Morocco World News
Washington DC, August 16, 2013
From the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, political and social turmoil has been making headlines all over the world for two years now. What was meant to be a legitimate dream for freedom, turned out to be the worst nightmare for many Arabs; and the death toll along with social, economic and political losses are far greater than that caused by the Holako and the Tatars when they invaded the Middle East. One simple man set himself on fire in Tunisia, causing most of the Arab world to set on fire with little hope of extinguishing anytime soon.
While watching the momentous events in Egypt play out on live TV, one cannot help thinking whether the success of the crowds in bringing down a second president would reanimate protests in other Arab countries, perhaps bringing thousands of protesters back to the streets after months of relative stability.
Egypt, at this moment, would probably not serve as an inspiration for anyone of any ideological leaning. Yes, the crowds have once again shown the potential affect of the power of the masses; but the “coup” by army leaders was the last hope for a smooth transition to democracy.
Many Arab movements believe that the Egypt-style revolution could bring democracy to their countries, and that the Egyptians were the ones capable of realizing this goal. For a number of reasons, we now know that this claim is completely false.
Why were Egypt and other states unable to move quickly and smoothly to a democratic system?
Firstly, there has been the standoff between secularists and Islamists, who have completely different visions for society. Secondly, the revolutions created high expectations for better lives, higher wages and a fairer society. The instability fatally weakened the economies of these countries, meaning that there was never any prospect of fulfilling these expectations.
Furthermore, the lack of political awareness caused public debate to become wholly focused on whether members of the new leaderships were linked to the ‘old guard’; in Libya this led to anyone who served under Gadhafi being banned from holding office – meaning that everybody who served in the new administration had little to no skills or experience in politics!
Despite all the discussions about how ‘Islamic’ the new constitutions should be, there was relatively little public debate about how to establish effective and accountable political institutions, capable of holding those in power accountable – meaning that whoever came to power would be more or less free to abuse that power.
Finally, the problem with any revolution is that it tends to throw the good away with the bad: In getting rid of all the bad aspects of the former regime, it also eliminates many important features of that country’s political culture; attempting to impose an abstract and alien political system in its place: One which enjoys no popular legitimacy when it fails to deliver on its utopian promises.
That is why it is so difficult to point to revolutions through history that have not been failures. This is not a failure of democracy, it is a failure of one forcible mean of imposing it.
France did not become democratic because of its 18th century revolution; it became less democratic after Napoleon brought an end to several bloodstained years of revolution by seizing power and invading all of France’s neighbors. In comparison, the revolution in Russia brought dictatorship of the worst sort.
The most successful democracies are generally those which have introduced it gradually after years of reforming more authoritarian systems, in a manner which preserves many of the best aspects of that political culture, strengthening the legitimacy of the governing system and granting security and prosperity to all civilians.
It is obvious that the outcome of the Arab Spring was not up to the people’s aspirations to depose dictatorships and move to a new era of democracy. The Arab Spring turned into terrifying outbursts of violence in both Libya and Syria, and sadly enough now in Egypt because of revolutions that started peacefully and turned into militarized insurgencies that use arms against regimes or the latter against unarmed citizens. The result has been wide-scale destruction and thousands of deaths. Even in Arab countries where revolutions maintained their peaceful nature, such as in Yemen and Tunisia, post-revolution policies did not improve the livelihoods of the people; who woke up to realize that the social and economic issues, inherited from the old regimes, are still the same.
Uprisings, even the most successful ones, never live up to the hopes of the participants, who tend to be naïve and overoptimistic. But the result of, what seemed, the peaceful uprisings of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt are particularly sobering because it indicates that a democratic outcome is probably not possible in most Arab countries at this point. The problem is not that Arab citizens are not capable or willing to make their own political choices. Rather, it is that when they are offered an opportunity to do so, as they were in the elections in Tunisia and Egypt, they show the depth of the cleavage that separates Islamists and secularists.
Healthy democracies require a loyal opposition, but those in power in too many Arab countries seem to see dissent as sedition and opposition as inherently dangerous. Given how deeply divided most Arab societies are —whether by ideology (liberal state vs. political Islam), sect, or ethnicity—the unwillingness to embrace compromise suggests the path to stable, open, free societies will be long and twisted.
Hope and expectations are two different things. They part ways when the revolutionary fever subsides and the reality on the ground takes over. The millions of people who came out onto the streets during the Arab Spring called for the end of dictatorship and for dignity, the rule of law, and transparency. They no longer wanted to be treated as gullible fools. As one autocrat after another fell, hopes for a better future, free and fair elections, and a better standard of living rose. These hopes, encouraged by governments, led to expectations that were not necessarily deliverable. Regimes with a strong Islamic component took over in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. The focus shifted from democratization to the Islamization of the state.
Every Arab supports reform and supports making his country’s political system fairer and more representative. But does Egypt constitute a successful political model that we should want to follow? No thank you!
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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