Print options

August 23, 2013

Arab Spring Jubilation Turns to Despair

by Meredith Buel

After more than two and a half years, the mood surrounding the Arab Spring has drastically shifted from jubilation to despair amid  violence and bloodshed in the Middle East.  What went wrong and what do current trends mean for the future of the region? 

In early 2011, Egyptians were jubilant when a popular uprising ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power. 

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa dictators were being ousted, and the atmosphere among pro-democracy demonstrators was euphoric.

The movement was quickly labeled the Arab Spring but it created what turned out to be a false hope for the future.

“The Obama administration and other Western governments really subscribed to wishful thinking and hoping that this - just the term Arab Spring kind of suggested a hopeful and inevitable transition to democracy, and I don’t think that was ever the case,” said James Phillips, a senior Middle East analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Soon much of the Middle East would descend into chaos.

Last month, Egypt's military ousted the country's first elected president and then released Mubarak from prison, putting him under house arrest.

Earlier, Syria descended into civil war.There are even indications that chemical weapons may have been used in a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people.

Al-Qaida-linked militias roam the country as civilians flee. Nearly two million are refugees, burdening Syria's neighbors.

In Libya hundreds of militias are moving around the country.  Some are linked to al-Qaida.

“One has to remember that the Arab world is not well versed in democracy.  The Arab world really has no experience in democracy.  They hunger for it, they thirst for it, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to achieve it,” said Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

In Iraq, following elections and the withdrawal of US troops, a surge in terrorism and violence has occurred amid tension between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.

The Shi'ite-led government has blamed much of the bloodshed on al-Qaida, and analysts say the group is well positioned to take advantage of the turbulence spreading in the Middle East.

“These are the convulsions that took place after the Arab Spring.  We are not sure how long they are going to last, but at least right now it seems unlikely that this is going to be settled anytime soon,” said Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Sunni versus Shi’ite, Islamist versus secular, authoritarian versus democrat, all boiling in the volatile Middle East.

“I hope it doesn’t go from Arab Spring to Islamist winter but, unfortunately, I think in many parts of the Arab world that is what will happen,” said James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation. 

Phillips said it would take at least a generation for what he predicts will be a grueling transition toward democracy.