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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
X
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid