Concepts, Featured, Political Concepts

The Arab Spring, 6 Years on

January 2017 is the 6th anniversary of the Arab Spring where a number of rulers who had been in power for decades were overthrown. There was much optimism in those days when Ben Ali of Tunisia fled on a plan and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, after weeks of protests finally fell. But on the 6th anniversary the world’s media gave little coverage to the decadent events that took place in the region. The last six years have been long and painful and the slaughter of Aleppo in December 2016 encapsulates the trauma the people of the region are suffering. The Euphoria has been replaced with pessimism.


Real change did not take place in any of the countries where uprisings took place. The lack of vision and long-term agenda meant there was no blue­print for the masses to fol­low. The rea­sons for this are under­stand­able as places such as Syria and Libya have never had a real oppo­si­tion, whilst the oppo­si­tion in Egypt and Tunisia were just a façade. As a result the mass upris­ing was focused towards remov­ing the rulers and their focus was restricted to this. The prob­lem then arose of what to do once the rulers were over­thrown, lead­ing to places such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya using the exist­ing sys­tem to move for­ward, which was the prob­lem in the first place. The rulers in the Mid­dle East had dri­ven the region’s economies to bank­ruptcy, used sec­tar­i­an­ism to main­tain their grip and lit­tle prospects existed for the medium to long-term for soci­ety. The people failed to uproot the whole systems and that’s why only the faces changed.

In many of the coun­tries where the rulers were over­thrown the dif­fer­ent groups have turned on each other, lead­ing to civil war in some cases. In Libya, chaos and mili­tia vio­lence stalks the land, strikes threaten to crip­ple the oil indus­try, vio­lence is on the rise and eco­nomic stag­na­tion is every­where. Today three rival gov­ern­ments exist look­ing to impose their will on the nation. In Syria, the West’s sup­port of mod­er­ate rebel groups over the other groups has led to the var­i­ous rebel groups fight­ing each other. The arrival of ISIS has only com­pli­cated the land­scape in Syria. In Yemen, the Houthis long mar­gin­alised by the Saleh gov­ern­ment took to the streets for his ouster. But when he was replaced by his own crony and then were side­lined by the Hadi gov­ern­ment the Houthis took to the streets of the cap­i­tal – Sana’a and over­threw the gov­ern­ment. Cur­rently the coun­try is being ripped apart with the south of the coun­try pre­dom­i­nantly sup­port­ing the old gov­ern­ment with the Houthis dom­i­nat­ing the north of the coun­try. The eupho­ria of real change has now been replaced by anar­chy, vio­lence and insta­bil­ity – a far-cry for the pos­i­tive devel­op­ments from 6 years ago.

Being the most impor­tant region in the world, the global pow­ers were never going to allow the region to slip through their grip and this resulted in the US, Britain and France inter­fer­ing in the upris­ings to ensure the under­ly­ing sys­tems remained in place even if the per­son­nel changed.  Many move­ments across the Mid­dle East incor­rectly believed call­ing for west­ern val­ues such as democ­racy, lib­eral val­ues and sec­u­lar­ism would bring them west­ern sup­port and aid their attempts to over­throw the likes of Mubarak, Saleh, Ben Ali and Gaddafi. This for­eign inter­fer­ence allowed the US to main­tain its role in Egypt, with the army pro­tect­ing US inter­ests in the region through main­tain­ing its treaty with the Jewish entity. When Muham­mad Morsi could no longer main­tain domes­tic sta­bil­ity the US aban­doned him and jus­ti­fied Sisi’s coup, describ­ing it as ‘Democ­racy restored.’ In Libya, both Britain and France worked with the tran­si­tional and per­ma­nent gov­ern­ment, which con­sisted largely of Gaddafi era offi­cials. With the US, France and Britain hav­ing his­tor­i­cal links to the polit­i­cal class in the Mid­dle East they not only influ­enced the regions for­eign pol­icies but also main­tained influ­ence over many domes­tic insti­tu­tions, polit­i­cal par­ties, the secu­rity ser­vices and indi­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties. When Abdul Fat­tah al-Sissi became the army chief, US offi­cials described him as a known entity, i.e. some­one the US was well aware of.

Today, the Arab Spring has gone in a direc­tion which has main­tained the pre-revolution systems. This is a sig­nif­i­cant result for the West who cre­ated the artificial nations in the Mid­dle East 100 years ago. The great hopes of the masses are in seri­ous trou­ble and it remains to be seen if the Arab Spring can be salvaged.


Adnan Khan