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 South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid