The Arab Spring: was it worth it?
By Nureddin Sabir
Hardly a day passes without someone asking me whether the Arab Spring had been worth it.Libya is in chaos with no effective government, police or army, and with armed militias acting as the Italian mafia once did in American cities. Egypt and Tunisia have swapped pro-Western lackeys for reactionary Islamists. In Syria even more backward-looking Islamists, in the shape of Salafis-cum-”jihadists”, are exploiting disunity within the armed opposition to infiltrate the country, and that is not to mention the daily death toll of innocents and the destruction wreaked on homes, businesses, public buildings and infrastructure, mostly by Bashar Assad’s forces. Meanwhile, despite the pain and sacrifices of ordinary people, the revolutions in Bahrain and Yemen have been stopped in their tracks thanks to Saudi Arabia, its Gulf satellite states and their Western backers.
Just as frequent as the “Was it worth it?” question is the refrain from some in Tunisia, Egypt and, to a lesser extent Libya, that at least under the defunct dictatorships citizens could go about their business in relative peace and security, as long as they did not get involved in politics or criticize their regimes.
The case of the Tunisian woman who was allegedly raped by police and then arrested for indecency is the most recent incident to highlight the chaos into which Arab Spring countries have plunged, in addition to becoming a rallying cry for critics of Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, for which women’s rights are not exactly a top priority.
The picture all around, then, is depressing. But is it surprising?
The eruption of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria had generated high expectations and sparked off popular and media euphoria the like of which had not been seen since the days of the late Egyptian President Jamal Abdel Nasser before the 1967 war or, in the case of Libya, the first year or so after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1969.
For a few weeks, between the downfall of the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes and the initial, rapid advance of the revolutionaries in Libya, I too shared Mr Khanna’s optimism, as did no doubt millions of people across the Arab world – with good reason. Egypt’s Islamists were distancing themselves from the anti-Mubarak revolution and did not seem destined to play a big part in post-Mubarak Egypt. In Libya, the uprising was being led by educated, liberal youths, and the people of the liberated parts of the country were displaying an unprecedented degree of solidarity and organization. Wherever one looked, everything pointed to a promising, progressive pan-Arab future defined by common interests and shared ideas and values – democracy, accountability, civil society and the rule of law. Even Syria, where the regime had a track record of mass murder in Hama (1982) and Tal Zaatar (1976), appeared within reach.
But, alas, it was not to be – and it will not be for many years. Instead, disappointed expectations have led to depression, which has become the watchword encapsulating the mood of progressives in every Arab country that had sprung into life and hope with the first cinders of revolution in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid back in December 2010.