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'Arab Spring': The Ten Bitter Years

'Arab Spring': The Ten Bitter Years

Monday, 21 December, 2020 - 09:45

Freedom. Bread. Human dignity… These chants rang through the streets of several Arab countries precisely ten years ago. These slogans implied many things, the most important of which is that the "enemy" targeted by the revolutions was internal. It may rely on foreign alliances and external aid, but the basis is internal: It is here, one of us.

This was the first shift generated by the revolutions and the most significant in modern Arab political history. It was the foundation on which the future would be built if it had another chance.

The protesters in the city squares and other public spaces were reclaiming their countries. They were taking them back not only from regimes whose hereditary republicanism had been the most recent manifestation of degradation, but they were also reclaiming them from the previous political sentimentalities and modalities of action that had forgone nations and peoples' interests in favor of goals that go beyond these nations and peoples: For an Islamic solution, Arab unity, fighting strategic alliances, or liberating Palestine...

The revolutions of the "Arab Spring" were more of a process of national self-discovery. For countries and people. Its simultaneous emergence in different Arab countries had a dual implication: On the one hand, they seemed to say "let us come together so we may separate," just as had happened in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe between 1989 and 1991, when seven or eight peoples rose simultaneously so that each of them could become independent, breaking the enforced and contrived unity imposed on them by Soviet Moscow. On the other hand, these peoples' shared concerns, namely freedom, bread and human dignity, were universal, demanded and defended by all the world's peoples.

This was reflected in the crux of the five revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen and in the second wave of revolutions in Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Algeria that followed suit. Here, the revolutions were no longer epics of spilled blood and ripped limbs that draw inspiration from the French or Russian revolution. They were no longer violent overthrows of one social class so that another would replace it. It is no longer a promise of mute dictatorship led by a party headed by an infallible Secretary-General. It is no longer an implementation of a divine theory with self-ascribed scientific and salvational qualities. The revolutions were colored revolutions, as they are popularly described, that emphasize their peacefulness, have space from all forms of ideas and inclinations, and women play prominent roles in them.

They do not have a select group seen as an eternal reprehensive whom they want to bring to power. Instead, they promise to bring power back to people, leaving them to make the choices, change the rulers and replace the eternal with the relative. They are no longer obsessed with breaking with the outside world, but rather with catching up with it and its scientific, technical and information revolutions, which the imprisoned peoples were prevented from undergoing.

These revolutions went on this way for less than two years, until they were killed off by the old concepts and tools deployed by two parties opposed to one another but allied against the revolution: The military security regime and takfiri Islam (Islamists who label those who deviate from their puritanical interpretation as apostates). Both pushed for a return to the old order in the broad sense of the word. Politics, for them, is nothing but violence in the name of a cause. It is cruelty, brutality, and civil war, accompanied by a repetitive and despondent discourse that stems not only from a failure to catch up with times and consider its novelties but also the depravity of insular souls.

Between them, terrorism and the war on terror flattened politics and revolution by using an exceptional degree of violence. In this, they were helped by the local bourgeoisie's weakness, cities' fragility and the explosion of repressed rural tribalism, in addition to the indolence of international players who had not been exonerated from the traumas of the major interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the subsequent minor intervention in Libya.

It suffices to compare the killing of Osama bin Laden in mid-2011- while the revolutionary activity was blossoming- which no one paid any attention to, and the emergence of ISIS and its siblings and the extent to which their actions undercut revolutionary activity as they raised the flags of civil war up high.

Today, the counter-revolutions' onslaught is complete, either by renewing security regimes or fracturing societies along religious, sectarian and ethnic lines. In lieu of the patriotic-universal duality that had been promised by the early revolutionaries, we saw a plummet to the sub-patriotism brought about by counter-revolutionary movements and their forces, both those in governments and those in opposition.

However, these forces came along accompanied by occupations, which along with the social breakdown they bring, could make nations themselves become a thing of the past. Indeed, this is what hurts the most, the flares that sparked the revolutions have increased and exacerbated, while exile and expulsion have been forced on broad segments of the population that are paying the price for freedom's defeat. As for the revolutionary forces, they are in a rot that makes a swift revival unlikely- not only that of the revolutions but also of the countries themselves.

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