Aside from its rich culture and history, the Middle East or the Arab region is also known for its complex political regimes and cultures that is often seen as a religious conformist system that differs from the widely practiced democratic Western system. These Arab regimes are also known for practicing autocratic rule, which is often criticized by the globe for its oppressive rule and the lack of concern to people’s rights and needs. Decades of struggle and continuous conflict marred the region, leaving many helpless against these powerful regimes. However, as the international community remained powerless over these autocratic leaderships, the public did not allow these governments to hold on to power and ushered the ‘Arab Spring’. The revolutions brought by the Arab Spring had triggered the public to protest against their oppressive local governments, enticing the introduction of democracy and freedom for the people.
Dissent within the Arab World, known as the largest religious conformist region according to Gelvin (2012) had already been visible even before the Arab Spring in 2010. In the report of the Regional Bureau for Arab States of the United Nations Development Programme in 2000, it stated that the various sects within the Arab region had caused several complications in the region that fosters dissatisfaction from the public. According to the report, the region is now experiencing a severe lag on political improvement and social cause that hinders human development and decline. It is discovered that the region lacks quality public services and civil liberties for its people, while the government remained powerful to change the overall social environment of the region. Term-limits were extended in several countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, restricted further by the lack of political parties that represents the region. The report had also indicated that some nations hold a high regard for human welfare, while almost 91% of other Arab nations are marked due to their low standards of human welfare. It is said that aside from the religious inclinations of the Arab leaders and the oil producing capability of the Arabs, the authoritarian rule in the region is due to the American foreign policy. With America believing that these regimes could bring economic development, they will support even the most ruthless autocrats to gain support on American initiatives .
While there are several attempts to fight against the oppressive governments, the uprisings were not as successful due to the overall control of the government to law-enforcement facilities and to the military. However, in addition to the already present problems in the region, Dalacoura (2012) cited that a much powerful uprising had been triggered by the protest of Tunisian street vendor Muhammad Buazizi in the city of Sidi Bouzid on December 12, 2010 through self-immolation. Buazizi had been harassed and humiliated by a municipal official and her aides, threatening to take away his wares in the process. His protest had triggered demonstrations around the country, calling for the end of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime that started in 1989. At first, these demonstrations had been left alone by the Tunisian government, however, with the help of the country’s Union Generale des Travailleurs Tunisiens and several professional associations, the public immediately mobilized against the government. The police had tried to repress the public movements, but had not been able to hold its position and declared in January 10, 2011 that it would not act against the protesters. Ben Ali had led three days later to Saudi Arabia and ushered the creation of a national unity government.
However, the conflict in Tunisia did not end despite the ousting of Ben Ali as the opposition, led by Prime Minister Muhammad Ghannouchi had protested against the new government. Ghannouchi had been one of the ring leaders in the old regime and he was forced to resign on February 27, 2011. By April 5, Tunisia created a council that would discuss the political reform of the country, especially the standards of the transition process. The public had been the ones to select the leaders of the transition process, which included members of the political and social sectors not including the extremists. On July 4, Ben Ali was convicted while he is on exile for numerous criminal offences. The transition had successfully held on the elections on October 23, establishing the Constituent Assembly that would work on revising the constitution. The leading party in the elections, the Islamist al-Nahda- which was originally banned by the Ben Ali regime- created the coalition government with Hamadi Jebali, a known political prisoner in Tunisia.
The Tunisian uprising had immediately caused a domino effect throughout the Arab region and some regions in North Africa, beginning in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak’s regime had been very unpopular in Egypt due to his incapacity in regulating the Muslim Brotherhood, introducing democracy and to stop his continuous conversion of land and businesses to only a few cronies. On January 25, the civil society groups of almost 20,000 participants called through social media had marched to Cairo and across the country against Mubarak’s regime. Mubarak had tried to stop the protests by announcing on January 29 that he is going to revise the government, putting Omar Suleiman as the vice president. However, the public did not stop from their protests and wanted Mubarak to resign completely. Mubarak had launched a counter-demonstration scheme to stop the protests from disabling the country completely. He had announced on February 1 that he would not contest the September elections, but the public were still in Tahrir Square to call for wildcat strikes to force Mubarak out of office. On February 10, Mubarak had admitted he is losing power; having the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (only convened in wartime Egypt in 1967 and 1973) declare the people’s legitimate demands for transition. The next day, Mubarak resigned from office and the military took over the transition process, putting Mubarak and his people on trial after six month. The Egyptian transition committee tackled constitutional amendments that allowed Mubarak and his predecessors to stay long in office, as well as election policy changes. A referendum was held on March 19 and the committee had set the parliamentary and presidential elections to take place on November 2011 and March 2012 for the constitution to be rewritten by the newly voted officials.
After Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan government had also found itself contending against a motivated public determined to overthrow Muammar Qadhafi out of Libya. Not long after Mubarak’s removal from office, protests had broken out in Benghazi and spread throughout Libya towards its capital Tripoli. The rebellion was supported by the National Transition Council and while the UN Security Council had intervened through the NATO on March, the Libyan uprising continued to fight against the pro-regime loyalists that tried to sustain their power. By September 2011, the civil war in the country had killed thousands and had ended when Qadhafi had been killed on October 20, 2011 that enabled the transition to begin. Bahrain had also joined in the bandwagon as the country’s Sunni monarchy had long been at odds with the Shi’i majority, triggering protests on February 14. The protesters stormed Manama’s Pearl Sqaure, facing off with the police and they called for an establishment of a republic. King Hamad had requested the Gulf Cooperation Council to intervene in the conflict on March 14, declaring a state of emergency in the process to suppress the protests.
Yemeni demonstrations had been triggered by Ben Ali’s ouster on January 14, demanding for President Ali Saleh’s removal from office. When Mubarak had been removed, protests continued to grow which was led by the youth and civil society activists. Acting separately from the younger activists, the Joint Meeting of Parties that includes Islamist Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party also led for political reform and the removal of Saleh from office. The JMP supported the youth protestors on their radical demands, but they were more open over the changes to be discussed with the regimes. On March 18, 60 protestors had been killed by the regime-supported snipers, causing many Yemenis to back out from the protests. Saleh had also used repression and economic enticement schemes to cling to power. However, he was injured in an attack on June 3, leading him to fly out to Saudi Arabia. However, he returned back to Yemen on September 23 to agree with concessions that he would relinquish his power. Finally, Syria is also a notable case under the Arab Spring revolts, which began on March in the city of Deraa. The uprisings were mostly concentrated to remove Bashar al-Assad from office, who used vicious means to repress protests. The concession offered by Bashar’s regime were too little and his means to suppress protests were violent at best. The protests continue to escalate in Syria with estimated casualties reaching to 5,000 by December 2011 and is expected to increase unless a compromise is met .
The international community had varying reactions when it came to the revolts that are under the banner of the ‘Arab Spring’. Dadush and Dunne (2011) stated that the response of both Europe and US to the revolutions had been supportive over the protestors as they believe that the authoritarian leaders overthrown by these revolutions would now open possibilities for democracy to prosper. The US had only provided partial relief in the region due to the continuous problems affecting the West such as the September 11 attacks and even the economic issues affecting the US. The G8 countries – comprised by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union - had pledged to give $20 billion assistance aid for the Arab countries now undergoing transition in 2011. The other assistance packages offered by the Europeans and the Americans had also been distributed to try meeting with the region’s economic situation. President Obama had announced on May 19, 2011 that the US assistance scheme would be mostly concentrating on establishing financial stability and reform so that the transitioning country could easily fit in the global market. Obama had also given a $1 billion aid to Egypt. The Export-Import Bank of the US had also released $80 million to support the reconstruction process in Egypt while the Overseas Private Investment Corporation extended its aid to other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. USAID had also aided the rehabilitation process in Tunisia and the other Arab nations given the continuous uprisings still ongoing in the region.
Europe, on the other hand, had also extended their own programs for aid and development. Through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the region has stated its intention to invest $3.5 billion yearly, opening further opportunities for loans and economic development. The European Union had also raised up $1.75 billion for development aid to expand their European Neighborhood Policy to include the Arab nations to the aid. The European Investment Bank had also stated its intentions to expand its activities to include the transitioning Arab nations in the process. Individually, the United Kingdom had announced that it would release $180 million assistance benefit for Egypt, Tunisia and the other Arab nations that had called for reform. Germany had also stated that it would cancel the Egyptian debt to aid its development, amounting to $350 million. France had also raised funds of over $260 million to open loan programs in Tunisia for its economic recovery. The Gulf States had also released funds to aid the transitioning nations. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have pledged an $18 billion aid assistance pack to support Egypt and Tunisia. While experts see the intentions of the Gulf States in aiding their fellow Arab nations had political intentions, it is argued that the Gulf States are aiding the region to ensure legitimacy in the region and to prosper democracy in the region .
As the Arab nations are slowly undergoing transition (or in some cases, continuously fighting for reform), the impact it has on the region is seen on its political, economic and social standpoint. In the report done by Masetti and Korner (2013), the political consequences of the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Egypt and Yemen had ensured the replacement of its autocratic governments, but the changes had not been smooth due to the changing political environments occurring in the transition. There is a raised concern that Islamist movements would suppress the newly discovered political freedom of the public and force their own ideals of civil rights to the public, especially for women’s rights. In Egypt, for example, the number of parties have increased to 15 parties, with the Muslim Brotherhood enjoying a comfortable control of over 46.4% in the parliament. The Liberals that have paved the way for the Egyptian revolt, had performed poorly in the 2012 elections and only gained a few seats in the parliament. Tunisia had also reported the same results as the leading party, Islamist Ennahda, had formed a coalition with the secular leftist factions. Constitution redrafting is also a concern for these transitioning nations after the Arab Spring revolutions as each outlined a different strategy in creating their constitutions. In Egypt, the drafting process was done hastily to match the elections.
In terms of the economic impact of the Arab Spring, there is a sharp drop in economic growth for the transitioning nations with almost 2.2% growth in 2011 as compared to the 4.2% growth in 2010. With the global economy on a decline, countries like Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Yemen reported a slow economic activity as productions were stopped by the uprisings in the region. Libya, for example, had reported a decrease on oil production in 2011 and resulted to the crash of the Libyan economy. Tourism had also been affected in these regions due to the Arab Spring, especially in regions such as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon. Almost 40% decline was reported in these regions and while the transition had been secured in 2012, there is still a slow recovery in its tourism sector. Unemployment and skills mismatch is also reported in the regions that had been part of the Arab Spring, needed almost 700,000 jobs to be created each year for its 10.7 million young workers . In terms of social impacts, the Arab Spring, according to Paciello (2011), had caused repression to occur in its civil society groups and the transitioning governments are now utilizing their power to stop new organizations from developing and stopped funds from going to these organizations. There is also the fact that organizations are now being undermined by ideological fragmentation, and there is also a restricted voice for the women and the youth. Despite this, the Arab Spring had brought in awareness for the public on issues such as human rights and political freedom .
Today, the Arab world remains under a slow recovery process due to the revolts sprung by the Arab Spring in the region. There are still countries that are still under civil war such as in Syria, while transition is still in progress such as in Tunisia and Libya. The uprisings had enabled awareness to ensue, not just for the international community but also for the public to fight against oppressive governments that had suppressed people’s freedoms and rights. While many have perished for the sake of reform and development, the uprisings had enabled transitions to much open governments to be built despite the concerns that may occur in the transition period. The Arab Spring had ushered hope to millions Arabs and North Africans that would no longer stand idle against governments that threatens their development.
Dadush, Uri and Michele Dunne. "American and European Responses to the Arab Spring: What's the Big Idea?" The Washington Quarterly 34.4 (2011): 131-145. Print.
Dalacoura, Katerina. "The 2011 uprisings in the Arab Middle East: political change and geopolitical implications." International Affairs 88.1 (2012): 63-79. Print.
Gelvin, James. The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Masetti, Oliver and Kevin Korner. Two years of Arab Spring: Where are we now? What's next? Frankfurt: Deutche Bank Research, 2013. Print.
Paciello, Maria Cristina. The Arab Spring: Socio-economic Challenges and Opportunities. Report. Rome: Istituto Affari Internazionali, 2011. Print.