a parliament. He will be a new emperor, holding both legislative and executive authority and with the right to enact laws and even amend the constitution as he sees fit.”1

In other words, ElBaradei’s comments suggest that Arab Spring for Egyptians has spelt only “more adverse conditions” and Mubarak’s dismissal. He also announced his decision not to cast his vote. By taking control after Mubarak’s dismissal, the Egyptian military has assumed more power than it had earlier. This has led to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) being accused of having staged a “counter-revolution” after Mubarak was forced out of power. During Mubarak’s regime, the military did not enjoy power or role in politics that it assumed after his dismissal. Again, this development is hardly suggestive of Arab Spring having spelt notable democratic gains for the Egyptian people. One dictatorial ruler has been replaced by a more dictatorial government. With respect to presidential elections, considering the candidates in the race, it is difficult to expect either to spell a more democratic and better sociopolitical climate for the people.

The choice was confined between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister. Neither of whom is viewed as a preferred candidate by Egyptian protestors. Not surprisingly, this outcome of the so-called Arab Spring has been painted as the “end of Egyptian Revolution” by certain representatives of Western media.2

It is not possible to give an elaborate analysis of all the nations assumed to be affected by Arab Spring. Therefore, this aspect shall be delved upon briefly. Though Algeria has been barely affected by Arab Spring, the government has been critical of the so-called revolutionary movement. It is possible that Algiers did not deliberately get affected by this Arab Spring as it still remains affected by the internal violence of the 1990s, in which more than 200,000 people were killed. Nevertheless, the country was briefly affected by protests and demonstrations against economic problems like housing troubling them. In an attempt to control them, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika lifted the 19-year state of emergency on 22 February 2012 and assured revision of the country’s constitution for democratic reforms.

It is indeed ironical that countries having faced only a few sporadic protests for a limited period of time have been projected by the West as having being affected by Arab Spring.

Addressing a rally this May, Algerian prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia said, “The Arab spring for me is a disaster. We don’t need lessons from outside. Our spring is Algerian, our revolution of 1 November 1954.” The Algerian war of independence began in 1954 and lasted till it secured independence from France on 3 July 1962. Comparing Arab Spring with Algerian national war of liberation, Ouyahia said that unlike the “glorious days of 1954,” Arab Spring is “a plague.” Its effect can be seen in the “colonization of Iraq, the destruction of Libya, partition of Sudan and weakening of Egypt.”3

It is indeed ironical that countries having faced only a few sporadic protests for a limited period of time have been projected by the West as having being affected by Arab Spring. The flaw in this approach lies in adopting a critical approach even towards governments that have seemed liberal enough to have allowed protests, though for a limited period of time. Continuation of protests leading to civilian anarchy, unrest and perhaps overthrow of the rulers is least likely to be supported by any government. Nevertheless, this only supports the point that there prevails a tendency in the United States and its allies to raise hype about protests in countries where it is keen on change of rulers and governments.

The protests in Jordan have been described as small and peaceful, with the king stepping in to assure reforms for the people. While protests are continuing in Jordan, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, they have either been subdued or have ended in Tunisia, Sudan, Oman, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, Morocco, Western Sahara and Israeli border areas. The illustration of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries as having been affected by Arab Spring may be viewed as highly questionable. They are gradually but definitely moving towards reforms in their respective countries. None of these countries’ populace may be listed as waiting to take to streets in demand for change of their governments. Besides, even if these have been witness to a few protests now and then, it would be erroneous to project these as a part of any revolutionary movement.

Continued…: Arab Spring: A Mirage – II

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Nilofar Suhrawardy

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a well-known freelance journalist who has, at different periods, written extensively for national papers.

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