Arab Revolts: A Firework or the Beginning of a New Era?

Andreas Themistocleous

With the beginning of the Arab revolts, several scholars spoke about a temporary and transient outburst without any serious prospects. Furthermore many said that these revolts were merely the expression of the popular anger and that they would not have any other impact. From that perspective the Arab popular anger consists of a combination of different factors (social, political and economic), which have their roots in the oppression of the authoritarian regimes as well as in the western imperialism of the past. This notion is also driven by other realties such as the cultural and social complexities of these people, which are at large a result of their colonial past, and the current global economic circumstances.

Indeed, the above logic is to a great extent valid, at least seemingly. Nonetheless, such approaches neglect a series of other realities which have been gradually developed in recent years. In particular, throughout the Arab world, there has been an ongoing discourse, especially among the Egyptian youth, regarding the possibilities of overturning the regime and establishing a different political system. Consequently, when the Tunisian man set himself on fire, he triggered the beginning of a revolt which was subsequently spread in almost the whole Arab world.

Thereafter the rapid developments, both on local and regional level, led both western states and analysts to reconsider the matter. The new approach includes a strong element of uncertainty; the future of the region is very hard to be predicted because the present situation is very fluid.

A few months after the beginning of the riots the situation, that has been developed, is extremely complicated and constantly changing. The new reality which has been formed, initially with the resignation of Ben Ali in Tunisia and later of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, even though it is not characterised by fundamental changes in the regimes’ political system, it does constitute the beginning of a new era for the Arab world. Yet, it is true that the current situation is not definitive.

From a different perspective, after a careful analysis, it is evident that the situation on the ground is, in reality, much more complicated. InEgypt, the people have resumed their demonstrations inTahrir Squarebut this time their demands are much more specific and politicised. For example, they demand the resignation of the military-led government and the halt of the violent crackdown against protesters. InLibyathe situation is still out of control because of the ongoing civil war and the continuing NATO bombings. InSyria, although the Assad regime initially seemed to control the situation, as the crisis unfolded the clash between the people and the regime became worse. Because of the rising opposition of the people towards the regime, the latter, had to resort to extensive use of violence in order to maintain its power and domestic stability. Moreover,Yemenis on the brink of a civil war while the domestic situation remains chaotic.

In the light of all of the above, the outcome ofSudan’s conflict is also of great importance. Namely, the partition ofSudanin two separate states could constitute a “precedent model” which could be used as a part of future conflict resolution strategies in the region.

In conclusion, it is particularly important to note that emphasis must be given in the essence of each case while dangerous generalisations must be avoided. Furthermore it should be made clear that the uprisings in question are neither temporary nor superficial. Instead, they constitute a momentous change with long term consequences. In essence they represent the beginning of the end of the postcolonial period and the rising of a new era.

At this point many questions arise. Will these revolts lead the Arab countries to claim a significant place of their own in the globalised international system or will the needed conditions be created in order for these states to follow a whole different course? The answers to these questions lie in the developments that are about to take place (e.g. the upcoming elections inEgyptandTunisia). Is it possible thatEgyptwill emerge as a rising regional superpower? If so, which element will define Egyptian policies? Will it be Islam, social-democracy, or is it possible to witness a major shift towards something entirely different?


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