When the young Tunisian man, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself alight in protest against the municipal authorities in Sidi Bouzid confiscating his fruit cart from which he made living in 2010, he did not know that by doing so he would ignite the Arab Spring revolutions that brought down several regimes, burned several countries, and the winds of which are still blowing in the region.
Since that day long ago, there has been much water under the bridge, regimes were overthrown and others changed, countries were fragmented, nations were displaced, and the hopes of millions who took to the streets demanding freedom, dignity and democracy were shattered. However, the Arab Spring did not only bring with it the winds of change, but also opposite winds that turned into counter-revolutions that caused destruction, coups and devastation for several countries.
These counter-revolutions had one major thing in common: the Saudi-Emirati alliance that was sensitive to any shift towards democracy in the region. It dedicated money, weapons and media to crush any hope of liberation from the oppressive and tyrannical regimes that ruled and still rule their nations with an iron fist.
At the beginning of 2013, Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi wrote an article in Saudi Arabia's Al-Hayat newspaper in which he predicted what would come as if he knew that the storm was inevitably coming. The article, titled "The end of the Arab Spring, but there is no going back", predicted that the Arab Spring would come to an end but the revolution would continue. At the end of his article, Khashoggi wrote: "The Arab Spring has ended, but the Arab revolution continues with its anger, rebellions and endless transformations," adding, "The power of history is with freedom and democracy."
It is ironic that Khashoggi ended up being a victim of the idea of freedom and democracy, which he believed would ultimately triumph. He left his country preaching this idea until his tragic end this October, but his blood was not shed in vain, just as Bouazizi's blood was not shed in vain when he ignited the Arab Spring revolutions.
Khashoggi's assassination announces the end of the counter-revolutions, and between the two deaths, or bodies, a new history was written. Khashoggi predicted that freedom and democracy will triumph in the end, and the reactions and responses to his assassination indicate that whatever follows this crime will be no less than the events following the incident in Tunisia in 2010.
The counterparts of the thousands of youths who took to the streets after being shaken by the tragic death of Bouazizi are now protesting in the thousands on social media, which has become an alternative space for protests after the counter-revolutions banned the use of public squares and streets for protests.
The regimes that collapsed in 2011 by the force of the tremors of the revolutions at the time are reeling today in anticipation of the strong storms approaching, the clouds of which are accumulating in the Arab skies.
When ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sensed that the voices of the protesters that filled the streets of Tunisian towns and villages were closing in on him, he found no other way out of this predicament but to escape by the skin of his teeth. The actions of the Saudi leaders today who are involved in the Khashoggi assassination case and those who are protecting them or colluding with them, are a type of symbolic escape from the voice of truth that is suffocating them. It would not be strange if these individuals find themselves isolated and marginalised inside their palaces, along with Ben Ali, who has retreated in his palace for years from the anger of his people. However, these palaces will not protect them from the course of history, which does not show mercy to tyrants, murderers and the corrupt.
This is not just a romantic comparison of what all those who aspire to change in countries that have experienced counter-revolutions want to dream of. It is an attempt to read the force caused by this heinous crime, and its repercussions that continue to occur, bringing about major changes in the structure of the official Arab system because the centre of the earthquake, this time, is the hard core of this system and the strategic depth of the counter-revolutions that aborted the Arab Spring.
Whoever plotted the assassination of Khashoggi, in all its hideous and terrifying details, was seeking to send more than one message, beginning with silencing any opposition or independent voice, intimidate it, and increase the level of fear, which is considered a major tool used by authoritarian regimes, within defeated societies, before declaring its final victory over the Arab Spring revolutions. However, the failure of the crime, the exposure of the perpetrators, the crackdown on its planners, the foolishness of trying to deny it, then trying to be vague and cover it up, looking for explanations and finally justifying it and perhaps later even defending it, all indicate another symbolic major and painful failure. It is the failure of the counter-revolutions and suggests that their end is near.
If we were to alter the title of Khashoggi's article and applied it to today's events and the approach of the end of the counter-revolutions, his prediction would read, "The end of the counter-revolutions, but there is no going back." This is because the upcoming Arab Spring will not be like the one before it, as the nations are learning from their mistakes. Meanwhile, the Arab governments and regimes do not seem to be learning their lesson when they thought that evading the formal reforms they put forward, adopting policies of intimidation and coercion used to silence their people, or even increasing the wages and bribes they offered to buy false stability and protect their authority and corruption, would thwart all hopes for change forever.
Even if there were good intentions in some Arab countries behind these formal reforms, the passage of time has revealed the lack of credibility of many of them. Therefore, there is a desperate need for radical changes and profound reforms, before the outbreak of the second wave of the Arab Spring. The clouds accumulating today over Khashoggi's murder foretells that the storm is imminent and violent.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 24 October 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.