The 2011 Arab Spring in the Middle East was a watershed event wherein the world witnessed a series of States in the Middle East getting embroiled in demonstrations against the incumbent Governments. However, the entire series of demonstrations, in one State after the other, has many aspects and issues behind it.
Every continent and region of this world has had its fair share of responses in the form of a revolution to establish a government regime that is suitable and conducive to the welfare of the public. Today's era is that of democracy and the rights of the individual. Hence, no State can reel under an authoritarian regime for long. What happened in the Middle-East was nothing but an outburst of the general public against these repressive authoritarian regimes.
The Uprising triggered off after an incident in the small country of Tunisia in 2010 wherein a local shopkeeper, Mohamed El Bouazizi, self-immolated due to the daily harassment he suffered in the hands of government officials. This started a protest and Tunisia was successful in uprooting the self-serving autocratic regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Egypt followed suit and the agitation saw the oust of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, after three decades in power.
However, not all the Arab States made this transition. Every Arab nation has different economic and social landscape. While Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen underwent a transition period, Libya and Syria (the ugliest of all, it has given birth to this century's worst humanitarian crisis in the form of millions of refugees that have fled the country in the fear of persecution) were drawn into ugly civil wars while the Persian Gulf witnessed no profound effect on their regime.
Causes of the Arab Uprising
Population explosion can be attributed as one of the causes. Increase in population has not been compensated by increase in jobs or standard of living. Despite education, students had to undertake jobs like driving taxis to sustain their families. This caused widespread discontentment. Their rulers were incompetent and self-serving.
Moreover, the practice of nepotism that was widely practiced in States like Tunisia and Egypt angered the general public. The Arab World has widespread practice of crony capitalism as the rest of the public suffer poverty. Most of the Arab States had received independence in the 1950s. However the economic models chosen by the successive regimes were ineffective in creating sustainable and competitive economies.
Moreover, it started spreading like wildfire because of the inherent national appeal in the Uprising. The Uprising was a combination of the perfect mixture of social message and patriotism and not random slogan-shouting. It wanted to spread a meaningful message to bring about a meaningful outcome.
The Uprising was spontaneous and had no political affiliation. Leaders and people belonging to various classes and groups were united and thus, the security forces were at a loss as to who should be arrested to crack down the protests.
One of the most prominent reasons of the spill-over of the political violence across borders from Tunisia and Egypt to the rest of the Arab States was the use of information and communication technology.
Retributive theory states "an eye for an eye." However, an eye for an eye can make the whole world blind. The repressive measures used by the rulers backfired and led to no significant outcome and the situation worsened. Police brutality and lack of concern for the public fueled the anger of the protesters and since the rulers failed to adopt a peaceful approach to the problem, the violence still continues, killing innocent lives on a daily basis.
The Arab Uprising and its effects
It would not be wrong to state that West Asia is undergoing a form of transformation that is bound to change its political landscape forever. The Uprising can be described as a revolutionary wave that is bound to make and has already made many profound changes in the Arab region.
As already explained, the uprising was the product of deep-seated resentment against the existing regimes- their lack of political will, corruption, high levels of unemployment etc. However, the problem with the demonstrations was the lack of preparedness on the part of the protesters about the course of the protest and what should be the model that the existing system must be replaced with. It was simply an outburst of anger that had a domino effect and spread to all the Arab States.
The Uprising is bound to have different consequences in different States owing to the fact that systems of government differ and not all countries share the same socio-economic grievances. . Few Arab countries are also as religiously and ethnically homogeneous as Tunisia and Egypt (where the revolution was a success) and some harbor long-standing secessionist movements. These differences are likely to have an impact on the scale and shape of future uprisings throughout the region.
Countries like Egypt and Tunisia saw success while Libya and Syria saw a civil-war. Moreover, they are also countries that have seen Western military intervention. On the other hand, Yemen has witnessed a stalemate between President Abdullah Saleh and the opposition. Initially, Syria seemed to be the country that would be least shattered by the revolutionary wave. Things turned worse when peaceful protests after a man was arrested by Syrian security forces arrested a man after assaulting him and denied him his fundamental freedoms, turned violent due to the use of force by the Government. It would not be wrong to say that the Syrian conflict has aggravated owing to the brutal and harsh measures adopted by President Bashar-al-Assad, right from the initial stages of the protest.
The Uprising has been given a new twist by the intervention of outsiders, some regional players and some international. The most prominent one was the intervention of Saudi troops into Bahrain on 14 March, 2011, to repress a Shiite uprising against the Sunni monarch. The age-old Sunni-Shia conflict has manifested in various forms in the interplay of different regional and international actors in the ongoing uprising. Even in Bahrain, the frustration of the majority Shiites being ruled by the Sunni minorities got manifested and became one of the reasons of the protests although the main purpose was greater political freedoms and respect for human rights. The response of the police force to the peaceful and unarmed protesters has been brutal and there have been instances of deliberate targeting of the Shias thereby fueling the unrest between the two sects.
Qatar, a regional player has also been assisting the rebels in Libya militarily and financially. The rebels or the protesters in Syria are also assisted by Lebanon, Saudia Arabia and United States while the Iranian Government pledges loyalty to the Bashar-al-Assad government. Most of the actions of these regional players are motivated by their loyalty to the Western powers and their own national interest with hardly any concern for the humanitarian complications of the Uprising.
The Uprising has witnessed mass violations of human rights committed by all the parties involved. In countries like Syria and Bahrain, hard-line approach by those in power has shattered the aspirations of the people. In most places, out of fear of removal, leaders initiated meager reforms to appease the masses and continue to wield power. For instance, King Mohamed VI of Morocco opted for institutional reforms by adopting a new constitution.
Thus, it can be seen that understanding the different aspects of this Uprising is an extremely complicated process.
The Uprising holds significance not because of its outcome but because of its very outbreak in the first place. While it is too early to say whether it was a success or a failure; however, it marked the beginning of the fact that the Arabs are no longer politically passive toward their regimes and the Uprising reflected their long-standing desire for meaningful change and economic and social justice.
Five years is too early a period to usher in rapid change and to expect that autocratic regimes would be so easily replaced with democracy and the living standards of people would improve. However it can be said that the outcome of this revolution will depend a lot on the nature of the incumbent regimes. Arab Republics with an uncertain line of succession is more likely to have a regime change than hereditary regimes. In those countries in which the military is deeply entrenched in the government, like Algeria and Syria, change seems even less likely and would require a violent confrontation.
The use of excessive force by forces loyal to the Governments goes on to prove that harsh measures in the form of use of force can never be the solution to any crisis. Negotiation, mediation or other forms of dispute settlement mechanism must always be the initial preference. This is the reason why many Arab States are undergoing a period called "Arab Winter" as this period have been marked by civil wars, destabilization of regimes, continued violence, Shia-Sunni divide, etc.
Thus, up to this moment, the Arab Spring has failed to a great extent to bring about the desired results and it is unlikely to recede unless some significant change is brought about.