On 18th December 2010, when Tunisian Mohammed Bouzazi set himself on fire, little did he know that he would spark a row of protests, galvanizing into an audacious form of search for ‘Freedom, Equality’ and Liberty’. Otherwise known as Arab Spring, witnessed the quick resignations of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The force of the protests, a common man’s voice had grown unstoppable, toppling the greatest leaders and authoritarians, infusing the long-needed spirit of ‘demand for democracy’ and creating a new political geography in West Asia.
But five years after the Arab Spring, we still see protests rocking in Tunisia and Egypt, a political stalemate in Yemen, horrendous butchering of the Bahrainis in Pearl Roundabout, the much-televised death of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011 and of course, the apocalyptic damage done to Syria. Today, the citizens of Tunisia and Egypt are much more afraid, especially the youth, who are the pillars of tomorrow. In Egypt, there are more than 4,000 political prisoners behind bars without any evidence against them, hundreds of journalists detained and thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members jailed or killed. The coming back of (General Abdel Fattah) Sisi’s government re-implemented the police state in Egypt. Libya lies in chaos, where one after the other Prime Ministers are being changed, the elections are being tabooed and nothing concrete, in terms of government’s political legitimacy is coming into picture. While in Syria, the domains of sectarianism have roiled the politics, literally extinguishing the hope that millions of Syrians had for democracy and creating a much-typed nexus between Bashar Al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. Iraq, which had been ravaged since the 2003 invasion by US and the application of the very flawed neo-conservative ideology, stands broken, or perhaps, shattered.
So, why did the Arab Spring fail? Why did it lose its momentum and was not able to leverage the kind of demands that the protestors had. There are many reasons and consequences of it.
To start with, firstly, the protestors in most of these countries, be it Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Syria were young, bright, politically amateurish people. They did not have their own party, a reason why the movement in Egypt had been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. But more than that, they did not have their own identity, in terms of what they anticipated. Orchestrating a revolution without the end goal in mind always leads to abysmal results. Thus, they lacked experience in government functioning and hardly knew what the consequences would be. Yes, they would dismantle the old regime, but what next? Who would come after Ben Ali? Who would come after Mubarak? Or for that matter, the Free Syrian Army fighting in Syria still does not know who would come after Bashar Al Assad.
Secondly, West Asian politics has been very sensitive, culturally and politically. Democracy, for a long time, has not been considered ‘halaal’ for these countries. Political pundits still believe that if Saddam Hussein was in power, the mayhem that we now see in Iraq, would have been controlled. What must be pointed here is that there was always enough bait for Arab Spring to be colored through sectarian lens, and the fact that this was not envisaged before, created more of the chaos. Today, the Shia-Sunni rivalry has taken more preponderance, with Saudi Arabia and Iran escalating the political man-slaughter in West Asian region, in the name of religion and faith.
Lastly and most importantly, Arab Spring led to counter-revolution, which was accompanied with the formation of terrorist groups like ISIS that still control the important provinces in Syria and Iraq. The very fact that they mushroomed signals the failure of Arab Spring, which started as a movement to unite rather than butcher and kill.
Five years have passed and there is little hope for West Asia. Every country is going through its own doomsday, reflected everyday with the uncountable number of innocent deaths. Its obnoxious to the degree that it cannot be suffered, but even the media has contributed a lot in creating a hyper-reality regarding these revolutions and thus, adding to the already created misconceptions and misinterpretations.
Larbi Sadiki, a prominent scholar had once told that what we saw during Arab Spring up till 2012, was perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. As the real potential and magnanimous power of the uprising would be revealed only after years, maybe decades and what is happening right now, is just a mere preface.
Whether or not it is true will be revealed by time itself, but as of now, West Asia is deeply pained with the growth of ISIS, the turbulence induced by sectarianism and the lack of political alternatives for the common man.