Argument: Has the Arab Spring failed?

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Argument: Has the Arab Spring failed?

OCTOBER 2013

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Writer and academic Myriam Francois-Cerrah and journalist Noreen Sadik discuss the Arab Spring.

MYRIAM FRANCOIS-CERRAH is a writer and academic on France and the Middle East. She writes for many publications including The Guardian, the Huffington Post and Al Jazeera English. Now she is a post-graduate researcher (DPhil) at Oxford University, focusing on Islamic movements in Morocco, she teaches Middle East politics

Myriam – Yes, the Arab Spring has failed

In August the Egyptian military introduced the state of emergency again. This had kept former President Mubarak in power for over thirty years. And Egypt, the largest Arab state, lost all the hopes of Tahrir Square. The Egyptian military controls up to 60 per cent of the country’s economy. So for a democracy the power of the military needs to be less. But now at least half of all Egyptians seem to want the opposite of this. A civilian government is mainly just for appearances.

From the start I was doubtful about the result of a revolution. Slow change is a better way of seeing the direction a country is moving in than fast, revolutionary change. Sudden change is full of feeling. But it is confused and often brings together people with very different opinions only for a short time.

What does Arab Spring mean? Is it the beginning of liberal democracies? If so, the Arab Spring has failed. And it is not likely to succeed where conservative Islamic political movements are popular. Women have been stopped from going into politics in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Minority groups are under attack.

If Arab Spring means helping the poor, it has failed. And it has ruined national economies and made countries more dependent on foreign help. Often this makes governments listen to the opinions of people in other countries and not to their own people. A real Arab Spring should see freer, fairer, responsible governments serving the Arab people and their interests. We are a long way from that.

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NOREEN SADIK is a journalist and writer. She writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Gulf Times and New Internationalist. She has a BA degree from Indiana University, US. She is an American of Palestinian origin and she has lived in many countries, including Egypt. Now she lives in Israel

Noreen – No, the Arab Spring hasn’t failed

I think that many of your opinions are right. But I think the success or failure of the Arab Spring will depend on what finally happens.

As history shows, revolutions often start quickly, but it takes years before they are successful. Democracy is new to the Middle East. The people know the ways of the old governments, but it is clear that they do not trust them anymore. Now they want their rights.

The first revolution began in Tunisia only 3 years ago and in this short time there have been successes.

Tunisian President Ben Ali led Tunisia for 23 years, Egypt’s Mubarak led Egypt for 30 years, Libya’s Qadafi led Libya for 42 years, and Yemen’s Saleh led Yemen for 12. They all lost power because of the Arab Spring.

Egypt was the first country to hold democratic elections - another positive result. Now, a year later, Egypt has problems but this is part of the process.

The situation now in the Middle East is not good but the problems cannot last forever.

There are now women in the revolutionary demonstrations and the social media. Remember the history of the US and women’s votes. The US got independence in 1776 but women got the vote in1920. Arab women are no longer silent.

The success of the Arab Spring will take time - perhaps many years. But the people are STILL demonstrating. This shows they are finally seeing the injustices they suffered for years. They are ready to die for freedom, equality, and justice. Success will surely come.

Myriam – Yes, the Arab Spring has failed

It is good that you are positive about the future. But sadly I do not think that success will surely come. History is full of examples of one step forward, two steps back. For example, the bad situation for women in Egypt . Sexual harassment is everywhere and more than before. Women need bodyguards to go to demonstrations in Tahrir Square. There are now fewer women in the Egyptian parliament than under Mubarak.

You say that democracy is new to the Middle East – I’m certain it has not even arrived. Tunisia is lucky to be of little interest to the ‘great powers’. I think that things in this country will get better in time.

Most countries that have had revolutions are still very unstable. It is very possible that things will stay the same in Bahrain and Yemen. And Syria’s civil war is not likely to lead to democracy. Foreign countries getting involved in Yemen’s domestic affairs as part of the ‘war on terror’ makes the idea of democracy unlikely.

You say that people are now ready to die for freedom. I think that dictators have survived by controlling the people. The Arab people have known about injustice and suffering for years. But the price of rebellion against cruel leaders was always too high. It is likely that leaders controlling their peoples will happen again.

Noreen – No, the Arab Spring hasn’t failed

History has shown that some revolutions have failed, but it has also proved the opposite. Democratic governments in the West came after many years of revolutionary wars in which hundreds of thousands died for freedom.

I agree that there is a long way to go before women get full rights. But remember that women have also been involved in the demonstrations. Women’s rights are important to the Arab Spring, but women are one part of the population of these countries. The revolutions are not just about women.

The idea of democracy is new. Democracy has not yet arrived in the Middle East. The superpowers have their own interests but even the involvement of the most powerful nations has not yet resulted in democracy in an Arab country.

I repeat: change takes time. The Middle East will probably be unstable for many years. The process is slow but I believe it will change as people begin to understand what democracy means.

As the governments are changing, the possibility of more dictators trying to control people is likely. But did anyone think that communism in the Soviet Union would end, or that the Berlin Wall would fall? The people made it happen. The Arab people are stronger now, and they are not ready to accept control.

‘One step forward, two steps back’? I think we should believe in the people. Dictators and governments come and go; what remains are the people who want change. Myriam – Yes, the Arab Spring has failed

I talked about women because they were very involved in the revolution. But women appear to have been treated badly later. A society’s treatment of its women is a good sign of its progress. Sadly I see no Spring for women. Or men.

I agree that people know now that they have power and that they can use it. But I’m not certain that this will lead to real change..

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Arab Spring: Protesters in Egypt(Peter Wissa under a Creative Commons Licence)

I don’t think that efforts to bring democracy to the region were from goodwill but from pleasing the powers in the west. Polls show that Arab approval of the US in the Middle East is very low now and lower than under George W Bush. A real democracy would not give the US the privileged relationship it has now and this is important for the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and other things.

I agree that the people will not want a return to the old ways. But I see a system which is not a real democracy. I see a system which seems to listen to the people and to international demands but which keeps much of the old ways.

Noreen – No, the Arab Spring hasn’t failed

The Middle East is in a dangerous situation now. Mubarak was recently released from prison and that might result in Egypt returning to the old policies but this time with General al-Sisi. But the demonstrations have not stopped.

The involvement of foreign powers comes from self-interest and fear of the Muslim Brotherhood getting control. It does not come from goodwill.

And yes, sometimes women have been pushed back since the revolutions started, and there is still much to change. But it’s not all bad. In Saudi Arabia, the most conservative of the Arab countries, women can now vote in municipal elections. It’s a beginning. Women have had a taste of freedom, and I think that they like it enough to continue demanding equality.

Again I say that the success of the Arab Spring will most likely take years. It is a process which moves slowly and will see many problems and successes.

Yemen, Libya, and Egypt all had democratic elections. This shows that change is possible. Yes, Morsi lost power but that is part of the ups and downs. A power struggle is certain.

Arab people really don’t want their countries to return to the old ways. This is a real beginning. People are not afraid and things cannot stay the same. I don’t believe that the desires of millions of people for a full democracy can be denied forever.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/sections/argument/2013/10/01/argument-has-the-arab-spring-failed/