Fate of Arab Spring is key to people's future prospects - Abdullah Al Shayji - March 19, 2012

Source : http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/fate-of-arab-spring-is-key-to-people-s-future-prospects-1.996482

If 2011 was an epic and watershed year in Arab politics, then 2012 is certain to be more eventful. There is no doubt that the regional scene this year will be dominated by the unfolding changes. The pressing question is: Will the Arab Spring deliver promising changes leading the masses to conclude we are better off today than we were before the uprisings broke out? The answer is uncertain because there still are remnants of the old regimes and an ongoing power struggle. Add to that the harsh economic realities.
This uncertainty is chilling. There is a fear that the Arab Spring will run out of steam and turn into a frigid winter. The optimism that accompanied the historical changes witnessed last year is giving way to a more sobering reality this year, even in the countries that deposed their leaders. There is mounting fear that we could have on our hands a lot of change, but with few reforms. There may be trappings of democracy, but with little real democracy and few democrats. Freedom accompanied by a lot of chaos.
Is the 2011-2012 Arab Spring a re-run and repeat of Europe of 1848 or of Europe of 1989-1991? In 1848, the region from France to the Balkans witnessed upheavals and a push for reforms and democracy. As Robert Kaplan opined in a recent piece titled 1848: History's shadow over the Middle East, "The Arab Spring has periodically been compared to the stirrings of 1848. But with the exception of the toppling of the Orleans monarchy in France, the 1848 revolutions ultimately failed. Dynastic governments reasserted themselves."
The major challenge for the 2011-2012 uprising in the Arab republics is whether they will be snuffed out or derailed like what happened in Europe in 1848 or will they resemble the situation in 1989-1990, when Europe evolved and became stronger. There were fundamental and real changes in Eastern Europe, leading to the end of Communism, fragmentation of the Soviet empire and genuine change.
Syria is the most critical test for the future of the Arab Spring as the regime crushes a determined uprising by perpetrating a zero-sum-game strategy, going all the way to remain in power. Will 2012 see an end to this tragic, systemic genocide unfolding before the eyes of the entire world? If the Syrian regime survives then it would have sent out a chilling message: you can put down even a determined uprising by employing excessive force before a wavering international and Arab world. We are all guilty of being false witnesses. Lack of a coherent and united opposition, the failure to carve out a safe haven in Syria, like Benghazi in Libya, and the capital Damascus and the major industrial city Aleppo opting not to join the uprising even after a year, is what keeps the regime resilient and determined to crush the revolt. If it succeeds in doing so, it will probably not end the Syrian revolution, but will deal a major blow to the Arab Spring. And in so doing, it will seal the fate of Arab democracy and reforms and will ultimately lead to sceptics repeating their old patronising words about "Arab exceptionalism" and the "freedom deficit". This could prove that what we went through in 2011 was just an aberration.
The future of the Arab Spring in other Arab republics is not that rosy either. In Tunisia, the new prime minister warns that his country is at the crossroads, with a distinct possibility of reverting to the days of the dictatorship. The ascendance of the Islamists, who won the election, is polarising the mostly liberal and secular society. In Libya, the head of the National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdul Jaleel is warning of civil war and threatening to use force to prevent the disintegration of Libya into autonomous provinces. In Egypt there are many trappings of democracy but few genuine reforms. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will not ease its grip on power even after handing over the reigns to a civilian government.
Bleak reality
In Yemen, which has become a failed state, the stepping down of president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the election of his former deputy Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi as the new president could mean very little. The bleak reality is that Yemen has become the place where Al Qaida and US are slugging it out; its break-up is a possibility. All the Arab Spring republics are at crossroads. The biting economic challenges, the ensuing chaos of emboldened, frustrated and unruly populations in all these states are major challenges for future regimes. How all of this plays out in 2012 will not only determine the fate of the Arab Spring but will also speak volumes about the future of the Arabs and their dreams and aspirations. We all hope this will be like Europe in 1989-1991 and not Europe in 1848.

Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is the Chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/docshayji

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