Beyond Syria: the Arab Spring’s Aftermath
The outlook is bleak for key countries including Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
BY: EMMA GRAHAM-HARRISON
Just over eight years ago, Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in a bitter one-man protest outside a government office against the government. Within hours, demonstrators took to the streets of his small town, Sidi Bouzid. By the time he died in hospital just overtwo weeks later, protests had spread across the country, would soon topple the president and spill beyond Tunisia, in a regional convulsion dubbed the Arab Spring.
The protests were first driven by the demands of millions of people disenfranchised by autocrats and dictators. They wanted a say in running their countries, an end to corruption and greater opportunities in economies stalled by cronyism, fraud and bureaucracy. And their anger, once unleashed, was enough to topple some strongmen and seriously threaten several more.
But in most places it was not followed by the hoped-for reforms. Instead the uprisings spread war and chaos across the region.
Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s battle to retain power is coming to an end, but the country cannot be put back together as it was before the war. Hundreds of thousands are dead, millions will remain displaced, and Syria has been balkanised at the whim of external powers, and rebuilding may not begin for many years in some areas.
For many other Arab Spring countries the outlook is similarly bleak. Below is a summary of what has happened in other key countries.
The cradle of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is also its single success story. Within a month of Bouazizi‘s death the autocratic president for more than two decades, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, had fled to Saudi Arabia.
He was replaced by a democracy that has endured terror attacks and economic troubles, serving as a beacon of hope to progressive intellectuals and activists around the region. But Isis assaults on the crucial tourism industry were a heavy blow, and the country still struggles to control extremism and bolster a weak economy to combat youth unemployment.
Demonstrations in Tahrir Square brought down military dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, and there was a brief window of hope when democratic elections were held, but today Egypt is once again ruled by a ruthless, repressive general.
In 2013 Abdel Fatah al-Sisi seized power from Mohamed Morsi, a member of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi had won the elections a year earlier, but supporters of Sisi said Morsi was too focused on bolstering political control rather than tackling Egypt’s many social and economic problems. Foreign backers and many Egyptian liberals were also uncomfortable with his Islamist ideology.
Despite the violence and the military power grab, the US refused to label Morsi’s overthrow a coup. Sisi remains in power, and Egyptians again face heavy repression from a resurgent police state, with political opponents and critics, including artists and intellectuals, jailed. The troubled economy, a big driver of the original protests, is struggling as it did before 2011, with ordinary Egyptians left out of an apparent recovery.
Protests in Yemen forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to flee after 30 years in power, but his departure did not usher in democracy. Instead an armed uprising and foreign military intervention began a spiral into a brutal, often forgotten, civil war.
Its people have endured the worst cholera outbreak in the world, famine looms and tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or maimedby bombs and landmines. Victims include a bus of schoolchildren hit by a missile.
A UN-brokered ceasefire has been agreed for the vital city of Hodeidah and two other ports. But Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of international action in the war, is unwilling to make concessions to the Iranian-backed Houthis, and an end to hostilities seems a long way off.
In the uprising against dictator Muammar Gaddafi, below, he was hunted down to a roadside drain, killed and dragged through the streets in triumph, his body put on display.
But then the rebels turned on each other, the country is split, and although Isis has been ousted from its stronghold in the city of Sirte it still operates as a guerrilla force.
Criminality and human trafficking is so rampant that gangs hold public slave auctions, and every year thousands of desperate migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are forced onto decrepit boats for the risky trip to Europe; many have met their deaths in the Mediterranean.The European Union has been accused of fuelling conflict by paying Libyan militias to crack down on trafficking routes. The numbers of people making the sea crossing has fallen but thousands are trapped and suffering in makeshift prisons inside the country.
Monarchies fared better than the strongmen, but from Bahrain to Jordan and Morocco, all were forced to make concessions and are still grappling with the Arab Spring fallout. The absolute rulers of the Gulf states including Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia quashed what little dissent they faced. But uprisings elsewhere worried leaders, pushing them into external conflicts, particularly in Yemen, to protect their power. There is greater tension between them, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the wars have complicated their relations with western allies.