Written by Ali Al-Enazi
Tahrir Square, Cairo was the centre of the Egyptian Arab Spring Revolution.
What occurred 10 years ago in the Middle East and North Africa was no ordinary event. It was a time of hope and jubilation for many across the region. It was also a time of uncertainty and hardship. The Arab Spring sent shockwaves across the region and the rest of the world.
Protesters went out in their millions demanding change after decades of misery. They were not only standing up against political and economic repression but also human rights violations and for the citizens' sense of dignity, self-worth, and autonomy.
So, what has changed 10 years on? And did the Arab Spring bring about positive changes for the region?
To say that the people had achieved what they set out for would be a massive understatement. In fact, in most countries across the region, things have gotten worse. The uprisings paved the way for insurgencies, terrorist groups, oppressive regimes and three civil wars.
The only real success, although minimal, was Tunisia. The most striking image of the Tunisian popular uprising was the act of self-immolation by Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit seller; an act that kickstarted the Arab Spring. 17 days later, the dictator Zinelabidine Ben Ali stepped down, forgotten forever, whereas Bouazizi became a hero who sacrificed his life for the freedom of millions of others. In the aftermath of this tragic event, a multi-party democratic system was established in Tunisia. While this might sound like a step forward in the right direction, many issues were overlooked and neglected. The political parties in power have not been able to address socio-economic grievances. Many lost faith in the political system as shown in the low turnout of the 2019 Tunisian elections. To call Tunisia a success story would be a massive injustice to the Tunisians.
Moving on to Egypt, things look much worse. The Egyptian revolution brought hope to the people, after decades of hardship under President Husni Mubarak. The boundaries between art and politics were blurred as the first 18 days of the revolution saw a diverse range of cultural expression from music to street art. Egypt blossomed with creativity. When the defeated and miserable Husni Mubarak finally stepped down, a sense of relief, joy and togetherness cascaded across Egypt, breaking down all forms of barriers ranging from class to gender. All of Egypt was one.
This feeling was short-lived as things slowly started to turn sour. In 2014 the head of the army Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was elected to power and in a controversial referendum he was able to change the constitution to allow him to increase his mandate until 2030. This resulted in a wave of repression to silence all opponents with thousands imprisoned and many facing execution. Censorship of the media has been tightened and many have been jailed for criticising the government on Twitter and Facebook.
What is surprising is that the West has turned a blind eye to this. President Macron gave el-Sisi the highest French award when he visited Paris to discuss defence and trade. A rather hypocritical move from a man who believes in freedom. The Egyptian revolution is still ongoing. The resilience of the Egyptian people to continue to fight for justice in the face of a totalitarian government is truly something to admire.
In the cases of Syria, Libya and Yemen, things could not have gone worse. Three civil wars have devastated each nation. To this day all three conflicts are ongoing and there is no sign that they will end soon. Terrorist groups such as ISIS have been able to exploit these conflicts to spread their evil ideology across the region. Foreign actors such as the US, Turkey, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have prolonged the conflicts. Unsurprisingly, each intervened only for their own strategic goals. The sad reality is that it is the civilians that suffer the consequences. It is the people that are always forgotten. Corrupt politicians have put their politics first and their people second.
10 years on and the picture seems very dark for the region. The Arab Spring brought hope that things could finally change. But as we have seen, the situation has gotten much worse. The next decade is vital for the region’s stability. Will it stay in this path or will we see real change?
Photo source- Flickr (AK Rockefeller)