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The International Writers Magazine:Comment

Late Arab Spring, any cause for celebration?
Saleem Ayoub Quna
Before the first unarmed popular uprising in January 2010 in Tunisia hit the news and took everyone by surprise, the Arab world seemingly was going through the last hours of one of its longest political hibernation periods in modern history. Within days the Tunisian model was emulated in other Arab countries creating a chain of similar revolts that became known as the "Arab Spring".


More than half a year has already passed since the start of these two peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and there are no signs of definite outcome. Why this "Arab Spring" has not fully bloomed yet, many people are increasing asking, these days. Why essential changes advocated by the people are not materializing? Yes, there are some important changes on the ground such as the ouster (but not the trial)of the incumbent leadership, the introduction of a new up-beat mood in the street and a lot of freedom of expression in these two countries, but what is preventing other equally fundamental changes such as power-sharing, holding general elections, amending or drafting a new constitution, implementation of genuine reform from taking place? Why the people who master-planned these revolts are still in the dark? Could there be a deliberate or calculated act of procrastination on the part of the "interim" authorities to consolidate the virtual vacuum of power in order to abort the ultimate objectives of the uprising and consequently tailor a new regime a la carte? Is there a devious strategy to highjack the revolt?
            By contrast, when the Eastern Communist Block started crumbling from within in the early 1990s under similar popular pressure, there was no bloodshed, save for ex-Yugoslavia based on ethnic and religious facts, and soon new leaderships emerged and embarked orderly on implementing reforms.
            In connection with the other uprisings in Yemen, Libya, Syria and Bahrain, (which is a special case) the scenario is the same in theory, but different in practice. In these countries, the armed forces and security apparatus are part and parcel of the regimes. They are accountable before the ruling elites only, and their rank and file is just another contingent of the Civil Service dressed in military uniform. Hence, the violent confrontations were unavoidable. While in Tunisia and Egypt, the soldiers are professionals representing a wider and truer spectrum of the society. A major difference also between these armies lies in their role; in the case of Tunisia and Egypt, they are basically prepared to protect the country against foreign aggression and in the others they exist to mainly protect the regime from internal threats.
            We all remember that the Arab quest for independence from four centuries long Ottoman domination coincided with World War I developments. At that time the victorious British, French and Italians replaced the Turks in all parts of the Arab world ushering a new colonization era that would last for more than four decades. Again, as World War II came to an end in the mid 1940s, many Arab countries were declared independent. In a symbolic move in 1946, seven Arab countries: five monarchies, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq and Jordan and two republics, Syria and Lebanon founded the Arab League in Cairo.
            But the crucial turning point in internal Arab politics took place in 1952. That year in July, the first Arab so called "revolution" in Egypt overthrew the monarchy and was replaced by a republican regime. It was actually an organized coup  d'état staged by a group of "Free Officers" initially led by Mohammad Nugib, who was soon replaced by the charismatic Colonel Jamal Abdul Nasser. For many years to come the new regime enjoyed more popularity and clout in the Arab world than it did in Egypt itself.
            Inspired and encouraged by the Egyptian model, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, and Jordan among other Arab countries had their own local brand of " Free Officers" who sought to overthrow the existing "despot" regimes. The last of those military takeovers happened in Libya in September 1969 and was led by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi who four decades later is still hanging on to power.
            Despite the existence of the Arab League as a pan-Arab umbrella organization, the Arab world between the 1950s and 1970s was, ideologically and politically, divided into two opposing camps: The "revolutionary" or " progressive" camp consisting mainly of republican regimes that were allied with the Communist Block led by Soviet Union. The other "conservative" or "reactionary" camp consisting mainly of monarchies and the small emirates in the Gulf who were allied with the West led by the US. It was clear that the dispute between the two world superpowers at the end of the World War II, the Atlantic Alliance and the Warsaw Pact or what was labelled as "the cold war" was transplanted to the Arab world. Idioms such as "progressive" versus "reactionary", "socialist or communist" versus  "imperialist" and "capitalist" were among many terms borrowed from the Communist literature and media in Moscow and Peking that further fueled this Arab internal divide. This Arab political splinter turned null and void when the Eastern Communist Block withered and the world became unilaterally dominated by the West led by US. Many in the world, including the same people who sought the demise of Communism from within, are pondering their second thoughts now.
            Suddenly this last spring, many parts of the Arab world exploded with unprecedented popular but unarmed uprisings seeking to overthrow those regimes that once claimed to be progressive and revolutionary. The worst scenarios are now taking place in the countries ruled by military juntas or dominated by a single political party. Whether in Tunisia or Egypt, where the army stayed neutral or in the other countries where the army took an active and aggressive role to put an end to the daily demonstrations that has been crippling these countries, there are no signs of great hopes or indications of an acceptable way out. In the two pioneering countries, Tunisia and Egypt, worrying signs and fears of procrastination and are accumulating by the day, while in the other three countries bloodshed and chaos are still reigning supreme. In the rest of the Arab world, the level and intensity of discontent and contest look like a temperature barometer stuck in the mouth of a patient, which goes up and down without being able to diagnose the real causes for this swinging!

"Arab Spring" has been officially announced and over debated all over the world, but unlike the East European Spring in the early 1990s, it has not yielded any fruits yet. Ironically, the hopes for change in Tunisia and Egypt are not gaining momentum, while the outcome of the ugly repressions in Libya, Yemen and Syria is more obvious since the bloodbath cannot go on forever.
From four centuries-long Ottoman domination, to five decades of European colonization, followed by five decades of local brand dictatorships, Arabs must be wondering; if they would ever break up one of the longest nightmares in history!

© Saleem Quna July 18th 2011
*The author is an independent journalist based in Amman.

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