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Memories of January and February | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Anti-Mursi protesters, seen through Egyptian flags, chant anti-Mursi slogans in Tahrir square in Cairo December 4, 2012. Anti-Mursi protesters continue their sit-in in Tahrir, stepping up pressure on the Islamist leader to scrap a decree they say threatens the nation with a new era of autocracy. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

11 February 2011-the day when former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak decided to step down-will go down in history as the turning point in the wave that was later called the “Arab Spring”. This wave struck almost all the Arab republics that were established in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing about various consequences and results, or crises and wars that remain ongoing.

It began in Tunisia when former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to step down under public pressure. At the time, this was believed to be a special case that would not expand any further, given that Egypt was different from Tunisia. Those who believed this were drawing on the historical fact that the state apparatus and institutions in Egypt were strong and accustomed to facing crises. But when the collapse of the Mubarak regime occurred there, people soon started to assert that change would be easy. However, it was not long until we witnessed an extremely bloody transition in Libya, which was only accomplished thanks to NATO intervention, and then an even bloodier and more difficult situation in Syria, after sectarian elements intertwined with regional and international struggles.

In January and February 2011, two months of revolutions and uprisings, expectations were high and unrealistic. Change in society is not a question of one or two years, it can consume one or two generations or even more. All historical events testify that transitional periods are usually painful, difficult, and full of hiccups and setbacks.

In the Arab world, four republics have experienced changes since 2011: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, the latter commemorating the anniversary of its popular uprising on Monday. However, after two years, all these states share the defects of political instability and deplorable economic situations, at least compared to the situation prior to the outbreak of popular uprisings, although the economy was a major cause for discontent and unrest in the first place.

A sharp political division-often taking on violent forms-is currently dominant on the scene, especially in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. There seems to be no clear solution on the horizon due to the lack of national consensus with regards to the state or the society, and this reflects a clear division. In fact, this could be the first time that Arab societies have experienced such a clear division between the forces of political Islam-seeking to lead society in a direction that harmonizes with their own ideology and perception of politics-and other powers that seek to maintain and modernize the civil political structure of the state.

Besides these two powers, there is a third force that is yet to have its say, or rather does not know how to translate its state of outrage-which was once the catalyst for change-in a manner that goes beyond protests and demonstrations in the streets, sometimes taking on violent shapes that benefit no one.

The problem with the previous regimes is that they were unaware of this force and its importance to social mobility. They failed to see the gap that existed between generations, in which modern technology and the information revolution played an effective role. Yet it seems that this gap still exists in one way or another, because the new regimes have reached the same impasse, making the state of instability and transition more painful.

One of the working papers presented to the recent World Economic Forum in Davos shed light on the role that young people are playing in our societies. The paper indicated that the under-27 age group now constitutes nearly 50 percent of the global population and up to nearly 70 percent in some African states. This ratio is intensified further in some Arab societies because there is a clear gap in knowledge between age groups and a disparity between the ambitions of present-day youths and those of past generations.