In order for us to be realistic, we must describe the Arab revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria as “takeaway” revolutions; they are like fast foods that do not satisfy the hunger because they have not gone through the normal preparation and development. Real meals go through five or more courses, as well as the time required to prepare them. However, the Arab revolutions represent an unnourishing meal packaged in a flimsy plastic box, eaten by people to fill their stomachs, either for economic reasons, urgency or because they are unwilling to prepare a complete meal, pay for it, or even wait for it to be ready.
The historical problem of the Arabs is that they are always in a hurry; they get excited for something, but won’t wait to follow it through and complete it; they stop half way. This is the opposite of patient people, such as the Japanese or the Iranians. While Iranian carpet weavers spend years weaving beautifully detailed and intricate Ajami carpets, we find that Arabs abandon things they have started just a day ago due to their lack of patience.
It is very clear that this bad Arab habit has impacted negatively on the Arab Spring revolutions. The people who rose up believed that the revolutions could start and end with the press of a button, just like fast food. The Tunisians believed that they completed their revolution in four weeks; the Egyptians believed that the revolution ended after 18 days; the Yemenis after a few months; and Libyans believed that their revolution was over after eliminating Gaddafi. Meanwhile, the Syrians believe that their revolution will be over once Bashar Al-Assad is overthrown.
We have learnt from history that revolutions are not like fast food meals; they are large transformations on every level and they do not end, nor are the goals achieved, merely with the overthrow or fall of the regime. The French Revolution lasted decades and all the leaders and kings in Europe conspired against it. However, it succeeded eventually, not only in changing the face of France, but also the face of Europe.
In stark contrast, we have seen how the Arab rebels have moved aside during some of the “takeaway” revolutions and let the deep state re-arrange its affairs and come back with a new, stronger and fiercer legitimacy. This is the case in Egypt, where the old regime has returned with new faces that are even more tyrannical, dominant and oppressive.
Where are the youth of the Egyptian revolution who filled the world with their voices and took centre stage for a few weeks? They have vanished completely because they believed that the revolution achieved its goals in 18 days. They did not understand that the revolutionary road is long and requires follow-up and fierce struggle in the face of the deep roots of tyranny which have established itself for decades in all aspects and branches of the state.
Even in Tunisia, according to Samir Hamdi, “Fouad Mebazaa, President of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s Chamber of Deputies remained a source of legitimacy throughout the transitional period, giving the counter-revolution forces the chance to rebuild and restructure themselves in a manner that, in a short period of time, gave them strength they have never dreamed of. At the same time, the revolutionary forces entered a state of partisan conflict and a fight over an authority that has not been saved from the grips of the deep state.”
The Tunisian rebels have also forgotten that if you allow the former regime to compete with you for power, it will win because it knows the ins and outs of the authority much better than you do due to its long experience in politics and domination. This is exactly what happened; instead of building a new state in the long run, the Tunisian rebels agreed to share authority with the remnants of the overthrown regime, which led to their strong return with new and even more dangerous faces because this time the strength of these faces comes from real ballot boxes.
On the other hand, the Yemeni model provided a safe exit for the former president, while his family and supporters remained active in the political scene, hindering the reform process. They draw strength from regional allies that do not want the Yemeni revolution to meet the aspirations of the people, including freedom, dignity and justice. This was then followed by the use of political sectarianism in its worst form; they went against all agreements and pushed the country into chaos and violence. The Yemeni rebels wanted to have their meal before it was ready, so it landed in their bellies anything but smoothly.
In Libya, instead of the revolution continuing to clean up the arena and building a new state, the rebels were also hasty and so the process turned into a storm on the Libyan people. In addition to this, the remnants of the fallen regime, despite their weakness, were able to rebuild their ranks with the help of foreign supporters and they struck back with a counter-revolution led by Major-General Haftar and his partners. The Libyan rebels, just like all the rest of the Arab rebels, did not cook their revolutions on low heat nor give them enough time in the preparation.
The situation is even worse in Syria, where the rebel groups are dividing up the bearskin before the bear is shot, as the Russian proverb goes. This has allowed the fascist regime to survive for years.
I am not saying this to discourage rebels and revolutionaries. Every revolution has several setbacks, not just one, as we should have learnt from history. The countries that have experienced the revolutions must consider the Arab Spring to be a “preview” or rehearsal for future uprisings; they are inevitable. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no going back. The next generation will be even fiercer, more motivated, stronger and even more determined than the current generation of revolutionaries after they have seen what has happened to the youth of today. No one will be able to crush the next generation no matter what they do and in spite of all the plots and conspiracies against them.
The counter-revolutions are merely a passing phase and the torrent will be stronger than ever; stronger than the revolution sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia. The coming revolutions will not be “junk food” revolutions; they will be complete meals. There is no doubt that it will be a difficult, painful and perhaps long process, but it will bear fruit with a new nation, new communities and new people. Only time will tell when this will happen.
Translated from Al-Sharq newspaper, 23 November, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.