Three years since the start of the Arab revolutions, the region has witnessed a kaleidoscope of dramatic developments ranging from free elections to the violent suppression of change. How would you describe the Arab Spring today?
In the past I’ve described it as a “work in progress.” Now, regrettably, the phrase “work in regress” would be more appropriate. The oil dictatorships have been able to repress most efforts at even mild reform, Syria is hurtling to suicide and likely partition, Yemen is subjected to Obama’s global drone terror campaign, Tunisia is in a kind of limbo, Libya lacks a government that can control the militias, and in Egypt, the major country of the Arab world, the military have acted with extreme brutality – and popular support that they should not have in my opinion – in what seems to be an effort to restore their harsh political control and maintain their economic empire, while reversing some of the most significant gains of the earlier period, such as press freedom and independence. The signs do not look good.
In addition, the Sunni-Shi’i conflict instigated by US-UK aggression in Iraq is tearing the country to shreds and spreading ominously over the whole region. There are two parts of the Arab world that remain effectively colonies: Western Sahara, where the democracy demonstrations of late 2010 were harshly repressed and the struggle of Sahrawis for freedom has been almost forgotten, and of course Palestine, where negotiations are underway conforming to the two essential US-Israeli preconditions: that there be no barrier to expansion of the illegal settlements, and that the negotiations be run by the US, which is a participant in the conflict (on the side of Israel) and has been blocking the overwhelming international consensus on a diplomatic settlement since 1976, when it vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for its basic terms, with rare and temporary exceptions.
Under those preconditions, negotiations are likely to be hardly more than a cover for Israel to carry forward its programs of integrating into Israel what it regards as valuable in the West Bank, including few Arabs so as to avoid the “demographic problem,” with continuing US support, and to separate the West Bank from Gaza in violation of the Oslo Accords, while maintaining the brutal siege. Not a bright moment, but the sparks lit by the Arab spring are likely to burst into flames again.
Initial hopes for a linear trajectory towards empowerment and democracy have long disappeared. Was the euphoria misplaced? Where and when did things go wrong?
There never should have been hopes for a linear trajectory. The Arab Spring was a development of historic importance, threatening many powerful interests. Power does not say “thank you for dismantling us,” then walking quietly away.