Arab Spring: Old wine in a new bottle

Political power is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another – Karl Marx

Tahrir Square; the face of the Arab Spring two years on is blocked by police as protestors gather to mark the anniversary of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak from power. The people believe president Mohammed Morsi’s has betrayed the revolution which has so far claimed the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of native civilians. Those who underestimate democracy in the West have been fed a valuable lesson over the course of the uprising.

Egypt was a catalyst for revolutions across the middle eastern belt which continue to disrupt countries as we speak. To date, rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, civil uprisings have erupted in Bahrain and Syria, and there has been a spate of major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan. The so-called ‘Safron Revolution’ was also happening at the time as people around the world rallied to ‘free Burma’, headed by one of the most iconic political  figures since Che Guevara – Aung San Suu Kyi.

It is quite difficult to tell, in their infancy, whether any of these uprisings have been successful in achieving what they set out to achieve. Democracy means more than a fair ballot, and the sweeping requests of the Middle East will require changes to the entire fabric of the region if they are to be met. But two years on it is possible to address whether the wheels of change are in motion, or if this revolutionary machine has grinded to a halt.

Military

The Egyptian military was a key pillar of Mubarakism, but has since evolved as a prominent figure of the revolution and the ruling elite. During the Arab Spring it managed to tactfully oust Hosni Mubarak, winning the support of the public without dismantling the basic system. Now that the military has consolidated its control, the gloves are coming off.

Omar Dahab, a native Egyptian and an Arab, believes the uprising has brought only more chaos to an already unstable region. “Egypt was more stable and more settled during the Mubarak days, Libya is now a failed state and is not unified but ran by armed militias and weapons are accessible to extreme groups,” he says, adding that Syria and Tunisia are faced with similarly unstable futures.

Burma is now also finding that its government is dominated by ex-military generals from former junta chief Than Shwe’s regime. Exiled opposition groups have criticised the new administration, claiming it is like “pouring old wine into a new bottle.” What is clear to see is that extremists and militant groups only stand to gain from mass disrupttions.

Politically

Analysis from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) revealed that uprisings across the Middle East have not led to any significant shifts towards permanent democracy even where they have toppled dictators.

Instead new elites have emerged with clear ties to the old discredited regimes (as in Egypt and Libya) or existing regimes look like surviving, battered but intact (as in Syria and Bahrain). The report, After the Arab Spring: Power Shift in the Middle East?, looked for evidence of genuine power shifts in the region but found no sign that true revolution has occurred.

It concluded there is: “little evidence to suggest that future historians will rank the events of 2011 with those of 1848 or 1989. Simply too few of the fundamentals of social, economic and political organisation in the Arab world have been successfully contested by the protests.”

The optimist in me would highlight that the uprisings may have at least given the people a voice. Whether the status quo was toppled or not, the extent of the uprisings sends a clear message that people are watching and ready to act.

“Egypt is one of the most populous countries in the region and a large percentage of the population is made of the youth and they will not give their freedom away , the Egyptians now know the way and that’s one of the very few positives of the revolution,” Mr Dahab added.

Western influence

Frank Ward believes that the problem with many UK commentators on foreign affairs is that they  judge what’s going on within our own frameworks of reference. “I haven’t a clue what the Arab Spring means to most people who live there and my definition of a dictator might include a good few people who have been courted by Western Governments.”

David Cameron was recently pictured with Bahrain’s King Hamad in Downing Street, despite the people of Bahrain consistently protesting the British imposition of despotic monarchy. They want an elected government to run the island’s oil wealth democratically, for the wellbeing of the populace. But this dictator, and others in the past, may not be so bad.

“There’s the rub. A bad dictator is someone you have a vested interest in displacing. A benign dictator is someone who’s not irritating you at the moment or who needs to be kept in position,” Mr Ward concludes.

“Now and then, the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of the workers.” – Karl Marx

By Jack Peat

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1 Response

  1. Cagri Cobanoglu: Arab Spring was a process which is not ended yet and all countries of Arab Spring should be evaluated separately. What happened in Libya is different to what happened in Egypt. For me, Egyptian revolution brought changes and the main power behind it was democratic groups… there was no sectarian conflict in Egypt as it happened in Syria… Also Egypt has a tradition of workers’ movement and workers’ strikes were effective in last days of the revolution… Syria and Libya is more like tribal states. In Libya, it is a power struggle among different tribes and in Syria, there is a Shia-Sunni fight, of course there are groups who are against sectarianism in Syria as well but personally i do not know how powerful they are…

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