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Opinion: Echoes of the Arab Spring | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Egyptian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by riot police during clashes in Cairo, on March 8, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD KHALED

Finally, the death of the Arab Spring was declared by the same voices that announced its birth two years ago. US writer Thomas Friedman consistently praised what he referred to as the “spring,” the “awakening,” or the “revolution.”

He welcomed the upheaval that took place in several Arab countries since it supported his long-held views on globalization, and its impact on the transferal of revolutionary experiences to peoples and nations. It also confirmed the role of new technologies in linking different countries, as well as uniting different social echelons within the same state.

In one sense, the Arab Spring was an idealistic and pure series of events, but alternatively, it was an inevitable duty. Friedman is not just a writer who offers facts and analyses; he has a theory on global transformation.

In his last article in the New York Times, Friedman said that he was wrong about the blossoming spring and awakening in the Arab world that followed a lengthy state of lethargy. It was not, he wrote, similar to the Prague Spring that took place in 1968. Nor was it like the Spring that swept Eastern Europe in the 1990s, and other nations across the world where new generations have come to power—bringing with them both democracy and capitalism. Instead, what happened in the Arab world is rather similar to what happened in Europe in the seventeenth century when the Thirty Years’ War erupted.

In short, the new Arabs were regressing. This was demonstrated by religious and sectarian conflict, intolerance of others opinions, the persecution of women and minorities, and suspicion of any faction that does not belong to the existing system.

It might be too early to reach a conclusion, since we are still in the middle of the story. All that we have at the moment is a series of interactions that can be compared to nineteenth century Europe following the French Revolution, which likewise did not fulfill the objectives it had set out to achieve at its inception. It too gave way to chaos and vengeance, allowed demagogy to replace progress and development, and saw the elimination of freedom at the hands of the Napoleonic phenomenon. In short, there was no model to emulate or example to follow.

In the United States, where a revolution also took place, George Washington had to issue a law that allowed the imprisonment of everyone who promoted the ideologies of the French Revolution. Shortly after, the French Revolution collapsed, Napoleon was defeated, and France became the weakest state in Europe—conceivably remaining so until Charles de Gaulle came to power in 1958 and managed to restore France’s position.

But the ideas and slogans of the French Revolution invited different reactions across Europe, which have perhaps been echoed in the Arab world. The revolution divided Europe into two camps: France, and the Concert of Europe. The latter reflected the 1815 Vienna Conference that included Britain, Austria, Russia and Prussia, who established a European system that lasted until 1914 when the First World War erupted.

This camp was said to have maintained the balance of power in Europe. However, it’s most important feature was the fact that its members, while being conservative, were determined to create change, especially concerning rights and duties, citizenship, rights for minorities, and the establishment of social standards in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Rejecting the uncivilized approach of the French Revolution did not mean overlooking the principles it had originally called for, or resisting the change that was necessary to cope with the demographic and economic transformations that were taking place at the time.

Something similar to that is happening in the Arab world, which is now divided into revolutionary countries whose economic, political, and intellectual reality has deviated from the romantic course of the Arab Spring, on the one hand, and monarchies that have embarked on a path of cautious change, on the other. With regards to the latter group, change took the form of constitutional modifications that restricted the powers available to the head of state, and gave more leverage to other echelons of society—especially women and minorities—in addition to economic reform. This might not suffice, but what happened in Arab Spring countries, whose citizens have started losing their enthusiasm for the revolutions of 2011, makes any comparison between the two groups favor the non-revolutionary countries.

In fact, nothing remains of the Spring except the Syrian revolution, and toppling Bashar Al-Assad’s regime—one of the most fascistic in the region—would prove to be its greatest achievement. It is not certain, however, whether this revolution will lead to a democratic, civil state that respects minorities. The problem is no longer dealing with Muslim Brotherhood and making sure they will respect democracy, but rather the role being played by Al-Qaeda, which forebodes a disaster not only in Syria but across the entire Levant.

History will have issued its verdict on all the tyrants of the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and the Ba’athist Party. But if Al-Qaeda is the alternative, an Arab entity modeled after the Concert of Europe should be established to deal with this dilemma, which directly compromises the security of the region. Otherwise, there will be no other way out.