1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

What's left of the Arab Spring?

Mudhoon Loay Kommentarbild App
Loay Mudhoon
November 26, 2018

Not much remains of the euphoric mood and the hopes that drove the Arab Spring. Nearly eight years on, a return to pre-2011 conditions, however, is out of the question, says Loay Mudhoon.

Protesters in Tunis, Tunisia demonstrating against corruption in 2017
Image: Reuters/Z. Souissi

A brief glance at the political map eight years after the revolutionary dynamism that carried the Arab Spring movements should be enough to see that there is not much left of people's hopes for a life led in democracy and dignity.

Instead of "bread, freedom and social justice," the outbreak of the Arabellion — the largest mass mobilization of Arab peoples in recent history — was followed by chaos and destruction on a grand scale. Libya is facing the threat of collapse; the United Nations today describes the situation in Yemen — the poorhouse of the Arab world — as the world's largest humanitarian catastrophe. In Egypt, an unnerving, deceptive and deathly peace prevails.

Read more: Egypt regime fears 'another Arab Spring'

Western involvement

At the same time, several flux-nations have mutated into arenas, venues for the staging of regional conflicts. After years of brutal fighting along purportedly confessional lines, the complex Syrian conflict has become a regional and international proxy war. What began as a peaceful popular uprising against the brutal tyranny of the Assad clan is now a global conflict.

Only in Tunisia, the motherland of the Arabellion, might the transition from dictatorship to democracy succeed, if, that is, the nation manages to get its economic problems under control. It goes without saying that the West should continue to nurture and support the Tunisian democracy model.

Authoritarian reinstatement

But how did it come to this? Why does so little remain of the euphoria of the Arab Spring, of the hope for a better life in freedom and dignity? There's certainly a multitude of reasons – primarily arising from the legacy of the dictatorship and less from the culture of the nation in question. In order to fully understand this development, we need to remember one thing: The Arabellion did not trigger the crisis facing Arab nation states — it revealed it.

DW's Loay Mudhoon
DW's Loay Mudhoon

The main cause of the crisis has been the colossal failure of the ruling (military) elites to promote modern statehood. After all, these elites control the state's weak institutions as well as its resources, all too often using them to further their own interests. They have gradually disconnected themselves from the everyday lives of regular Arabs, from the woes of the majority of the population. The revocation of the social contract, first and foremost in Egypt, has again turned out to be devastating for the identification of Arab citizens with the state. 

And so, over the course of time, almost all "republics of fear" have not only become economically weaker, but also more repressive. Furthermore, Islamist parties have evolved into a counterweight within the state, while impeding development on a human level. Arab regimes have deliberately fought off the other possibility, namely that of a liberal-civil order. Arab despots have never worried that much about Islamists, knowing that in case of any doubt, the West would opt for them as the "lesser evil".

Read more: Female Tunis mayor signals hope for women's rights, democratic change

Reform standstill post-Arabellion

The authoritarian reinstatement of prior conditions that has taken place in many flux-nations since 2013 does not provide any kind of answer to the huge challenges of the present and the future in Arab nations.

This development is worrying, as the socioeconomic conditions that ultimately led to the Arab revolutions have dramatically worsened. Today one in three Arabs is under 23 and in the next 20 years the Arab world is going to need 50 million jobs — and no one knows where these are going to come from. In this context, it can be assumed that without far-reaching political and economic reforms, nations such as Egypt will soon be ungovernable.

This is precisely where western efforts should be focused: Germany and its partners need to attach conditions to their offers of aid. These should include progress (however small) in stamping out widespread corruption, in the implementation of economic reforms for the middle classes and in the bolstering of civil society and the rule of law.

In the western capitals of the world, we should be distancing ourselves from the illusion of stability in apparently robust repressive states. After all, in reality, tyranny is never stable.

Tunisia – a struggling young democracy