Is 2019 a New Arab Spring, and Will It Succeed This Time?

Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Graphic by Younes Arbaoui, Morocco World News.

Rabat – Popular uprisings have deposed two long-time rulers in what some termed “the second wave of the Arab Spring,” eight years after the first wave hit North Africa and the Middle East.

Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir joined Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, all overthrown during the popular peaceful and armed uprisings in 2011. Syria’s Bashar Al Assad is the only surviving president of the pre-Arab Spring era, a privilege he largely owes to his Russian and Iranian allies.

In 2019 Arab masses seem again to have accomplished the unthinkable: Forcing out of power a leader who ruled for two or three decades after weeks of peaceful protests.

The euphoria of the recent uprisings in Algeria and Sudan is reminiscent of the hopes that the toppling of the 2011 rulers generated.

The danger of romanticizing the protests

Many predicted a second wave of the Arab Spring in the last few years due to the political stagnation and economic hardships in Arab countries—both those that witnessed regime changes but failed to launch a transition to democracy or those spared the 2011 turmoil.

But the question remains whether the 2019 uprisings can bring the long-awaited change to a region that has long been plagued by authoritarianism.

The first wave of uprisings was largely deceiving. The term “Arab Spring,” coined by an overly-excited European press, was a reminder that revolutions are generally seen from a romantic prism that might turn blinding.

The Arab uprisings were celebrated as a historical moment that would usher the MENA region into a democratic era. Not much thought was given to the fact that deposing a long-time ruler is not the end itself, and that his removal does not mean that the political system will change overnight.

Take Libya as a warning

The militarization of demonstrations in Syria and Libya exposed the two countries to the dangers of foreign intervention and the stoking of sectarian and tribal tensions.

In Libya, those who celebrated the fall of Gadhafi overlooked the fact that the regime change came through a military intervention led by France, the UK, and the US under the pretext of protecting civilians.

The pretext was dubious in light of allegations against former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, accused of receiving money from Gadhafi to finance his election campaign in 2006 and 2007.

This is one reason why Sarkozy wanted to get rid of Gadhafi. Another reason is that the former French president wanted to restore his reputation by appearing as a champion of freedom after he stood by the Tunisian President Ben Ali during the protests that were calling for his resignation.

The foreign powers wanted Gadhafi gone regardless of the price the country would have to pay when those who took arms against him would turn their guns against each other after his downfall.

The foreign superpowers made empty promises to Libyans that they would help their country during the post-Gadhafi transition. The fact that they did not deliver proves they cared less about the fate of the newly liberated nation.

The assassination of Gadhafi at the hands of rebel troops was a perfect example of the direction the country was heading into: A state of lawlessness where militias dictate their will and where the rule of law is totally absent.

Libya should have brought Gadhafi to trial for whatever crimes he committed, on domestic or foreign soil.

Beware the ‘helpful’ military

In the case of Egypt in 2011, and Algeria and the Sudan today, we should not cheer the army’s intervention to oust a president after helping to maintain his rule for decades. It is clear that when the military does so, its sole motivation is to regain control rather than stand by the people attempting to set the country on a more democratic track.

Uprisings are, to a certain extent, a spontaneous surge of accumulated frustration vis-a-vis a given political and economic situation.

Read also: Military Coup Overthrows Al-Bashir: What Happens in Sudan Now?

During the 2011 Arab Spring and its aftermath, protest movements failed to achieve their goals after a promising start, with the exception of Tunisia. Today, Tunisia is clearly freer, but it is nonetheless facing several political and economic challenges threatening its nascent democracy.

On the other hand, the Egyptian army, against whose rule people demonstrated in 2011, is still in power.

Gadhafi died, but Libya sank into chaos and a de-facto civil war.

Syria is a battle ground between regional and international forces as well as armed groups with nationalist or religious ideologies.

Yemen is the stage for a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia which are settling scores while a worsening humanitarian crisis is adding to the misery of the local population.

Morocco did not transform into the parliamentary monarchy protestors were calling for.

Read also: Political Activist Calls on Algerians to Boycott July 4 Election

One step forward or two steps back?

Does this mean that Arab uprisings are doomed to failure? It is clear that those who support revolutions believe that the “Arab Spring” will ultimately succeed after drawing lessons from the failures of past experiences.

For them, the current Algerian “Hirak” protest movement, is a source of hope. Demonstrators keep taking to the streets, asking for the dismissal of Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah; Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui; and the head of the Constitutional Council, Tayeb Belaiz.

Demonstrators are aware that the three officials, who were part of Bouteflika’s longtime-rule, cannot be trusted with running the country during this transition period.

However, demonstrators’ calls for the removal of the three officials are meeting resistance from the army leadership. After bowing to pressure and giving up their initial plans of supporting a fifth term for Bouteflika, the country’s top generals are unlikely to concede this time.

The Sudanese opposition is also facing the challenge of imposing a civilian government on the military council set to lead the post al-Bashir era for a two-year period.

In Egypt, the army pulled the strings during the 2011 protests and their aftermath. While the military seemed to give up on Mubarak, a former decorated army officer, they managed to rally citizens and political parties against the first civilian president, Mohammed Morsi.

They later deposed Morsi in a military coup and regained the presidency when the former minister of defense, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, got elected.

Many pro-Arab Spring Egyptians are calling on their Algerian and Sudanese counterparts to take their country’s experience as a warning.

The next days and weeks might be an indicator about which direction the “second wave of the Arab Spring” will take: One step forward towards democracy or two steps back.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.

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