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The Trial of the Arab Spring | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A poster for President Mohamed Mursi is seen on a wall as a protester throws a tear gas canister back at policemen during clashes in Alexandria, January 25, 2013. Youths fought Egyptian police in Cairo and Alexandria on Friday on the second anniversary of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak and brought the election of an Islamist president who protesters accuse of riding roughshod over the new democracy. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

Two years on from the Arab Spring there are still more questions than answers, and many concerns are still prevalent. All the feelings of joy and optimism-along with the celebratory atmosphere in the squares-have vanished, to be replaced by an overwhelming sense of fear towards an unknown and mysterious future; a fear reinforced by the cycle of violence and unrest from Tunisia to Yemen, and from Libya to Egypt. As for Syria, this is another story even more painful and shocking after the death toll has surpassed sixty thousand, and millions have been displaced internally and across the borders, while the streets of many Syrian cities seem like remnants of World War II given the scale of the damage.

In Tunisia there are ongoing demonstrations and clashes, and the opposition politician Chokri Belaid has been shot dead by an unknown assassin. This has intimidated the opposition and provoked further unrest, since it was the first assassination attempt of the Arab Spring revolutions. Meanwhile, political debate continues and a new breed of religious extremism is expanding. The situation is no rosier in Yemen and no better in Libya, particularly in light of the political disputes, the proliferation of arms, and the fears of Al-Qaeda.

This is the real picture with no embellishments, in all its bleakness, a picture that for many justifies that the Arab Spring be put on trial. For others this situation merits a final judgment of the failure of the Arab Spring, while others even go to the extent of lamenting the former regimes, considering what has happened to be a major mistake that people are now paying the price for, albeit to varying degrees.

It was inevitable that the people would eventually put the Arab Spring on trial. This is an important development in all its dimensions and implications, and for both the current and future ramifications, because lessons can be learned. However, I must stress here that the blame must be placed on past errors, because I am not saying or even hinting that people should accept authoritarian regimes regardless of their corruption and despotism, their failure to lead countries towards real reform and sustainable development, and their inability to resolve problems such as unemployment, housing, healthcare, and education. If these regimes had dealt with the problems of their people, respected social justice, fought corruption, ensured rights and freedoms, and applied a gradual reform path towards wider consultation and democracy, then their citizens would not have revolted against them and overthrown them. Yet they failed in all that, thus paving the way for an explosion of anger and uprisings. Moreover, one can argue that these regimes are largely responsible for what we see today, in terms of violence and disorder, as they fought against any natural growth of a political class and an independent elite capable of facing the challenges of today’s transitional stages. These regimes left behind many centers of power and hotbeds of influence, which now operate to protect their interests and thwart the Arab Spring. One cannot lament the departure of regimes such as these, even if we are putting the Arab Spring on trial for recent mistakes that have accrued as a result of the failure of the elite, the frustrations of the street, and the irrational expectations for change as soon as the protestors left the squares.

In reality we are facing a real dilemma. The Arab Spring revolutions have not only revealed the vast legacy of failure and corruption left by these ousted regimes, but they have also unmasked the inability of the Arab elite, who talk a lot about freedom, democracy, and the aspirations of the people, but when they were put to the test they showed their confusion and a failure to adapt to the new atmosphere of freedom, along with a clear inability to lead the masses and the street towards a break in the political impasse. The result was that a sense of frustration pervaded the people, especially with the spread of violence and chaos, until many began to fear that the Arab Spring was heading towards more authoritarian regimes, but this time along religious lines, similar to what happened in post-revolution Iran. Others feared that events would culminate in military coups, where the consequences are not guaranteed and the directions are unknown, as we have seen from the experience of the Islamists in Sudan and their coup against democracy. The Brotherhood, who came from prison cells to the thrones of power riding on the wave of youth-led revolutions in the Arab spring states, have now revealed their appetite for power and their inclination to hang on to it regardless of the cost, or the victims who are falling in the ongoing clashes.

The experience of Egypt will be the most important, not only because of the prestige of the country and the size of its influence, but also because the Muslim Brotherhood there is the mother organization, from which the majority of all modern political Islam movements in the region have been launched, including their offshoots and movements that have drifted towards arms and violence. Since the revolution and until today, we have seen nothing from the Brotherhood but tricks, maneuvers, and broken promises in order to monopolize power and impose their views on others. It is true that they are repeatedly calling for calm and dialogue, but their actions, the statements of their leaders, and what has been issued by some of their allies, leaves no room for calm in as much as they set off more crises. Perhaps they calculate that the opposition, despite its unity, seems weak and unable to lead the street, and therefore they are trying to buy time in order to consecrate their rule.

Egypt will not return to calm unless everyone agrees on a meaningful dialogue to save the country. This is more important now than thinking of elections, which will only aggravate the situation. For this to happen the Brotherhood must adjust their approach that is causing so much concern, and agree to revise the constitution so that it is a national, not a partisan, document. In return for that, everyone else must commit to the results of the presidential elections in which the majority of opposition figures participated, and therefore they cannot argue against their performance.

On a side note, what is happening in Syria and how it ends will also be an important moment in the people’s judgment of the Arab Spring. Many are looking at the amount of violence, destruction, and the number of victims there, and are asking not only about the possibility of dialogue with the regime and the feasibility of this, but also about the future of the country. The Syrian opposition has so far failed to agree and unite, so what would it be like if it came to power in the next stage; a stage that requires awareness and wisdom that the Arab Spring elite have yet to demonstrate.