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The harvest of the Arab Spring revolutions

January 25, 2021 at 12:55 pm

An Egyptian man sits watching as others take part in a sit-in at Tahrir Square demanding further reforms in Cairo, on 27 July 2011 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/GettyImages]

The Arab Spring revolutions ended where they began. They set out to fight dictatorships, scored some victories and were then cannibalised by hypocrites.

After news presenters spoke about revolutions using appropriate terminology, they started to say that coup-led regimes faced civil wars and terrorists. Revolutionaries became outlaws involved in acts of violence and chaos. Everyone gave up on advocating freedom for the people and their democratic rights. To save face, the world was satisfied with issuing statements denouncing violence while human rights organisations demanded improved conditions for political prisoners. Western democracies recognised repressive coups and looked at ways to cooperate by hosting them at the same table with the revolutionaries to reach agreements. There were no condolences for the blood that the people had shed, nor for their tears and tortured souls.

In Egypt, the then Minister of Defence staged a coup against the democratically-elected president, turning the once jewel of balance in the region into a gambler drowning in debt ready to give up its possessions in the hope of an unfulfilled gain. Egypt is now governed by a military investment company whose rule is similar to that of Muhammad Ali (ruled 1805-1849), who got rid of all his opponents, exiled the leaders of Al-Azhar University and enlisted the state and its institutions to serve major projects for the benefit of him and his dynasty. When the Islamists were elected to govern Egypt post-revolution, they were accused of implementing a theocratic system, but this did not happen during their year-long rule. However, from the moment that the army took over through the coup, it seized state property and cracked down on the people.

The January 2011 revolutionaries split into four groups: the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, who chose to follow the road to the end; secularists who withdrew to ally themselves with the army after the Brotherhood’s popularity beat theirs; Islamists who failed to take power, so they pretended to support the Brotherhood and destroyed it from within; and the Islamist-secularists who shone like stars on the satellite channels calling for a return to the principles of the revolution before disappearing from the political scene. It should be noted that the Brotherhood announced that the Watan channel was the only one speaking on its behalf.

Take a look at our special page on the Egyptian Arab Spring

The Tunisian revolution ended in failure, when the late Beji Caid Essebsi won the first democratic electoral coup in 2014, a dreamer president who was quickly given a reality check. The Islamist Ennahda Movement won control of the legislative authority and premiership, but stayed away from the presidential election.

The ambition of Egypt’s Islamists to control the government was legitimised by what Ennahda achieved in Tunisia. It is important to clarify that the Islamist groups that worked in politics and were considered part of the Brotherhood due to them following the same political line, did not in fact belong to the parent organisation.

When Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Libya in late 2011, the country seemed to have determined its own fate. However, it has been drained by a civil war and rebel Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s international interventions which have seen him raised to the point of negotiating over the government of the country, despite international recognition of the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj. The revolution ended with the revolutionaries giving in to elections that the deep state’s candidate could win.

In Jordan, meanwhile, “Arab Spring” protests were intended to send a warning to the government about the desire for political reform. They did not develop further, but that did not spare the protesters from state persecution and repression.

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On the other side of the Arab world, King Mohammed VI absorbed the public anger in Morocco by adopting constitutional amendments. These changes responded more or less to public demands instead of confronting the people militarily.

Protests erupted in Algeria against the president running for a fifth term in office. Moreover, the revolutionaries refused to participate in elections that included figures from the old regime. However, the army ignored this and held the elections regardless. Predictably, one of the members of the ousted president’s government was duly “elected”.

The people of Sudan took to the streets in protest at the deteriorating economic and social conditions, and the authorities reacted with violence. The army announced the ouster of President Omar Al-Bashir, and his chief of staff assumed power.

Sudanese women protest in Khartoum, Sudan on September 1, 2020 [Mahmoud Hja/Anadolu Agency]

Sudanese women protest in Khartoum, Sudan on September 1, 2020 [Mahmoud Hja/Anadolu Agency]

Across the Red Sea in Yemen, mass demonstrations took place and ended with President Ali Abdullah Saleh being ousted in February 2012. Under a Gulf initiative, Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi replaced him. The revolution was deliberately derailed and turned into a civil war that the UAE has exploited to occupy the strategically-located Yemeni island of Socotra.

Peaceful protests against injustice and political corruption in Syria were met with force by the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. The situation degenerated into a civil war as regional and international powers intervened, not least to fight against Daesh, which also took advantage of the unrest to try to seize power for itself.

The Assad regime is still stable and arrogant, with Russian and Iranian protection. Those protesting against the government are no longer seen as rebels, but as opponents. The international forces have sat them at a negotiation table with the regime to discuss the country’s constitution and future, with little success.

The Syrian and Yemeni revolutions each turned into a miniature globalised war, with foreign intervention in the name of various “national interests”. In the ongoing confusion and destruction, few of the protagonists care about the dead and wounded, the starvation or the plight of the refugees.

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The emergence of Daesh gave the competing forces a justification to intervene and change the context of the fighting in the region, while acting as proxies for those who want to stay behind the scenes and out of the public eye. Thanks to the extremist group, the revolution in Syria and Iraq’s uprising against the US-led invasion and occupation were turned into civil wars. Daesh inspired the dictatorships in the region to create and fund militias to reap the benefits of promoting the US “war on terror”. Washington cared little for the victims of that “war”; Trump killed Al-Baghdadi just as Obama had killed Bin Laden, and that was that.

The Arab Spring revolutionaries of all nationalities tried to avoid the same fate as Egypt, but reality forced everyone to reach the point where violent or soft coups were almost inevitable. The Egyptian experience was a model for understanding international politics. Egypt’s January Revolution succeeded in removing a government, electing the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council, and approving a popular constitution. It was on the verge of moving forward regionally and internationally, but the military coup would not allow it.

The coup did not indicate the failure of the revolutionaries as much as it indicated the well-established fact that whoever controls the most and biggest weapons generally wins the battle. This is especially true when the fingers on the trigger are backed by massive arsenals elsewhere protecting self-interest rather than human rights.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.