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23August2017

The success of the Arab Spring: need for excogitation


When the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests, riots, and civil wars that forced out rulers from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen began in the Arab world on 18 December 2010, the entire world was happy to see democracy taking roots in the Middle East. While not successful in effecting a regime change, civil uprisings that erupted in Bahrain and Turkey, and the major protests that broke out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan have helped to foster reforms. This was termed the “Arab Spring”.

The longest uprising in the Middle East is the civil war in Syria which began in March 2011 and in which about 120,000 people have been killed including women and children and millions displaced. Allegation of the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians nearly brought the US and its allies to military strikes against the government of Bashar al-Assad. There is no doubt that the intervention of international superpowers in the Syrian war would have tilted the war in favour of the oppositions and probably end the war sooner than later with al-Assad out of power. But while the world would be happy to see an end to the Syrian war and probably a regime change in Syria, there is need to review the success or otherwise of the Arab Spring and adjust our expectations in Syria.

 

Mixed results

With the exception of Tunisia, which appears to be in a relatively stable state post-revolution, other countries like Egypt, Libya and Yemen are experiencing chaos and volatility amidst security issues due to militancy and terrorism. Even Afghanistan and Iraq which had regime change over a decade ago face these challenges. Afghanistan faces constant attacks from the Talibans while Iraq is being troubled by home-grown terrorism as the war of supremacy between the ruling Shia Muslims and upstaged Sunni Muslims progresses. Egypt is battling major protests which are sometimes violent and deadly while Libya is in a state of total chaos with embassies of western countries being under regular terrorists’ attacks. The Libyan prime minister was briefly abducted by militants in early October amid constant criticism and threat of sack by the parliament, championed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

While it is accepted that it would take some time before normalcy would return to these countries, the experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, over a decade after the forced regime change is not encouraging. It therefore becomes necessary to rethink the success of the Arab Spring and re-evaluate our expectation of post-war Syria.

 

Assad may have lost the war

Even if President Bashir al-Assad wins the battle, he may have lost the war. A war consists of many battles; both military and non-military. And in a large number of cases, non-military battles determine the winner of the entire war. With the superior firepower and the use of chemical weapons to fight the opposition, al-Assad may win the military battle. However, he may never be able to lead Syria again. There is serious mistrust between the President and the people of Syria. He is killing the same people he is supposed to be protecting as their leader. And civil disobedience can be more successful after a prolonged military battle.

Assad should halt hostilities and embrace dialogue. Even if he has to step down as the President, he will be doing it for his ‘people’.

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