One year ago, the term “the so-called Arab Spring” was drawing condemnation, disapproval and even denunciation against all those who utilized it. Today, however, this term appears logical and realistic to many of those who once attacked or condemned others for using it. In fact, it has become increasingly apparent that this expression is worth recalling and deserves praise, even by those who once condemned this, as they previously held great expectations and hopes (each according to his own wishes) regarding the fate of the Arab Spring. It has therefore become clear today that this expression is extremely useful, particularly during the truly exceptional and historical circumstances that we are witnessing.
A variety of common expressions and phrases have been established to express a qualitative transition from one state to another. In science, as is the case with economics, some remarkable discoveries or changes have been termed a “breakthrough”, whilst in politics this is often termed a “revolution”, whether the incident truly matches this expression or not.
Throughout the long course of history, there have been countless different types of revolutions. There have been as many forms or types of revolution as there have been motivations for revolt; this is not to mention the results of revolutions, which do not take a single specific route. What happened in the past applies to what is happening today, and learning the lessons of history is the wisest thing that anybody can do, therefore the ability to predict what is going to happen with regards to any given event is one of the most important weapons in the arsenal of any researchers and intellectuals, regardless of their location or stature.
The French revolution’s eruption and results were influenced by the culture and awareness of the time, whilst the Russian revolution was influenced by the size and organization of the Communist Party which strongly contributed to the revolution’s initial eruption, as well as its results. Despite all this, the world has witnessed important revolutions throughout ancient and modern history that were not widely discussed. Examples of this in ancient Islamic history can be seen in terms of the Kharijite sect and the Zanj rebellions, whilst in modern history we have the Eastern European and Latin American revolutions.
There can be no doubt that the attempts to reach common denominators in terms of describing political and social revolutions is something that deserves our full attention and concern. Yet, some of those who focus on the common denominators are indifferent to the huge number of systematic mistakes they may commit, because they are focusing on their hopes that these revolutions may spread, rather than trying to understand or interpret the revolution itself. Therefore, some people may be pushed by their revolutionary zeal to take practical risks in this regard, however we must stress that when analysis is based on a scientific approach – rather than dreams – this produces the most respectable and commendable scientific results.
Hence, I believe that perceiving the differences between revolutions and attempting to understand each revolution in itself is something that is very precise in terms of reading, description and analyses. This would therefore result in more effective and respectable work for everybody involved in this, whether we are talking about historians, politicians or intellectuals. I say this because the latter route [of basing such analysis on dreams and wishful thinking] involves numerous political, economic and social changes as well as religious, ethnic and sectarian elements. This approach is much boarder than the scientific approach of viewing revolutions, which is far more realistic.
Despite all this, analysing revolutions also depends on the researchers’ starting point, as many of these researchers are doing this in order to understand how these revolutions came about, namely what caused the revolution to occur in the first place and how will it end. Whilst others study revolutions in order to see what things influence or affect the revolution’s course, whereas others study this subject in order to understand how to benefit from revolutions, whether on a personal or organizational basis.
A quick reading of the two routes mentioned above, and an analysis of the so-called Arab Spring states and what has happened there, specifically Egypt, reveals that at the “revolutionary tipping point”, egos are bolstered, groups are inflamed and the people join together to fulfil one common clear objective. However, once this is achieved, disagreements and differences emerge, and each party becomes absolutely certain of the reliability and merit of their own approach, and so each party believes that it solely deserves to reap the fruits and direct the course of the revolution.
Following this, what I termed in one of my previous articles “the addiction and autocracy of the revolution” emerges. This is because revolutionaries, having been completely absorbed in fulfilling their objective of toppling the regime, do not find any alternative but to continue with this uprising even after they have succeeded. Thus, everybody casts doubt on the conduct of others, and conspiracy theories and disputes spread widely as a result, whilst the revolutionary comrades enter into a new conflict, but this time with one another. And so after they have fulfilled their primary objective of toppling the regime, these parties turn away from one another in order to focus on minor partisan and individualistic objectives.
Following this, we have the phase that can be called “revolutionary boredom” whereby the general public become exhausted of the continual presence of revolutionary action, which has had a grave impact on their living standards and security, bringing chaos into their lives, national stability and livelihoods. As a result, they become divided: some are discontented with the revolution and wish a return to the miserable days of the former regime, whereas others are like drowning men looking to clutch at any straw!
This straw may be offered by a severe political figure that is charismatic enough to convince the general public of his vision and project. Hence, another autocratic character would return to power but in different clothes, and this could occur via an established party – very often an extremist party – that is capable of garnering public support, or via a military coup after public discontent has reached its zenith.
I believe that it is very important, especially for the cultural and political elites, to immediately admit the failure of the so-called Arab Spring revolutions, particularly as admission is better than obstinacy, even if such confessions come too late. This is because admission marks the beginning of the route to restoring awareness and vision, the search for a way to minimize losses and catch a glimmer of hope, even if this involves further hardships.
Now, I hope it is not too late to say that we need conscious and brave intellectuals to say what French thinker Cornelius Castoriadis said, namely that the revolutions which the liberal West came to experience since the Enlightenment, and the revolutions witnessed by the socialist East – specifically Eastern Europe and China – have failed to achieve the promised independence and the anticipated democracy. The social movements that carried out revolutionary projects have all ended in failure, therefore it is crucially important that the course of such movements are reviewed and re-evaluated towards new horizons.