Arab Spring nations in turmoil once again (WASHINGTON TIMES) By Louise Osborne BERLIN, GERMANY 04/20/12)
WASHINGTON TIMES Articles-Index-Top
BERLIN — What happened to the Arab Spring?
The uprisings that swept dictators and autocratic regimes from power
last year were supposed to have ushered in a new season of democracy.
From Tunisia to Yemen, however, things have gone wrong.
Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest
police confiscating his goods in December 2010, inspiring revolts
across the Arab world. Over the next 14 months, despots fell in
Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt.
Today, demonstrators continue to take to the streets of Tunis to
protest a worsening economic situation.
Transitional governments in Libya and Yemen are struggling, as armed
militia and terrorist groups attempt to seize control.
Egypt held elections that brought the fundamentalist Muslim
Brotherhood to power, along with extremist Islamic violence against
the Christian minority.
The old secular authoritarian rulers, such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt
or Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, manipulated “sectarian and tribal
tensions to consolidate power,” said Fawaz Gerges, director of the
Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
“They leave behind a bitter inheritance which will take tremendous
effort on the part of the transition governments to begin the process
of institution building, dealing with abject poverty that exists and
creating a competitive private sector that doesn’t.”
Tunisia held its first free elections in October 2011, which resulted
in a coalition government led by the conservative Islamist Ennahdha
party that is now charged with drawing up a new constitution and
tackling urgent social and economic concerns of the Tunisian
“You have 50 percent of young Tunisians unemployed, and there are
hardly any institutions,” said Mr. Gerges.
On April 9, police beat up demonstrators and fired tear gas as they
tried to flee, during protests in the capital city of Tunis in honor
of Martyr’s Day, which marks a 1938 incident when French colonial
rulers opened fire on demonstrators calling for a constitution.
Still, analysts say Tunisia is way ahead of other Arab Spring
“They’ve already made great strides in elections and forming a
coalition government,” said Paul Salem, director and senior associate
at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
“Tunisia’s problems in the medium and long term are in economics.
People have a democracy, and that’s fine. But at the end of the day,
a lot of the people who revolted wanted jobs, and it’s hard enough in
Europe to create jobs let alone in Tunisia.
“They don’t have oil like Libya, so they are going to have to make it
through hard work,” he added.
Yemen losing control
The situation is dire in Yemen, which has been in turmoil since
protests began in early 2011. In February, President Ali Abdulah
Saleh formally stepped down after 33 years in power.
Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the former vice president, was the only
candidate in a presidential election in February. He promised
fundamental reforms, but Yeminis are complaining that too many of Mr.
Saleh’s relatives or loyalists remain in the government.
“In Yemen, you have much more a limited transition, if you can even
call it that. It’s more of a maneuver keeping things more or less in
place,” said Mr. Salem.
“But the transition is only part of the story. Whatever happens in
Yemen, they are not going to do well at all because they are
collapsing as an economy and the state itself doesn’t have the
resources to be a fully fledged state.”
Analysts say the government has lost control over many regions of the
country, allowing resurgent terrorist groups such as al Qaeda to make
“That’s been the biggest problem, and all the factional fighting in
Sanaa means there have been no serious attempts to deal with the
militants in the south,” Leonie Northedge, a researcher on Yemen at
the London-based think tank Chatham House.
“It’s going to be a very long progress, but there has been a
political opening and a chance for change.”
Egypt held parliamentary elections in November, and parties aligned
with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood won nearly half of the 498
seats in the legislature.
Libyans still fighting
Meanwhile, in Libya militias continue to fight each other, while the
Transitional National Council rushes to hold elections following the
death of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi in October.
“What you have is an institutional wasteland, and now you have
regions and tribes and militias who are fighting among themselves for
the social, economic and military spoils war of all against all,”
said Mr. Gerges.
“In contrast to Tunisia and Egypt, the process of state building will
be very risky and prolonged. Unless the new ruling elite succeeds in
creating a centralized authority, my fear is that it can easily
spiral out of control and descend into chaos. The Libyan situation is
much more volatile and severe.”
Analysts argue that the challenge for Libya is setting up a stable
“Their major problem now is that the country is in the hands of armed
rebels and armed groups,” said Mr. Salem.
“Generally, they are well intentioned. They waged the revolution and
are protecting their neighborhood towns and cities. But these are
armed militias nonetheless, and they get into fights, and it’s not
the best way to guarantee security.
“But I think Libya will succeed,” he added. “Generally the Libyans
share a wide measure of consensus about what they want; and while
there are some tribal and regional differences, they are not major or
With all the turmoil, and deep local dissatisfaction since the
revolutions, analysts say it will take time for the Arab world to
“There is a great deal of dust, and the challenge for all of us is
not to be blinded by the dust,” said Mr. Gerges.
“It is going to take a long time for the dust to settle. A new world
is being born before our eyes.” (© 2012 The Washington Times, LLC.
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY