The leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party Rached Ghannouchi described his disappointment over the fruits of the Arab Spring saying that the region is in a worse state today than it was before the popular uprisings began.
Speaking at the TRT World Forum in Turkey yesterday, Ghannouchi explained: “The Arab world is entering a new era of democratic transition.” He told delegates at the forum, which brought together leading experts, senior decision-makers and influencers from all over the world, that “the situation [in the Arab world] is even sadder than how it was in 2010”.
When you look at Egypt, people are actually missing the era of Mubarak. Revolutionaries feel regret and want to go back to the era of their dictators because they would have greater security.
The official, who was exiled from Tunisia for 22 years and only returned soon after 2011 revolution, commented on the relative success of the Arab Spring in his own country; he said that Tunisia faced “less external pressure than other countries like Egypt and Syria”, which have been gripped by militancy, instability and war for the past six years. He noted that the process of democratisation had been more successful there than in other countries.
Analysts explaining the modest harvest of the Arab Spring have attributed it to a number of factors including the resilience of authoritarian regimes and the deep and complex relation between security forces and political elites.
They have also found a link between wealth and authoritarianism; oil wealth enables rulers to forestall or contain challenges to their authority. Arab monarchies, for example, have deployed their ample resources to blunt popular demand for reform and fend off attempts to unseat them.
The level of freedom available to the people in organising an effective challenge to a regime’s authority, also explains the different outcomes of the Arab Spring. States with little or no oil, such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, generally experienced more freedom according to the Human Freedom Index, than countries with oil, such as Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Saudi Arabia. The Gulf countries regularly score very low in the global freedom index.
Another key factor in a country’s ability to transition from autocracy to democracy is said to be the degree of pluralism amongst the political parties. It determined if compromises were possible. The contrasting fortunes of Egypt and Tunisia, as Ghannouchi pointed out, highlighted this. In Tunisia Islamists won marginally however in Egypt they were the overwhelming majority.
Overwhelming victory and a marginal win shaped the parties’ post-election calculations. It’s thought that non-Islamists and liberals in Tunisia believed they would have a chance in the future to win against a larger monitory whereas in Egypt non-Islamists and liberals had no such hope for the future given the overwhelming victory of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Historians have also echoed Ghannouchi’s description insisting that democratic transition is usually a slow and painful process. Some have concluded that in the foreseeable future, if democracy is to come to countries in the region, it may well be through a process that is far more evolutionary than revolutionary.