News / Middle East

Arab Spring Challenges, Two Years In

Egyptians walk past graffiti on a wall at Tahrir Square in Cairo, January 16, 2013.Egyptians walk past graffiti on a wall at Tahrir Square in Cairo, January 16, 2013.
x
Egyptians walk past graffiti on a wall at Tahrir Square in Cairo, January 16, 2013.
Egyptians walk past graffiti on a wall at Tahrir Square in Cairo, January 16, 2013.
Mohamed Elshinnawi
The wave of popular uprisings that started in Tunisia two years ago and subsequently swept through much of the Middle East has largely subsided, leaving in its aftermath a tense atmosphere of political and economic uncertainty at best, and deadly conflict at worst.

Looking back and assessing what’s ahead, analysts agree that people who took to the streets in what at the time quickly became known as the “Arab Spring” today face bleak prospects in their quest for the changes they sought.

In Tunisia, instability and social tensions persist, and Middle East analysts say the fear of violence, economic paralysis and political and religious divisions also trouble Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries.

In addition, the issues of governance and justice loom large.
 
Daniel Brumberg is a senior advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace on issues of democratization. He argues that each country has its own individual dynamics and has to be judged on its own terms.
 
Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi chant slogans holding the Quran ahead of Egypt's controversial constitutional referendum, Cairo, December 14, 2012.Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi chant slogans holding the Quran ahead of Egypt's controversial constitutional referendum, Cairo, December 14, 2012.
x
Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi chant slogans holding the Quran ahead of Egypt's controversial constitutional referendum, Cairo, December 14, 2012.
Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi chant slogans holding the Quran ahead of Egypt's controversial constitutional referendum, Cairo, December 14, 2012.
​“In Egypt, from the perspective of President [Mohamed] Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the first goal to pursue was to neutralize the challenge of the military and they have done that quite successfully,” Brumberg said.
 
He adds, however, that the issue of “transitional justice” has been “pushed aside.” This includes, he explains, mechanisms to prosecute those most responsible for abuses by the previous regime, reparations for victims of the regime, reform of abusive institutions and creating commissions to investigate systematic patterns of abuse.
 
Brumberg describes a different situation in Tunisia.
 
“The democratically-elected government has assigned a minister for transitional justice, but he has met resistance from within the Interior Ministry and even from elements of the Justice Ministry itself and the struggle goes on,” he said.
 
Brumberg pointed to different challenges facing the administration of justice in Libya.

“You have militias with arms, a weak national army and a desire from those militias to take the mission of transitional justice into their hands, which is a real concern,” he said.
 
F. Gregory Gause, a non-resident senior fellow specializing in domestic politics at Brookings’ Doha Center, believes that the consequences of government weakness severely limit even freely elected governments to do their jobs.
 
“They do not have functioning bureaucracies to implement policies and, in the Libyan case, they struggled to rebuild police and military forces in the face of militias that are, in many cases, better armed, better funded and better organized,” Gause said.
 
“Tribal, regional, and sectarian factionalism made political progress in Yemen agonizingly slow, as did tribal and regional divides in Libya,” he added.
 
Militia fighters are seen shooting at a building in the center of Bani Walid, Libya, October 24, 2012.Militia fighters are seen shooting at a building in the center of Bani Walid, Libya, October 24, 2012.
x
Militia fighters are seen shooting at a building in the center of Bani Walid, Libya, October 24, 2012.
Militia fighters are seen shooting at a building in the center of Bani Walid, Libya, October 24, 2012.
Political polarization
 
While Egypt and Tunisia are not considered weak states, both are suffering from unprecedented political divisions between Islamists and secular groups, says Marina Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

“There is such mistrust between the two sides that even on many issues that they have common goals, especially overcoming the legacy of older regimes, they can’t agree on how to proceed,” Ottaway said.
 
Daniel Brumberg agrees.
 
“There is a struggle over identity issues between Islamists and secularists which is really undermining the capacity to create the kind of consensus for peaceful change,” Brumberg said. “Political polarization is definitely disrupting the transition to democracy and even security reform and other transitional justice mechanisms due to the lack of consensus.”
 
He said that even when an elected administration, the Tunisian government, tried to be inclusive and shared power with secular groups, the Muslim conservative Salafi groups pushed for more Islamic policies thus scaring off secular groups.
 
Constitution drafting
 
Marina Ottaway warns that if the secular groups and political parties cannot overcome their divisions, Islamist groups will become dominant. As an example, she cites Egypt.
 
“Unless the secular parties manage to win more seats in the next parliament, then the constitution risks to be read in such a way that favors the Islamists and might cause a transition to an Islamic state,” she said.

Gause of the Brookings Doha Center shares the same concern.
 
“In both Egypt and Tunisia, the process of writing a new constitution has polarized society. Strong electoral showings have given Islamist parties the upper hand in the constitution-writing process,” Gause said. “Secular forces are actively opposing, but do not seem able to rally enough support in the society to block the Islamist constitutional projects.”
 
A demonstrator holds a Tunisian flag as he joins others demanding more compensation for the families of those injured or killed during the uprising against now deposed President Ben Ali, Tunis, January 17, 2013.A demonstrator holds a Tunisian flag as he joins others demanding more compensation for the families of those injured or killed during the uprising against now deposed President Ben Ali, Tunis, January 17, 2013.
x
A demonstrator holds a Tunisian flag as he joins others demanding more compensation for the families of those injured or killed during the uprising against now deposed President Ben Ali, Tunis, January 17, 2013.
A demonstrator holds a Tunisian flag as he joins others demanding more compensation for the families of those injured or killed during the uprising against now deposed President Ben Ali, Tunis, January 17, 2013.
The economic challenge
 
In addition to facing political, ethnic and religious tensions, Arab Spring countries  are confronted with  failing economies.
 
Ottaway considers this the most daunting challenge of all because these countries have lost tax revenues, their gross domestic products have plummeted, investments have declined and tourism has all but vanished.
 
Egypt is seen as having lost the most from the collapse of tourism. Cairo's foreign currency reserves have been depleted and there is no incentive for investors to put money on the table.
 
In the case of Tunisia, Brumberg says, the drop in tourism is coupled with a host of other challenges.

“Besides the fact that tourists are not coming back in huge numbers, there are also many deep structural problems such as dependence on tourism over trade,” Brumberg said. “Much of the Tunisian uprising was about jobs and social issues, but there was no sufficient change to really address the deep economic and social issues which is really fostering Islamic radicalism.”
 
Experts agree that what complicates the economic challenges confronting the countries of the Arab Spring is that other, richer nations are held back by the global economic downturn.
 
“There is not much aid available to help troubled economies like the Egyptian and Tunisian economies,” said Brumberg.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid