The Arab Spring: A Study in Dichotomy

by / 2 Comments / 264 View / June 15, 2014

In the three-and-a-half years since the revolutions for democracy around the Middle East, not a single country has yet been able to establish a properly elected, stable government. What started as a revolutionary wave of protests and civil wars against autocratic rulers is now representative of a chaotic experiment in democracy that has left thousands dead and illegitimate leaders still in power.

The most promising countries (with the exception of Tunisia), i.e. Libya, Yemen, and Egypt, are desperately struggling. Libya has plunged into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Gaddafi, with oil production almost completely halted and increased militia activity throughout the nation. In Yemen, the overthrow of the Saleh government and installment of Al-Hadi in a one-candidate presidential election has yielded minimal progress towards reform, and Ali Abdullah Saleh continues to wield political clout as the head of the General People’s Congress Party.

Perhaps most startling in recent news is the election of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the new president of Egypt following Mohammed Morsi’s deposition by a coup d’état in July last year. The Egyptian revolution, which began as a movement against the Mubarak government and its police brutality, state of emergency laws, electoral fraud, political censorship, and economic failures, now features the former Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces as their leader, who has ironically taken power undemocratically in a country tragically fighting for the very opposite.

In a much starker fight for the same ideals, Syria is awash in a bloody civil war. Demands for democratic reform and the overthrow of the Assad government were met with brutal military retaliation and no attempts at negotiation. Instead, the last three years have resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 Syrians, casualties largely on the opposition front—the Free Syrian Army (FRA), the Islamic Front, etc. Chemical weapons have been used multiple times in the conflicts, and despite Western condemnation, the unpopular government continues to hold power. It goes without saying that, in addition to the failure to instill democracy, the country’s socioeconomic standing is cliff diving, with its GDP having shrunk 45% since the start of the conflict.

It is not surprising that skeptics of the Arab Spring have come to think that the revolution is condemned to failure; all signs point to that fact. Citing the lack of precedence for a legitimate democratic institution, The Economist even argued that “people power will decay into anarchy or provoke the reimposition of dictatorship.” Additionally, since the region’s sole cohesive force is Islam, it is argued that theologically it is in direct conflict with, and thereby cannot accommodate, democracy. On some level, there is merit to this line of argument; the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for instance, attempted to use democracy for the ultimate goal of theocracy, which is fundamentally undemocratic. Simply put, these critics argue the Middle East would have been better off in a relatively peaceful, sociopolitically conservative, pre-Arab Spring era.

This view is premature at best, if not completely wrong. It has been less than four years since the inception of the Arab spring, and history has shown us that democratic transitions are often violent and long-running. As has been mentioned before, the consequences of the revolution, especially in Syria and Libya, have been dreadful. Yet, as a special report conducted by The Economist last July notes, most Arabs believe their fight is far from over and certainly not a lost cause. In essence, the reports contend that people would much rather be fighting for their freedom than remain apathetic in shackles.

It is easy to conclude that the Arab Spring has failed because of the explicit detriments that it has brought about, namely war, recession, and a lack of reform. But many such critics ignore the roots of the revolution to begin with. In 1960, Egypt and South Korea shared almost identical life-expectancies and GDP numbers. Today, Egypt’s GDP is only one-fifth of South Korea’s and almost one-third of the population is illiterate. When consistent decline in the standard of living and rampant corruption and money laundering become the norm, a revolution for equality, however convoluted and lengthy, should always be justified. As an increasingly educated and disillusioned Arab youth sees the greener grass on the other side, the antiquated ways of the incumbent rulers is brought to question, and rightfully so.

In regards to the Islamic nature of the Middle East and its discord with the tenets of democracy, Malaysia and Indonesia are excellent case studies to highlight the coexistence of both the Quran and a constitution. The current revolution, at the end of the day, is not without flaws. The greatest tragedy is the impatience of the populous and the power-yielding masses; the eviction of a democratically elected Morsi by the Muslim Brotherhood shows that they have yet to learn the necessity of pragmatism and longevity when running a country. But Tunisia, the impetus for the Arab Spring, may very well change the course of the regional movement’s outcome, if its newly passed constitution can provide the stability and cooperation that is required for a new, democratic beginning.

Political change is indeed a long game, but with time, we tend to smooth out the complications of everyday affairs. It took forty years for the nations of Eastern Europe to rid themselves of communism. Three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe was run by mafias and extremist politicians in Poland, Slovakia, and the Baltics. At the very least, the Arab Spring can be described as an awakening of the mind, a necessary call for change. The journey to concrete change has not failed as many claim; it has only begun.


“The Arab Spring: Has It Failed?” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 13 July 2013. Web.

Cockburn, Patrick. “Hazards of Revolution.” London Review of Books 36.1 (2014): 25-27. 11 June 2014 <>.

Davidson, Kavitha A. “3 Years After Arab Spring, Democracy’s Future In Middle East Still Uncertain.” The Huffington Post., 05 Oct. 2013. Web.
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  • Chris Cross

    Obviously democracy comes about easily. The United States and Britain never had civil wars or sectional divides or anything. Great article.

  • Ramesh Sethuramanathan

    yes. it is good sign.. There are other hands in the fallout of these middle east democrats..Since it is a diamond mine mere management will not be sufficient..The leader should wear more hats to succeed..(including a dictatorship one in lesser %)