Hearts and Minds
This weekend, Tunisia celebrated the one year anniversary of its revolution. The event was commemorated by the gathering of thousands of people along the capital’s main street. Demonstrators held cages with doors flung open as an allegory for the changes that the country has undertaken since last January, when former President Ben Ali fled the country.
Though Saturday was a day of celebration in Tunisia, an event attended by a number of foreign dignitaries congratulating the country for setting the stage for the Arab spring, it is important to take note that the Arab Spring is far from over. True, three authoritarian dictators have since last January 14th been unseated, but many of the practices that kept them in power continue to occur in all three North African countries whose revolutions were successful. Needless to say, the remaining unsuccessful revolutions of the Middle East have resulted in less change.
In Tunisia for instance, the economic disparities that led to the uprising prevail and as was mentioned in last week’s post, freedoms such as the independence of the press are under threat. In Egypt, constant protests and violent clashes between the army and demonstrators speaks to the necessity of uprooting the military’s role in government—a role that both created Mubarak’s power and continues to prevent the country from achieving its revolutionary objectives. Libya, following months of war, is just now starting to pick up the pieces. Divisions between informal military groups continues, and the transitional government has thus far been unable to make significant headway in demobilizing its armed population.
In other words, as commemorations of the successes of the Arab Spring begin, it is important to recall, that the deposing of an unwanted leader is but the first step in these revolutions. The majority of the demands that motivated civilians to protest a year ago have not yet been met, and as a result, both the political and economic stability of these countries remains at risk. And these are the Arab Spring’s successful cases.
What about Syria and Yemen? In Syria, the UN has estimated that over 5,000 civilians have died since the uprising began. Despite the carnage, Assad shows no sign of reconsidering his position, and he continues to blame the insurrection on foreign destabilizing agents. Though one of Yemen’s citizens was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize this year, the transfer of President Saleh’s power has been complicated and violence has continued to plague the country.
The international community, and indeed the civilians of these countries had long awaited the democratic wave that swept through the region last year. Nevertheless, democracy and reform in these countries imply the undoing of decades of repression, inequality, and corruption. Unfortunately for these countries, these trends are not easily undone. Nevertheless, if the countries of the Arab Spring continue on their path to give voice to their communities, and unseat the corrupt rulers of the past, it is very likely that they will be able to achieve the ideals that led to the momentous events of last year.