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The Arab Spring Failed But Rage Against Misery and Injustice Continues
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Ten years ago, people across the Middle East and North Africa rose up in protest against their rulers, demanding freedom and democracy. Despotic rulers were toppled or feared that power was being torn from their grasp in countries across the region, as millions of demonstrators surged through the streets, chanting that “the people demand the fall of the regime”.

There was nothing phoney about this mass yearning for liberty and social justice. Vast numbers of disenfranchised people briefly believed that they could overthrow dictatorships, both republican and monarchical. “We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery,” recited the 20-year-old poet Ayat al-Gormezi, speaking to thousands of cheering protesters in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. “We are the people who will destroy the foundations of injustice.”

But these foundations were stronger than she hoped and the dream of a better tomorrow expressed by herself and millions during the Arab Spring in 2011 was to be brutally dispelled as the old regimes counter-attacked. Crueller and more repressive than ever, they reasserted themselves, or where they had fallen, they were replaced by chaotic violence and foreign military intervention.

Out of the six countries where the Arab Spring had the greatest impact, three – Libya, Syria and Yemen – are still being ripped apart by endless civil wars. In two of them – Egypt and Bahrain – state violence and suppression are far worse than in the past. Only Tunisia, where the protests began after a street vendor burnt himself to death, has so far escaped tyranny or anarchy, though the uprising has largely failed to deliver a better life for its people.

In Bahrain, the democratic protests started on 14 February and were centred on the Pearl Roundabout in the centre of Manama. They lasted a month before they were savagely crushed by the Bahraini security forces backed by 1,500 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Ayat, a trainee teacher, was arrested, imprisoned, beaten with an electric cable, and threatened with sexual assault and rape, and was only released after an international outcry.

Others in Bahrain suffered far worse and some died under torture according to an international commission of inquiry. Doctors in a hospital that had treated injured protesters were a special target of interrogators from the Bahraini security services. “It was bizarre,” said one consultant who had been badly beaten over four days. “They wanted to prove all the violence came from the protesters or the hospital.” They demanded that he confess that blood from the hospital’s blood bank had been thrown over injured protesters in order to exaggerate their injuries. They also claimed that a sophisticated piece of medical equipment was in fact a secret device for receiving orders from Iran.

Much the same backlash was happening across the Middle East and North Africa, as rulers used mass imprisonment, routine torture and summary executions to crush dissent. Repression not only affected places where the Arab Spring had been at its peak, but spread throughout the region, which is home to 600 million people, as frightened rulers sought to stamp out the slightest hint of dissent in case it could become a threat to their regimes.

Could the Arab Spring have ever succeeded against such odds? The question is highly relevant today because oppression by regimes, aptly described as “looting machines” on behalf of a tiny elite, is no less than it was in 2011. Even more people now live crammed into houses with raw sewage running down the middle of the street outside while their rulers loll on yachts anchored offshore.

But anger and hatred was not enough 10 years ago and it will not be enough in future. I sympathised strongly with the protesters then, though I never gave much hope for their chances of permanent success.

They had initially the advantage of surprise, massive popular support and governments that were baffled by unprecedented events. But none of the kleptocratic powers-that-be intended to give up without a fight. They soon recovered their nerve and struck back with unrestrained violence.

Egypt, with a population of 90 million and a powerful cultural influence on the region, was the crucial test case. For 18 days, the secular and Islamist opponents of President Hosni Mubarak fought side by side in Tahrir Square in a successful bid to end his 29 years in power. When he finally departed, they appeared to have won a great victory, but it was more incomplete than it looked because the revolutionaries failed to gain control of the Egyptian security forces or the state-controlled television and press, which went on smearing the protesters as sexual degenerates and the agents of foreign powers.

Astonished by their own unexpected success, the protest leaders did not know how to consolidate their gains and prevent the return of an old regime that had been shaken but was far from defeated.

It is too easy to retrospectively blame the leaders of the protests for not acting like experienced revolutionaries determined to grasp the levers of power when that leadership, in so far as it existed, had no such background. Their lack of such a revolutionary track record was why the omnipresent secret police of the region had not taken them seriously enough. Sadly, this is not a mistake that those secret police are likely to make in future.

Some protesters, and many foreign diplomats, argued that they should have sought compromise with the existing elites, but that was easier said than done since the latter had no intention of sharing power with anybody.

ORDER IT NOW

When street protesters looked for leadership and organisation, the only place they could find it was among Islamists, as with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or among the Islamists and jihadis in Libya and Syria. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad probably deliberately militarised the crisis in 2011 so that his own ruling Alawite sect and other religious and ethnic minorities would feel, with good reason, that they were facing an existential threat from a Sunni jihadi uprising. In Yemen, the Houthis, a Shia sect that had fought the government for years, took advantage of the protest movement to seize the capital Sana’a, which they still hold.

Foreign powers cynically intervened on behalf of their local proxies and their own selfish national interests, usually helping to tip the balance towards autocracy. I always thought it absurd to imagine that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, the last absolute monarchies on the planet, would want to spread democracy and freedom of expression among their neighbours.

Was hope of progress towards political freedom a mirage 10 years ago and is it a mirage today? Protests, as widespread and prolonged as anything seen in the Arab Spring, erupted in Iraq and Lebanon in 2019 and are continuing. Political Islam has largely discredited itself because its protagonists have turned out to be as corrupt, violent and incompetent as their opponents.

Overall, the greatest force for revolutionary change in this vast war-ravaged and misruled region is that the humiliation, misery and injustice that Ayat denounced 10 years ago is even greater today – and so is the rage they inspire.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. The population of Egypt is 104,258,327 a 1.88% increase on the 2020 figure, IMO this is the main cause of the countries problems, when Egyptians got free and fair elections they voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, there are so many people in Egypt they are actually running out of water

    The Arab spring in Syria was an (((Islamist))) uprising backed by Israel to undermine Iran and Hezbollah

    What will happen in the region, who knows, I predict more of the same

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  2. TGD says:

    Do not worry about the poor Arab masses. Joe Biden will bring them over to the USA because Pope Francis tells Catholics that it is their sacred duty to care for immigrants, refugees and the destitute of the world.

    http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20190527_world-migrants-day-2019.html

  3. raga10 says:

    Unfortunately their response of choice to all that misery and injustice is not to fight for improvement but simply to move to greener pastures – decision that is understandable on personal level, but disastrous on the whole.

    (there was a survey a while ago that found that over 40% of young people in the Middle East wanted to emigrate)

  4. @(((They))) Live

    The population of Egypt is 104,258,327 a 1.88% increase on the 2020 figure, IMO this is the main cause of the countries problems, when Egyptians got free and fair elections they voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, there are so many people in Egypt they are actually running out of water

    In 1977, there were a mere 42 million of them. The population has increased 2.5X in a little over 40 years. Only a very small area can support arable agriculture. Without imported food, they couldn’t feed themselves.

    The Arab spring in Syria was an (((Islamist))) uprising backed by Israel to undermine Iran and Hezbollah

    Likewise, Syria banned contraception. The population doubled in a little over 20 years and severe pressure was put on scarce water resources. The Islamist Revolt was backed not only by Israel, but Saudi Arabia, America and above all Turkey – the last two are still in Syria. Without the disastrous demographic policies of the Assads, any foreign interventions would have been much more difficult to achieve.

    These countries are ultimately the cause of their own problems. Only they can solve them. It is in the West’s interests to stay out of the Middle East and prevent these states exporting their excess populations to us. But of course ((( They ))) don’t want that. ((( They ))) want us to make the Middle East safe for ((( Them ))), regardless of the consequences for us.

  5. The absurd reality is that even now quite sane Americans have the *missionary spirit* and feel that the U.S.A. can bring peace, enlightenment and justice to the entire Middle East despite years of bitter and very costly experience to the contrary. The U.S. Marines landed in Lebanon in the 1950s yet failed to confer lasting peace on that tiny country. A later intervention under Reagan proved a tragic and bloody fiasco.

    I ran away from Tripoli in mid-2014, at the time when Libya Dawn forces were advancing on the city. Does the U.S.A. under Biden have a Libya Policy? Nobody seems really sure but the U.A.E., a semi-ally of the U.S.A. does, actively intervening in Libya since 2011 and qualifying as one of the few countries to have committed war atrocities by drone strike.

    Those interested in what is going on in Libya can check out the *Libya Herald* website and keep abreast on current news by watching the very partisan channel Al Jazeera

    [NB: Al Jazeera is bankrolled by the Qatari ruling clan and is therefore no more “neutral” than Press TV or Russia Today.]

  6. How will we EVER get real change on this planet?
    At this point, the only means I can see is that Elites, by one way or another, fuck things up so badly that there will be some “space” afterwards to refashion things in the interests of average people.
    And, yes, it’s not a plan, it’s…. I don’t know, a desperate gamble???

  7. TG says:

    Kudos to those who note the demographic pressures underlying this misery! It’s about time!

    But in terms of blame: yes, blame the governments of these countries for forcing population growth, and yes, blame an ethic that holds that people should breed like rodents and show now restraint in how many children they have (‘strong family values’).

    But I think much of the blame does lie with the West, but with those corrupt journalists and academic whores who have been insisting and demanding that more people are always better in all circumstances, and when this is proven to be disastrous, censor all mention of these policies and of their sordid consequences.

    There is no free choice without knowledge of the consequences. The masses of Egypt and Syria etc. have been told over and over by all these fake-Nobel-prize-in-economics grantees that population pressure has nothing at all to do with their misery, and indeed, is actually helping! (It’s a ‘demographic bonus’ and ‘affordable labor costs’). How then can we criticize?

  8. roonaldo says:

    Ever one for equitable exchanges and diplomatic initiatives, I propose that for every refugee the West accepts from a Mideast country the West exchanges one of its own citizens–starting with those who, out of the bottomless goodness of their hearts, were most responsible for conceiving and implementing their country’s Arab Spring shenanigans.

    For a test run, let’s pick a country, say, Libya. Then we need a catchy title…hmm, how about “Arab Spring Fling,” and send notices to thinktankers, politicians, CIA bureaucrats, military brass, EU connivers, and media sycophants that they’ll soon embark on a “Spring Fling Funfest” excursion-of-a-lifetime to a surprise location in Libya.

    Imagine her shock, awe, and delight when Hillary camel-rides into Tripoli for a ticker tape parade in her honor–she came, she saw, she cackled!

  9. Ten years ago, people across the Middle East and North Africa rose up in protest against their rulers, demanding freedom and democracy. Despotic rulers were toppled or feared that power was being torn from their grasp in countries across the region, as millions of demonstrators surged through the streets, chanting that “the people demand the fall of the regime”… Out of the six countries where the Arab Spring had the greatest impact, three – Libya, Syria and Yemen – are still being ripped apart by endless civil wars.

    This is common fake news. Note that none of the American/Israeli allied dictators were overthrown, just those on the regime change hit list. Explain why the USA imposed economic embargoes and conducted thousands of airstrike to destroy these nations.

  10. Al Ross says:

    Arabs in misery ? What do they expect ? Bed Made . Keep Lying.

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