Saturday 20 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Frobisher 4-6
At the beginning of last year, it seemed the people of the Arab world were finally throwing off decades of despotism. Leaders fell, first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, and people took to the streets elsewhere, from Bahrain to Syria. One newspaper editorial announced, ‘Something remarkable is happening, or rather, still happening: The “Arab Spring” — the uprising of pro-democracy, anti-dictator movements driven largely by young people across the Middle East — is surging along, country by country, intensifying rather than fizzling.’ The enthusiasm was widespread. This, many commentators proclaimed, was the ‘Berlin Wall moment’ for the Middle East. Another remarked confidently that ‘Arabs now have a shared, unstoppable drive for freedom’.
But what has happened since? Has the Arab Spring lived up to its perceived promise? It certainly doesn’t look that way. In Egypt, the military still wields considerable power, despite recent elections; in Tunisia, a similar stalemate prevails. Elsewhere the picture looks grimmer still. Syria is in the grip of an intractable civil conflict, in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia dissent has been effectively repressed, and in Libya the fall of Gaddafi has led not to a bright democratic future but to fragmentation and instability. And for some commentators the prevalence now of the Muslim Brotherhood as a major regional political force signifies not a spring, but ‘a winter of Islamic jihad’.
But what does the current situation in the Middle East actually mean? Does it suggest that the Arab world is still not ready for democracy proper? That nations like Syria, Libya, Egypt even, still need Western tutelage? There are certainly those who suggest political immaturity and democratic inexperience explain the Arab Spring’s stalling. But do such views rest on a misinterpretation of Arab Spring itself? Did the one-time cheerleaders, now voicing their disappointment at the diverse directions of the various uprisings, misinterpret the uprisings in the first place? Was what looked like the eruption of people power actually driven by the falling apart of the old order? And is what we’re seeing now not so much the stalling of change than various ruling elites looking to stem the unravelling? And what of the people themselves? Do the present difficulties indicate that Syrians or Libyans or Bahrainis are incapable of realising political and social change without Western help?
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programme leader, MA Education, Greenwich University; fellow, The Muslim Institute
writer and broadcaster; author, Standing for Something: life in the awkward squad
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture
associate fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House
Dr Tara McCormack
lecturer in international politics, University of Leicester; author, Critique, Security and Power: the political limits to emancipatory approaches
The shocking attack on the US consulate in Benghazi late on Tuesday that left four Americans dead abruptly revealed the fragility of America’s position in the post “Arab Spring” Middle EastKarl Sharro, Al-Akhbar, 13 September 2012
The uprisings have raised great economic expectations on the part of the majority of Tunisians and Egyptians.Joseph Massad, Aljazeera, 29 August 2012
Sooner or later some combination of the opposition groups will indeed control Syria. And when they do, their memories of who did what during the struggle to achieve a democratic Syria are going to matter far more to the US and Europe than policy makers presently calculate.Anne-Marie Slaughter, Financial Times, 31 July 2012
It is ludicrous to wait for the Syrian opposition overseas to unite under the banner of the Syrian National Council. Instead it is through the local co-ordinating committees of activists and the revolutionary councils in towns across the country that western powers need to advance, and justify, a more robust strategy.Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, 5 June 2012
Left alone, could the crisis in Syria develop into a conflict that could destabilise the entire Middle East? But what would be the costs of a military intervention? Could it make things even worse for Syria?Economist, 21 February 2012
Events in Syria suggest that nobody has the authority to resolve the Arab crisis – not the US, not the regimes, and sadly not the rebels either.Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 8 August 2011