The Arab Spring Nearly Two Years on: What has Changed?

By anonymous analyst:

The full effects of the “Arab Spring” uprisings are still playing out nearly two years after the movement began, however; some change has begun to take shape. Governments throughout the world likely have learned of the risk of mass dissent proliferated by social media and unemployed young people. Although some regional transformation occurred, the outcome may not be what the participants of the uprising intended to see from their efforts at toppling regimes in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

Those who took to the streets beginning in December 2010 did so in an attempt to bring about systemic change and an end to corruption within their respective political systems. The fundamental change resulting from the backlash that ensued, however; did not bring about the transparency, increases in personal freedoms, or economic prosperity that it sought out to.

Conversely, Egypt has fallen six places to 118th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s corruption index in the year since Mubarak’s ouster, while Tunisia has fallen two places to 75th since its infamous fruit vendor kicked off the Arab Spring in 2010.[1]
Instead of a substantive political overhaul, as Graeme Bannerman of Reuters writes, the region has experienced a more nuanced, and arguably superficial, transformation. A formerly dominant regional Arab national identity has been replaced with a more Islamic identity.[2] An initially apprehensive Muslim Brotherhood dutifully stepped in to fill the void after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.[3] Similarly, the group’s affiliate in Tunisia, the Ennahda Party, has taken control of that government’s legislature.[4]

This regional transformation, or perhaps, lack thereof, is best illustrated by Egypt. Egypt was the epicenter of the Arab nationalist movement that swept the Middle East in the 1950’s. A group of Egyptian military officers, headed by Gamal Abdel Nasser, successfully unseated the Egyptian monarch in what is known as the Free Officers Revolution of 1952. Since 1952, the Egyptian military has remained the guardian of the state with the president traditionally coming from among the military’s ranks.

Protesters took to the streets in Tahrir Square Egypt in January 2011 in an attempt to bring an end to the country’s military rule. The result, much like that in Tunisia and Libya, was the forced resignation of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, in February 2011.[5] The fall of the Mubarak regime and, subsequently, the country’s first democratic presidential election were hailed as major successes in democratizing the region.

One underlying theme of the protests’ success in ousting the former dictator was the power of social media, which was reported as instrumental in organizing  demonstrations across the Arab world including Tahrir Square.

A recent study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science concludes, however; that there is “little evidence to suggest that future historians will rank the events of 2011 with those of 1848 or 1989. Simply too few of the fundamentals of social, economic and political organization in the Arab world have been successfully contested by the protests.”[6]

Furthermore, studies indicate that social media was not quite the catalyst behind the Arab Spring protests as was initially thought. This is evidenced by the continued efficacy of the protests even after the Egyptian government cut off internet and mobile phone access. Rather, Facebook’s event sites, purporting to indicate protest times and locations, were often decoys to enable the real demonstrations organized via word-of-mouth.[7]

Nearly two years later, fresh protests have begun to erupt in Egypt as Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, issued an interim constitutional declaration granting himself far-reaching powers reminiscent of the Mubarak era.[8] Despite recent motions by the president, however; Egypt’s military, via the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), remains the most powerful government entity—perhaps the most telling sign that little has changed since the 1952 Free Officers Revolution.

[1] Kirschbaum, Erik. “Egypt Slips in Corruption Index Despite Arab Spring.” December 2012. Reuters.
[2] Bannerman, Graeme. “The Key to Understanding the ‘Arab Spring’.” October 2011. Reuters.
[3] Natsios, Andrew. “How Will the Muslim Brotherhood Govern Egypt? Look to Sudan.” October 2012. US News.
[4] Gamha, Eymen. “Final Results of Tunisian Elections Announced.” January 2013. Tunisia Alive.
[5] Hendawi, Hamza et al. “Egypt’s Mubarak Refuses to Quit Hands VP Powers.” February 2011. Associated Press.
[6] Kitchen, Nicholas. “After the Arab Spring: Power Shift in the Middle East?” May 2012. London School of Economics and Political Science.
[7] Stein, Ewan. “Revolutionary Egypt: Promises and Perils.” May 2012. London School of Economics and Political Science.
[8] Staff. “Egypt: Who Holds the Power?” December 2012. BBS News Middle East.