What Is The Future Of The “Arab Spring”?Posted: 6 August 2012
My regular readers know I have special interest in the Middle East and North Africa and now that I am taking a break from the pathetic spectacle that is the 2012 election…I can focus some attention on a subject that appeals to me….and leave the insults, the misinformation and horrendous reporting in the rear view mirror….at least for awhile……
We all know of the Arab Spring, that time when the people have risen up to depose their dictators….some despots and others just friends to the US….it all began with the suicide of a person in Tunisia and went onward from there…..we have seen the Egyptian response….the Libyan, the Yemen (though many are not watching) and finally the horrors of the Syrian opposition to their dictator, Assad…….but with all this protest and civil disobedience….how will it all play out?
On the Arab World and Democracy – The report is optimistic but cautious; a more democratic Arab polity could indeed emerge with the protests clearly demonstrating that Islam and democracy are not incompatible. According to young Muslims “democracy and political participation facilitate the affirmation of national, cultural and religious identities and creativity.” Underlined is the key role of the “social network generation” in pushing forward democratization.
On the Arab World and Social Accountability – The report’s Cairo focus group called for new forms of political participation, including introduction of local level checks and balances mechanisms, and underlined the importance of democratic control over decision-making through channels “other than elected representatives.” As one activist said “It is insufficient to wait for elections every four years to monitor and influence decisions.” Challenges include state controls over the media but this is increasingly balanced by participatory journalism, which uses new technologies and is emerging as an example of social accountability in action.
On Women and Gender Issues – The report states that the percentage of women in European and American parliaments stands at 20 percent – but is double that at 40 percent in the Nordic countries. In Arab countries it is 10 percent, lower than Africa’s 20 percent. However, the report views the revolutions as a likely turning point (despite serious challenges) – “The political participation of women is very likely unstoppable…women are the protagonists of new movements and social changes, and will claim their right to determine the political destiny of their communities, countries and regions.” The new youth organizations, more open and internet and social network-savvy will likely strengthen the political involvement of women over the coming decades.
Identity issues – The Cairo focus group expressed an Arab identity and feeling “even more Egyptian” after the revolution. These well-educated youth had a strong sense of belonging, not “needing an enemy” to unite. Some saw themselves as “netizens”. Moroccan and Egyptian civic activists cited the late Moroccan academic Mohammed Abed al-Jabri who focused on reconciling modernity and the tradition in the Arab and Muslim worlds as having the most influence on them.
The Arab World and Conflict – On the conflict in the Western Sahara, much will depend on the democratization processes in Morocco and Algeria – meaningful dialogue could help resolve this conflict. Current changes in the Arab world may create more favorable conditions for Palestinian reconciliation and increase pressure on Israel to accept a two-state solution. Two factors in particular however could undermine peace: failure of attempts to democratize Syria and Egypt and political developments in Israel and the US favoring those opposed to a peace deal.
Egypt – Its democratic transition could turn it into a Middle East powerhouse. With a projected population of 106 million by 2030, Egypt can benefit from its proximity to Turkey and the European markets. But aside from consolidating democracy, Egypt needs to address poverty, marginalization, and the challenge of the “youth bulge.” If it does so, Egypt could be an ideological and political hub for a new pan-Arab project, replacing nationalism with “democratic patriotism”; this term is not defined in the report, but presumably means a much stronger commitment to democracy than previous nationalist ideologies in the region.
Regional Integration – The report posits the possibility of the region evolving into a “middle power” hub through cooperation between Turkey, Egypt, and Iran and Iraq, assuming the latter two democratize. Such hubs, it argues, could become trans-regional and exert influence beyond the immediate region as they build “a new wave of development partnerships that transcend the rich-poor logic and promote south-south cooperation.”
The problem is that most of the countries experiencing the Arab Spring have very little exposure to democracy…..do not believe anyone that tells you differently……for most it will be the first chance to voice their opinions through their vote.
The Arab Spring should not be viewed as a larger movement than it is…..there is NO one answer fits all….each country will and should progress at its own pace and not be pressured by the West to do anything they are not ready to do.
Unfortunately, the West has had a history of trying to make things happen and not always in the interests of the people of the country….to let organizations like the World Bank and the IMF dictate to these fragile governments is a sure way to stop any and all progress and return the countries back into the hands of oppressive dictators.