Al-Jazeerah, November 11, 2013
falsehoods and simplifications that surrounded the so-called Arab
Spring from the very start doesn’t necessarily mean that one is in
doubt of the very notion that genuine revolutions have indeed gripped
various Arab countries for nearly three years.
In fact, the
revolutionary influx is still underway, and it will take many years
before the achievements of these popular mobilizations be truly felt.
One can understand the frustration and deep sense of disappointment
resulting from the state of chaos in Libya, the political wrangling in
Yemen and Tunisia, the brutal civil war in Syria, and of course, the
collective heartbreak felt throughout the Arab world following the
bloody events in Egypt.
But to assign the term ‘failure’ to
Arab revolutions is also a mistake equal to the many miscalculations
that accompanied the nascent revolutions and uprisings from the start.
Many lapses of judgment were made early on, starting with the lumping
together of all Arab countries into one category – discussed as
singular news or academic topics. It was most convenient for a
newspaper to ask such a question as “who’s next?” when Libya’s Muammar
al-Gaddafi was so pitilessly murdered by NATO-supported rebels. It is
equally convenient for academicians to keep contending with why the
Egyptian army initially took the side of the January 25 revolution,
the Syrian army sided with the ruling party, and while the Yemeni army
descended into deep divisions.
In the rush to emphasize one’s
intellectual authority, if not ownership over the narrative and for
political reasons as well, the Arabs were dissected in every possible
way, stretched in every possible direction, and reduced in ways so
useful, yet so flawed, so that quick answers could be obtained.
While answers were readily available of why the Arabs revolted, time
has proven much of the early discourses inane and misleading. The
direction of these revolutions has headed in sharply different ways.
This a testament to the uniqueness of circumstances, historical and
otherwise, which surround each country – as opposed to the wholesale
representation offered by the media. It is an argument I made soon
after Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country. My
argument was a response to the euphoria of expectations made by media
‘experts’ and journalists who clearly had little understanding, or
dare I say, respect of history or knowledge about the complex
realities in which each Arab country is situated. Many went on to
write books, while others inspired audiences around the world with
fiery speeches about collective Arab Islamic awakenings even before we
conjured up basic ideas of what was truly manifesting before our own
eyes. These manifestations were at times very violent and involved
many players, from Qatar to China, and groups so varied in roots,
ideology and sources of funds.
But as the plot
thickened, much of the distorted accounts of ‘twitter revolutions’ and
such, grew less relevant and eventually faded away. Take the case of
Libya as an example. Those with simple answers, reflecting truly
modest understanding of Arab societies, could hardly understand the
complex nature of Libya’s tribal society, the socioeconomics governing
relations between East and West, urban areas with desert towns, and
Libya’s African context and relationships.
When NATO used the
Libyan uprising, mostly in the eastern parts of the country, to
achieve its own political objectives, it converted a regional uprising
into an all-out war that left the country in a status comparable to
that of a failed state. Almost immediately after NATO declared the
Libyan revolution victorious, the excitement over the Libyan component
of the ‘Arab Spring’ became less visible, and eventually completely
dissipated. Since then Libya has hardly followed a path of democracy
and reforms. In fact, the harms that resulted from the Libyan crisis,
such as the massive influx of weapons and refugees to other African
countries, destabilized the entire country of Mali.
result, Mali too went through its own upheaval, military coup, civil
war and finally a French-led war in the course of two years.
Unfortunately, these issues are hardly discussed within the Libyan
context since Mali is not Arab, thus such inconvenient stories do no
service to the simplified ‘Arab Spring’ discourse.
consequences of the Libyan fiasco will continue to reverberate for
many years to come. But since simple arguments cannot cope with
intricate narratives, media ‘experts’ and other intellectual peddlers
have moved elsewhere, selling the same tired arguments about other
Arab countries by insisting on the same failed, expedient logic.
While some parties continue to ascribe the same language they used in
the early months of 2011 to these revolutions, the shortcomings of
these revolutions eventually gave credence to those who insist that
the ‘Arab Spring’ was entirely farce - incepted, controlled and
manipulated by US hands, and funds of rich Arab countries. These
critics either have no faith in Arab masses as a possible factor of
change in their own countries, or have been so accustomed to judging
the world and all of its happenings as a colossal conspiracy where the
US and its friends are the only wheelers and dealers.
As vigilant as one must remain to the many drivels promoted as news in
mass media, one must not fall into the trap of seeing the world
through the prism of an American plot in which we are co-conspirators,
hapless fools or unwilling participants.
Arab revolutions have
not failed, at least not yet. It will take us years, or maybe even an
entire generation to assess their failures or successes. They have
‘failed’ according to our hyped expectations and erroneous
understanding of history. What popular revolutions do is that they
introduce new factors that challenge the way countries are ruled. In
post-colonial Middle East, Arab countries were ruled through dictators
– and their local associates - and foreign powers. The harmony and
clashes between the dictator and the foreigner determined the course
of events in most Arab countries – in fact in most post-colonial
experiences around the world.
This is where the real
significance of the mass mobilizations in Arab countries becomes very
important, for the ‘people’ – a factor that is still far from being
fully defined – challenged the rules of the game and mixed up the
cards. True, they sent the entire region into disarray, but it is the
price one would expect when powerful regimes and foreign powers are
challenged by long-disempowered, disorganized, and oppressed people.
Arab revolutions have not failed, but they have not succeeded
either. They have simply challenged the status quo like never before.
The outcome of the new conflicts will define the politics of the
region, its future, and the relationships between governments and the
upcoming generations of Arabs.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is a media consultant, an internationally-syndicated columnist and the
editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A
Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press).