Arab Spring turns to winter of discontent as liberal interests defied


Sprigs of democracy planted during the early 2011 Arab Spring have shrivelled and the Arabs are facing a bleak winter of popular discontent.

Tunisia, where the Arab Spring was first seeded, held a credible election and is drafting a pluralistic constitution. But the political scene is dominated by Al-Nahda, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Nahda’s head, Rachid Ghannouchi, overshadows president Moncef Marzouki, a human rights activist. Women are fighting for their rights against fundamentalists who seek to relegate them to home and hearth; the poor are protesting over the failure of the revolution to improve their lives; clashes have erupted between Al-Nahda thugs and trade unionists; and radical Salafis are confronting liberals. The Tunisian democracy project is faltering, largely due to competition between Muslim fundamentalists and secular liberals that prevails across the region.

Libya, where Muammar Gadafy was ousted by war, has a democratically elected government and diverse political parties but it is also torn between these two camps. Salafis have been on the rampage, attacking mosques and shrines belonging to mystical Sufi orders.

In Egypt, the Brotherhood, supported by rural and urban poor, has hijacked the “revolution” launched by the uprising that toppled president Mubarak and is battling liberal and leftist revolutionaries backed by educated urbanites, trade unionists and youth. The prize is control of the transition from the Mubarak regime to a new one, which fundamentalists want to be “Islamic” and liberals “civil” or “secular”.

While the Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted, his colleagues wield power as the country descends into chaos due to secessionist and fundamentalist revolts in the south and the north and the US-led war against al-Qaeda in the highlands.

Secular Syria is in the grip of a brutal, fundamentalist-driven civil war which has killed as many as 40,000 and laid waste to its commercial hub, Aleppo, as well as many other cities and towns and threatens to engulf Damascus, the Arab world’s most ancient and elegant capital.

Lebanon’s stability is threatened by a spillover from the war in Syria, which also threatens to undermine the Jordanian monarchy due to King Abdullah’s refusal to initiate reforms and tackle corruption.

Iraq’s Shia fundamentalist government crushed its nascent secular protest movement but al-Qaeda and Sunni rebels have reasserted themselves and are staging daily attacks, mainly on Shia targets.

The Kuwaiti opposition boycotted the December 1st election, the second this year, and calls for the new chamber, of deputies loyal to emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, to be dissolved. In Bahrain, the revolt by the majority Shias against the Sunni ruling family has been crushed with Saudi help and Western acquiescence.

In the United Arab Emirates, dissidents have been jailed, while in Saudi Arabia Shias calling for equality with Sunnis have been smothered by the security forces.

Although the Arab Spring has not brought democracy and domestic tran- quility, the turmoil unleashed by uprisings across the region has wrought dramatic changes in the Arab mindset. The Arab Spring has freed the genie of innovation that had been trapped for centuries.

Arabs of all stations and backgrounds are no longer prepared to accept dictators, whether imposed or elected. Arabs no longer see themselves as subjects but as citizens worthy of respect. They are not afraid to express their demands loud and clear, demonstrate in the streets over policies or call for regime change. The slogan adopted during the 2011 uprising in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, “The people want the end of the regime,” resonates.

Youths are questioning established customs and traditional morality and seek to decide how to behave and how to forge ahead with lives crippled by decades of misrule and corruption, poor education, lack of job opportunities and soaring prices.