Saturday,24 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013
Saturday,24 March, 2018
Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Spreading Spring

Al-Ahram Weekly

As 2013 begins, Arab pundits reflect on yet another year of Arab Spring.

While many Arab pundits believe that the Arab Spring is not yet over and that other Arab countries will jump on the wagon in 2013, others believe the Arab Spring has not yet started.

Talal Salman, an advocate of the latter notion, maintains that the status quo in many Arab countries reflects chaos and internal divisions, including countries of the Arab Spring.

In his article “In anticipation of the real Arab spring” published in the Lebanese newspaper Assafir, Salman wrote that people gathering on New Year’s Eve exchange wishes and kisses at midnight and go to sleep dreaming to wake up in a different world — one that is more peaceful and prosperous. “Not even once did these dreams materialise,” Salman wrote. “But we still hold on to our right to dream, especially in these days of continued crises and tragedies that threaten our future and predict the division of our nations.” Salman cited internal divisions and struggles in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt.

Salman argued that facing reality will be the shortest way to achieve our dreams of freedom and prosperity. “Sorry to burden you at this time of year, but this is the reality we should face if we are seeking to move out of the ages of tyranny to the realms of freedom and a better day,” Salman argued.

The Arab people are finally present in the arena of self-determination, Salman contended, and they have to face the heavy burden of the past without expecting much support from foreign countries, or what he refers to as the “outside”.

This outside, Salman explained, is living its happiest days “with this Arab situation it labelled ‘Arab Spring’ to give Arabs the illusion that spring is here, whereas it is still far away waiting for us to walk towards it.” Salman called on the Arabs not to fight for this spring, otherwise they will kill it and lose their nations and their right to a better tomorrow.

Other Arab pundits perceived that an Arab Spring is looming in Iraq. In its editorial “Signs of Iraqi spring”, the Saudi Al-Riyadh newspaper wrote that there are signs that the current leadership of Nuri Al-Maliki is leading the country towards riots similar to those that led to the Arab Spring in other countries. The editorial cited the three-day demonstrations that swept the Iraqi Sunni province of Anbar, with thousands chanting slogans similar to those of their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt: “The people want the downfall of the regime.”

Along with tensions with the Kurds that led to a military stand-off in November and Iraq’s strained relations with Turkey, the editorial also warned that the revolution in Syria is another warning to Al-Maliki’s regime.

“If the Syrian revolution succeeds, the coming rule in Syria will be a Sunni one, as the majority in Syria is Sunni. This will cause a major imbalance inside Iraq and a possible isolation from its neighbours,” the editorial read.

To attain stability in the multi-ethnic Iraq, the editorial read, power should not be in the hands of one sect or group.

“The US occupation triggered divisions among Iraqis, but Al-Maliki’s regime added many levels to the struggle through its open alliance with Iran and regime corruption. Signs from the inside show the seeds of a new revolution fuelled by sectarian divisions, which Al-Maliki created through isolating the Sunnis,” wrote the editorial.

Focussing on the Palestinians, the UAE newspaper Al-Bayan hailed two important achievements made by the Palestinians in 2012. The first one, the editorial wrote, is when Palestine was recognised as a non-member observer state by an overwhelming majority in the UN General Assembly. The second one is when it forced the Israeli occupation to stop its “Operation Pillar of Cloud” attack on Gaza. The editorial, however, urged that national reconciliation should become the key achievement in 2013 and that Palestinians should work on a unified national strategy that reaches international and regional spheres to attain needed support, especially after its world recognition through the UN.

“This cannot materialise with the present divisions, the numerous decision-makers and the fight over who represents the Palestinians,” the editorial wrote. “Divisions give Israel a chance to evade its responsibilities towards peaceful settlement and to invest time to consolidate facts on the ground, tarnishing all possibilities towards a two-state solution.”

In the Saudi-funded, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Amir Taheri wrote that it is the power of the people that would decide whether the Arab Spring will be struck by coups d’état that would establish autocratic regimes. In his article entitled “Arab Spring: heading for a reactionary backlash?” Taheri asked: if some commentators have designated 2012 as the Arab version of the 1848 revolutionary upheaval that led to regime change in several European nations, will 2013 turn out to be the 1852 of the Arabs? Taheri explained that in 1852, the European nations that had gone through revolutions were struck by coups d’état that established autocratic reactionary regimes.

Leaving aside the particular case of Syria, Taheri argued that the events that led to change in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen “were not the fruits of revolutionary action in its classical definition.” He maintained that in every case, “the so-called Arab Spring has produced changes within the regimes in place rather than revolutionary regime change.”

So, responding to his question of whether 2013 will become the Arab version of 1852 in Europe, Taheri believes that, on the surface, the safest answer would be a qualified yes. “As already noted, in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, Islamist parties with reactionary agendas now dominate the government, often in objective though uneasy alliance with the military and police. In every case, the military may well seize control, using social disorder and/or economic decline as an excuse,” Taheri noted.

Taheri wrote that Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen are politically too fragile and economically too vulnerable to sustain a radical Islamist agenda. Also, in all of the Arab Spring countries, “the challenge is to create and/or recreate new state structures without which whoever is in nominal control will not be able to govern in any meaningful manner.”

“If Arab Spring countries are not heading for an 1852, it is partly because, unlike the European nations of the mid-19th century, they lack the structures that could enable new autocrats to impose control and exercise power,” Taheri concluded.

In Arab Spring countries, Taheri maintained, people power has asserted itself. The power game, Taheri added, can no longer be confined to the military, the security services, the Islamist outfits and the business clans associated with them.

“People power is the elephant that has to be brought into the china shop without shattering everything in its path. Some Arab leaders understand this and, each in their own way, are trying to find ways to accommodate this new reality. As we enter 2013, a measure of cautious optimism may be in order,” Taheri wrote.

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