The Middle East Tribune

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Why Arab Spring Countries Missed their First Base?

It is a customary practice to see Arab people browse for fresh news of the ongoing Arab revolts, called the Arab Spring. They find civil unrest in Tunisia, riots and regime destabilization in Bahrain, tribal armed clashes in post-Gaddafi government in Libya, military conflicts with Islamic fundamentalists in Yemen, recurrent mass protests and disorderliness in post-Mubarak Egypt, regime’s massacres and bloodthirsty assaults on civilians in Syria and so on. So they wonder why Arab people have to pay this bloody cost for a shift from autocracy to democracy. They try to contemplate what the Arab revolts have missed, which led to this long road of agony and turmoil to attain democracy and freedom.

Apart from the effects of the longstanding reign of ruthless dictators, Arab’s social and political movements missed having the first significant step towards democracy. They missed to have a transitional period, named the ‘Liberalization’ process. Actually, malcontented Arabs have marched on randomly toward their objectives without prior political planning, tactical preparations or predesign to cope with the expected consequences of such life-or-death power struggle.

Typically, the purpose of adopting a liberalization process is to put gradational pressure on authoritarian rulers, military elites and interest groups to moderate their power grip to secure some civil rights in return for some stability. This transitional process or passage is meant to protect, to some extent, individuals and social groups from the tyranny and malpractices of authoritarian regimes. It is also recommended because it allows the economy and civil society of the country to rearrange its tracks to deal with the incoming irregular situation. Each liberalization process, whether it is conducted in a peaceful way or revolutionary mode, has to have its own form, phases and pathways.

In effect, similar transitional processes are patterned either in low-pressure manner and/or in a revolutionary mode depending on the level of motivation and tolerance of the commonalty. Ruling politicians usually play, designedly or not, pivotal role in the change process, seeing that soft-liners and hard-liners alike, are always anxious to retain control and preserve their interests. While soft-liners tend to position themselves gradually in chorus with the sense of change to contain and de-escalate the motion of the opposition, hard-liners employ their excessive authority to hamper and countermine people’s revolt, or conduct unrestrained oppressive armed operations in the name of public stability and country’s interest.

Though most Arab revolutions have managed to overthrow their despotic regimes, they’re yet to bring real democratic reform to their nations. Unfortunately, unheeding the importance of transitional process is the initial reason why Arab democratic activists could not transmute people’s massive support into new common political drive.  This, however, is because Arab civil societies and political movements were not preconditioned to cope with such political vacuum at which they lost grudgingly the political theater to the most organized parties— in most cases, the Islamist parties.

Following the victories of the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen, Arabs, by and large, were — as now — ready to go through a real free democratic society. Yet, there are growing doubts that Arab Spring countries will not enjoy a West-like democracy in the near future. Most likely, they will have recurring free elections at best. Apparently, there is a realistic ground for similar political analyses and forewarnings. This is mainly because democracy, or as sometimes called majoritarianism, is rationalized here and now as a form of governance only, whereas its first base is to give rise to a national mindset of free will that honors human rights and civil liberties.

The fact is that though Arab Spring countries have accomplished free multiparty elections, they’re still falling short from advancement and applying two of the most vital concepts of democracy: justice and equality. As yet, none of the new parliaments and governments have drafted or constituted laws and decrees to bring forth some rights to Arab women and children, for instance, or to equalize legally between their various social and religious fabrics. Seemingly, justice and equality are not on the priority lists of the newly elected rulers, seeing that solidifying power and taking vengeance are topmost items of their agendas.

Freedom, justice and equality are the cornerstones in building any civilized society or nation. Actually, the belief that political policies should make people equal was massively adopted long since the French Revolution in 1789 and the American civil war in 1861. Beyond these dimensions, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with its Civil Rights subcategory, has guaranteed by international law three main groups of rights, namely:

a) Individual civil and political liberties (freedom from arbitrary arrest and torture; freedom of movement, association, expression; religious and philosophical liberty; the right to privacy; the right to vote; and the right to a fair trial).

b) Social and economic rights and freedoms (rights to education, health care, work, fair conditions of employment, and to maintain a minimum standard of living).

c) The collective rights (the rights of populace) designed to advance the position of minorities and to encourage self-determination and equality.

Alas, none of the like seems to be materialized before long in the Middle East arena. Would the Arabs re-calibrate the outcome of their Arab Spring before it is too late?

Author’s Note: This article is also published at the Arabian Gazette website
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15 comments on “Why Arab Spring Countries Missed their First Base?

  1. Wim Roffel
    October 26, 2012

    I beg to disagree with the article.

    Democracy can only work when there is a basic understanding of how society should work. That is why democracies have constitutions that are very difficult to change. And even so democracies can fall into trouble when new issues arise (see the American civil war). Those understandings are different for every country. In the American context it is unthinkable that the movie “Innocence of Muslims” would be forbidden; in the Arab context it is unthinkable that it would be allowed (Europeans and Americans have a similar difference about Nazi propaganda).

    Far from harming dictatorships often help by imposing a consensus. Countries like Spain, Portugal, South Korea and Taiwan had little trouble entering democracy after long periods of dictatorship. In fact what goes wrong in the Arab Spring is exactly that this consensus is totally thrown away – creating an ideological vacuum. In Syria before the uprising there was definitely an intellectual liberalization. Tunisia and Egypt would likely have seen a similar development after their octogenarian rulers had died.

    Dictatorships usually liberalize because people accept the basic rules of the dictator. In fact the Arab Spring protests as very harmful for peaceful protests against corruption and other “good government” issues because they politicize those issues and turn them into tools to overthrow the rulers.

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    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      October 27, 2012

      After having so many agreeing comments, I’m pleased to receive your disagreeing comment.
      As to your note” (see the American civil war)”, I would rather drive your attention to this sentence” Actually, the belief that political policies should make people equal was massively adopted long since the French Revolution in 1789 and the American civil war in 1861″
      You noted that “Dictatorships usually liberalize because people accept “, which is completely a faulty idea, since you consider the intimidation and submission of these people as an acceptance, which is not .
      You also stated ” In fact the Arab Spring protests as very harmful for peaceful protests against corruption and other “good government” issues because they politicize those issues:, which means that you have missed the early days of the Arab spring protest . They rallied peacefully calling for the elimantion of corruption and good governance, but when they were faced with the brutality of those dictatcors, then they marched to overthrow dictators.
      In all accounts, to arrive at real social and economic reform and development, in any country, people have to have political reform first of all.
      Thank you for commenting

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      • Wim Roffel
        October 28, 2012

        Thank you for your challenging reply.
        To start with the American civil war: for many centuries slavery has been accepted in many places in the world and the American democracy accepted it too in its first eighty years. It was an issue where social values changed and that led to friction. Similarly you see at the moment in the US the discussion how much power money should have in a democracy. It is no coincidence that democracies so often break down and become dictatorships again.
        You misunderstand “Dictatorships usually liberalize because people accept”. I do not mean that they accept one guys having all the power and the perks. I mean that they accept the basic concept of the country. In Syria that would mean a rather secular country. In Iran a rather religious country. Not that they won’t want changes. But that they can live with it for the moment are resigned to introduce changes gradually and in dialogue with others.
        Did you study the color revolutions? Google the subject on Internet! It is a whole technique of “non-violent protest” aimed at regime change. There are books and manuals about it (by Gene Sharp and Robert Harvey) and you can follow courses at CANVAS in Belgrade with organizers of Serbia’s color revolution – financed by US institutions like the NED. It is well known that some of the organizers of the revolt in Egypt had studied at CANVAS. Ben Ali and Mubarak could have reformed as much as they wanted but these people would never have been content.
        You forget that Syria had reformed a lot in the last decade. And it was very likely that when the rulers of Egypt and Tunisia died (they were in their 80s) their successors would introduce more reforms too. And all these countries had rather healthy economic growth before the revolt – what in itself implies change.

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        • Mohammad S. Moussalli
          October 28, 2012

          Thanks to you Mr. Roffel. As I noted earlier I’m fully aware of the American Civil War and its historical actualities and that’s why I have made reference to it in this article. Secondly, I didn’t misunderstand your sentence “Dictatorships usually liberalize ..” I just read and contemplated what you have wrote, since I cannot estimate what you have in mind.Thirdly, It’s good and acceptable to recommend some reading, yet it isn’t nice to put this way since you don’t know if I got the knowledge of this subject matter or not. Fourthly, I don’t agree with your forecasting analysis that “Ben Ali and Mubarak could have reformed as much as they wanted but these people would never have been content”
          since you don’t know for sure if they will or not, nevertheless, the fact is that they stayed in power for more than 3 decades where they did nothing. Fifthly, you wrote “You forget that Syria had reformed a lot in the last decade”, which is not true at all. Nothing changed since 12 year when the young syrian”successor inherited the rule, at the contrary, things were going down on all levels. After all, an unsteady increase in a counry’s GDP, doesn’t mean that there is economic growth, since there are many economic issues that give a rise to GDP, like aid, population increase, expatriation money and so many other elements.

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          • Wim Roffel
            October 29, 2012

            Mr. Moussalli, I am sorry to read that you were offended by the way I recommended some literature. My style may be a bit rough but I believe in winning discussions on arguments – not by putting people down.
            You write about Ben Ali and Mubarak that “that they stayed in power for more than 3 decades where they did nothing”. I think “nothing” is exaggerating the situation but it is quite understandable that men in their 80s who have ruled for decades don’t have many new ideas. So some protests to push them in the right direction are welcome – . But I have serious doubts whether the kind of revolution we have seen now is in the long term beneficial.
            If I looks at Tunisia I see armed gangs of Salafists imposing their will. Law and order that is respected by all citizens is at the core of democracy and for that reason I seriously doubt Tunisia’s long term ability to stay democratic.

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            • Mohammad S. Moussalli
              October 29, 2012

              No problem Mr Roffel.Though I share your idea that we cannot tell how things (in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries) are going to be in the future, yet I think that we cannot defuse the agelong theoretical mottos “Islam is the solution” of most Islamists without seeing what they will do with their announced way of governance. To illustrate, in Egypt, the Muslims Brotherhood promised not to control of the parliament, not to take on the government, not to run for the presidency, but they did the contrary which made them to start losing people’s confidence, since they werenot honest. To see real democracy in the Middle East, we have to wait for quite some time during which all non-demcratic factions will lose their momentum. I’m a liberal and I believe that demorcractic notions will prevail no matter what. God created us free, and free we shall be.

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              • Romy Kerwin
                March 16, 2014

                Mohammad has explained the present sense of vacuum in the often aborted revolutions quite well to my understanding of the situation described. It is rather inappropriate to compare the American revolution with what is happening now in the MENA countries. I understand what Mohammad explains so clearly. The Arabs in general are behind the rest of the world in finding basis for democracy because they have always been oppressed by colonialism, oppressive tyrants and religious intolerance. This has left a vacuum ” transitional ” that the Arab people have missed. They did not have the luxury of trying out several forms of government direction the way we had after the French revolution. It was bloody and terrible, the reign of Terror but still, we returned to some form of monarchy with Napoleon Bonaparte to be abandoned again in favour of a republic. This took much time which allowed the French a period of transition and reflection about what was best for France and the French people.
                revolutions and democratic changes do not happen in a linear way. We usually progress one step ahead and two steps back until we feel that we are standing on solid ground. This is what Mr. Moussalli has demonstrated so clearly to me.
                The Arabs know what they do not want but they do not yet know what they want. How would they ?
                When Algeria gained its independence from France, it also required French help in building the country in a transitional way, passing from being a French province to being a sovereign country. They had a mentor, so to speak.
                This kind of mentoring of a time for transfer of power is absent in the Middle East.
                When the Arabs look at other democratic nations, they do not often see what they would like for themselves.
                Laicity helps in forging equality and the Arab nations are overpowered by many tyrannical religious groups.
                I do understand the ” vacuum ” cited by Mohammad Moussalli. It is real and it is specifically an Arab problem. That is why Mr. Moussalli can see it so clearly from the inside. He is an insider.
                South Korea was cited as a country that went from tyrannical regimes to democracy but South Korea is a very unlikely example for the Arab countries. After the chaos of the Korean war, Koreans needed a strong government to rebuild the country and there was plenty of help from the US.
                Korea was not bogged down with religious intolerance and moved to full democracy after a period of transition. There were many opportunities to test the waters in terms of what was the best way of life in this country. The Arabs do not have this time of ” growing ” as nations.
                They are simply lost by too many choices, hesitations, old ways of life and worship of the many sects of Islam.
                Islam rules, even though in Egypt, it was the army that brought a sense of order without tyranny for a while.
                I understand what the article describes as I was born in Algeria and I have followed the process of slow liberation from colonial forces after a bloody Independence war.
                I do believe that this is the most comprehensive article I have read about reaching an Arab identity in a long while.
                Romy Kerwin,
                Political analyst for the government of South Korea

                Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Politicians Should Know That Most People Don’t Like Revolutions And Uprisings « Stirring Trouble: Internationally

  3. Brittany H Martin
    September 16, 2012

    I became honored to obtain a call coming from a friend as he identified the important points shared on your own site. Looking at your blog write-up is a real amazing experience. Thanks again for taking into consideration readers like me, and I hope for you the best of achievements as being a professional in this arena.

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  4. Gen. Vincenzo Camporini
    September 12, 2012

    Very well said.
    The point is what should the international community do (and from my point of view, what should the European Union do) in order to facilitate positive developments. I see that we are and remain passive, looking at the developments, without even defining a policy.

    Gen. V. Camporini

    Like

    • M. Moussalli
      September 14, 2012

      Thank you gen. Camporini
      Europeans, by and large, were among the initiators of the idea of supporting what is right. I think the first step is that European Union plays that role again apart from any US consideration. Once they start that reform and development will flow again, not only inthe Middle East ,but in Europe as well

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  5. Charles Arthur
    September 5, 2012

    In UNIDO’s Making It magazine, Lina Abou-Habib asks if revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa can be a vehicle for the economic empowerment of women or whether patriarchy will prevail.
    http://www.makingitmagazine.net/?p=3563

    Like

  6. LOHAR MOHAMMED ARIF
    September 3, 2012

    Very Right said Sir.

    Like

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