All Arab Spring states, without exception, are facing numerous problems and rising frustrations that have prompted some to lament the good old days. This is a fact that nobody can deny, regardless of personal motives or objectives. There are those who recall this out of sorrow for the setbacks that have occurred in the course of these revolutions, whilst others mention this out of a sense of gloating towards those who rejoiced at the changes seen during this short Spring.
The majority of these frustrations is due to people’s high expectations regarding these revolutions, and their hopes for prompt change in their conditions and circumstances, and that all the problems and troubles of the past would be resolved overnight. Furthermore, many were shocked at how the Islamists promptly climbed the revolutions’ stairs, reaching the seat of power and occupying important positions; therefore they consider these revolutions to have been aborted or stolen.
In the midst of this ongoing debate, I am confused by those analysts and observers who believe that the Islamists’ rise to power in the Arab Spring states is evidence of a “Western plot” or that the West is responsible for these uprisings, either by planning or supporting them, or even sometimes directly or secretly taking part in them. Apart from failing to provide any clear and convincing evidence of this, they persist in hanging everything on the foreign conspiracy theory logic. They do not want to understand why a large portion of the electorate voted for Islamist parties’ candidates. There are lessons that one should learn in this regard. Whilst it is true that plots are being hatched in the political kitchen, this does not mean that everything that is happening is the product of a conspiracy or that we can absolve ourselves of responsibility for everything that is happening to us.
One may disagree with the Arab revolutions, there is no problem with that, but the problem lies in considering such revolutions “Western conspiracies” or “foreign plots.” This manner of thinking means that all those who took to the streets to demonstrate in public squares, contributing to regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, were directed by the West and therefore part of the “conspiracy”, or nothing more than “puppets” of foreign powers. Furthermore, this logic means that there were no domestic reasons or tensions that led to the eruption of the public’s repressed rage, and that these tensions were essentially nothing more than a Western product and that the ousted regimes did not commit huge mistakes that ultimately led to their collapse.
Why don’t we want to believe that the Arab Spring was the product of deplorable political and economic circumstances caused by autocratic rule and corruption that incited strong feelings of frustration in many circles, particularly the youth who failed to see a promising reality or better future on the horizon? The Arab Spring, which seemed to have surprised everybody, did not lack indicators on the ground even if we failed to notice them at the time, or appreciate the magnitude of their impact. In Egypt, for example, there were certain domestic interactions over a number of years, and we saw demonstrations and strikes taking place, whilst movements like “Kefaya”, “Shaifnco”, “April 6 Youth Movement”, “Judges for Change” and others emerged, reflecting a latent public anger at the deplorable political and economic conditions, not to mention the increasingly bloated ruling regime and the presence of widespread corruption.
In Tunisia and Yemen, as is the case in Libya and Syria, there were also domestic interactions, as well as growing public anger and mobilization on the level of civil organizations and political movements. It is true that the revolutions in Tunisia and later in Egypt incited the zeal of many and encouraged the outbreak of demonstrations demanding change and freedom, however these revolutions would never have erupted and spread were it not for the domestic factors in these countries. Therefore, we saw some countries rushing to join the Arab Spring immediately, whilst others remained unaffected.
Many were wrong to think that revolutions would move automatically from one state to another, and that changes would prevail in the region and that no regime or state would be immune from this. These people were wrong to think that a complex phenomenon with interlaced political, economic and social elements that change from one state or another could be duplicated automatically, even if there are some common features and denominators. These revolutions did not take place solely as a result of the political element; social and economic elements also played a key role, particularly amongst a generation of frustrated youth who felt detached from their societies and who had lost any hope of a life where they enjoy some rights, job prospects, housing prospects, and economic stability.
In addition to this, the internet and new tools of communication – from email to SMS text messages to Facebook and Twitter – all contributed to the Arab Spring. They removed security restrictions and broke down the doors of censorship to open the space for the flow of information, allowing for inspiration and mobilization, particularly amongst the youth who increasingly relied on new media as a source of information and as a means of communication.
The Arab revolutions may have surprised many, for everybody was roundly convinced that the Arab citizen had lost the will and ability to affect change, not to mention that the ruling regimes – which were immersed in corruption and autocracy – believed that their security apparatus was capable of crushing any attempting to overthrow them. This surprise had a clear impact on the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes, whose reactions were confused and muddled because they simply could not believe what was happening. They simply failed to take into account the magnitude of the public’s rage boiling under the surface, nor did they expect their regimes to collapse so quickly. However when this element of surprise was no longer a factor and other regimes were aware of the magnitude of what they were facing, revolutions began to face severe repression. These revolutions became immersed in oceans of blood and required far longer to achieve the desired change, as we saw in Libya, and then later in Yemen, and today in Syria.
The Arab Spring was a political earthquake that shook, and indeed continues to shake, the entire region. If we truly want to understand, learn or change, attempts to understand and analyse the causes and consequences of the Arab Spring cannot solely focus on foreign conspiracy theories, ignoring all domestic factors and internal accumulations!