Basic determinants for reading the Arabs revolutions

Mohamed Shuman
Thursday 2 Feb 2017

The Arab Spring revolutions are now entering their seventh year but it is not yet clear what specific path they will take in the future and whether they will fulfill the slogans raised by the masses who took to the streets

Most of the slogans from the Arab Spring revolutions were more like objectives and action programmes for the sought-after change, which the revolutionary youth, masses and sections of the elite demanded. But they were lacking agreement upon the content of such change and were not prepared for its prerequisites and challenges.  

The irony lies in the fact that the popular interest in the slogans or the objectives of the Arab Spring in different countries in the region has declined noticeably in recent years while at the same time other issues and interests have jumped to the forefront of peoples’ minds in these countries.

These interests range between immigration, resisting terrorism, building the state, achieving stability and the recovery of the economy.

These interesting transformations produced an apologetic vision for the revolutionary act in itself, where conspiracy theories surfaced to interpret what had happened and the chaos narrative was propagated.

This meant the removal of legitimacy from the act of overthrowing the despotic, corrupt regimes under the pretext that they were achieving stability and preserving the state’s entity, despite the fragile or sectarian nature of the five Arab countries hit by the revolutionary movement or popular uprisings.

It is right that the authors of these narratives do not constitute the majority in the Arab Spring countries. However, their discourse is present and effective in the media and in some of the state institutions -- or what is left of it.

In contrast to the authors of narratives viewing the Arab Spring as chaos or a conspiracy and calling for stability, there are narratives that say that the revolution is not complete and that there is a next larger wave coming in the near future.

They see that the Arab revolutions were thwarted by the counter-revolutions, regional and international forces and reproduced despotic regimes and social injustice or brought down the state and its institutions in Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Thus, the reasons for the revolution are still there, waiting for the right moment or the detonation spark.

What’s surprising is that the polarisation between those calling for stability and state-building and those advocating for the next revolution isn’t the only polarisation.

For there is also the Islamist-civil, the provincial, tribal and sectarian polarisations and the regional and international polarisations and conflicts.

Some of these polarisations utilise ideological slogans or exploit noble objectives such as war on terrorism and intellectual extremism, building democracy or economic reformation.

What’s definite is that there are regional and international parties that played and are still playing influential roles in the complicated paths of the Arab Spring where they present various forms of financial and moral support – direct and indirect – which helped in settling many political and military battles and confrontations in the Arab Spring countries.

Naturally, the conflicting parties in the Arab Spring and their active forces produce conflicting discourses presented as objective readings of its path and its results -- whether current or in the future.

Due to being biased ideological readings aimed at mobilisational purposes, they claim to own the truth and legitimacy and subsequently tend to be characterised with extreme pessimism or exaggerated optimism that don’t rely on any facts on the ground.

There follows a number of observations that I hope the reader participates with me in contemplating regarding the fashionable Arab and foreign readings of the Arab Spring--

First: The popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria weren’t completed as revolutions. They didn’t achieve, as history lessons suggest, the real wide-ranging change -- especially in the socio-economic and politico-cultural fields.

It is also difficult to say that they reached their end intellectually, politically and militarily. It is still going on and the conflicts and polarisations haven’t been settled once and for all nor has stability been achieved.

Perhaps Egypt and Tunisia are closer to stability however the future in both countries until now is subject to the success of the economic reformation.

It is a dangerous bet because there is no good economy without social justice. It is totally difficult to foresee accurately the future in the five countries, especially if there is an upsurge in the roles of regional and international powers and transformations – and perhaps understandings – in the priorities of the American administration and Russia in the Middle East.

Second: The Arab Spring seems to be one mass social phenomenon, where the masses moved together in an unprecedented wide scale against corrupt despotic regimes.

However, every country’s uprising constituted a special phenomenon that is closely connected with its historical, social and political makeup. For what has happened in Tunisia is different from what happened in Egypt, Syria or Yemen.

Thus, we are facing multiple mass social phenomena and conflicts over power and over the state with different ways and methods.

Consequently, it is illogical to deal with the Arab uprisings as one single phenomenon. Because this will lead to a misleading generalisation in perceiving what took place during the last six years and hence the reaching of inaccurate conclusions or perhaps scenarios for the future.

Third: The term Arab Spring was one of the most important reasons in producing and propagating misleading generalisations in perceiving and analysing the path of the incomplete revolutions.

The term was turned into an attractive and exciting media icon but it concealed many details and several differences between Arab countries.

Moreover, it reflected an orientalist tendency in dealing with the Arab region that doesn’t differentiate between the degree of political and social development in different countries and the roles of disparate influences played by the tribe, sects and the military.

In addition, there are the Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organised force on which the American administration laid a wager on for regaining stability in the region.

This wager led to reducing the democratisation process to merely holding fair elections which resulted in deepening divisions and sectarianism in Egypt, Tunisia and Iraq and produced what’s known as election ballot democracy.

It seems that the orientalist outlook on the stumbling Arab revolutions led some westerners to claim that the people and culture have a difficulty co-existing with the values and mechanisms of democracy.

Fourth: It isn’t fair to let the Arab revolutions bear the whole responsibility for the state’s institutional collapse and provincial and sectarian divisions in Libya, Syria and Yemen and the economic crisis in Tunisia and Egypt.

It is illogical to accuse the five revolutionary uprisings of being the reason for producing extremism, terrorism, chaos and the widespread growth of the Islamic State militant group and Al-Qaeda.

Because the facts on the ground assert the historical and moral responsibility of the despotic regimes in the five countries for relying on sectarianism and provincialism in state institutions and the military and entering into alliances with extremist Islamist groups, constricting civil society and weakening political life and syndicates.

They also didn’t care much about education or building self-sufficient economy. For these reasons masses moved towards change after the despotic regimes refused all reformation attempts from within.

But the mass movement in the five countries did not perceive the dangerous perspectives of this enormous legacy of problems and were satisfied with dreams and good wishes about bread, freedom and social justice.

Moreover, the political elite failed to reach power or a consensus on making the sought-after change.

Undoubtedly, the resistance of the counter-revolution and the interference of regional and international parties hindered the natural development of the Arab revolutions and created problems and crises that were considered – without providing enough justifications – consequences of the revolutionary movement.

Finally, it is imperative to take previous considerations into account on presenting any reading of the path of every Arab country’s uprising without being indulged in generalisations or making unhistorical comparisons between the five uprisings.

It is right that there is mutual effect between them but this doesn’t mean that in dealing with them, we should treat them as one phenomenon and one future.

I think that the time for a more objective reading hasn’t come yet because the uprising of every Arab country hasn’t reached its final destination yet.

The writer is dean of the Faculty of Communication and Mass Media at the British University in Egypt (BUE).


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