Arab Spring- Can we take the revolution back?

democracy in iran
An injured Iranian opposition activist during anti-government protests in December of 2009. (from the Jewish Daily Forward)

People must be feeling like this is one long Spring.  Since Mohamed Bouazizi, the unemployed Tunisian man, self emulated himself after being robbed not only of an opportunity to make a living but also his dignity by a government official; we have seen one Arab nation after another experience some sort of uprising.

At first Tunisia was not on the radar for Western media.  Many in the West were surprised as things spread to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria even in Jordan and Morocco there have been street protests. (All links are to articles updating on the Arab Spring from 2013)  All of a sudden the “Arab street” had found it had more to do then just talk.  But now we are seeing the Arab Spring on redux.  But we have to remember that even before these so called revolutions captivated us, Iranians in 2009 were using the same tactics to spur on the Green Evolution.

Evolution in Iran failed.  And likewise stability is far from being achieved in Tunisia.  Lebanon is being dragged into Syria’s civil war. Syria is becoming a chemical weapons wasteland. Egypt has just seen a military coup.  In Bahrain, its the neglected spring (largely neglected by Sunni’s…).  The Arab Spring must be transitioning into a Winter?

Competing world interest are challenging the possibility of not only dignity for the common person but also democracy from being achieved in the Middle East, but more importantly amongst Muslim societies.

I think the drag on development is making people experience fatigue from the Arab Spring.

On my Facebook feed I am seeing more and more of my American Muslim friends posting things like “I [am] beginning to conclude the “Arab Spring” wasn’t worth it.”  Other folks express cynicism in the point that individuals in a country may revolt, third party interests will continue to steer the politics toward the old status quo.    There is, however and unfortunately, resignation that the status quo was better then the current loss of lives and destruction of peoples livelihoods (Syria alone has over 100,000 deaths and countless refugees).

One friend posted that “a simple cost/benefit analysis, it seems like the ‘Arab Spring’ has caused a lot more damage than good. The saddest part is that people who live in these countries are forced to choose between tyranny or chaos, and there are no third options.”

In an piece written by Tariq Ramadan, he stated that the power brokers never lost power in these countries and that things were going to get worse.  This was written only a few months after the successful overthrow of several governments and is now coming to fruition:

“Revolutions take time,” we are told ; not to hurry. History shows that freedom has a price. True. We must remain committed, dedicated and optimistic, yet neither excessively idealistic or naïve. The situation in Tunisia, and even moreso in Egypt, gives cause for concern : in both countries the political landscape closely resembles chaos. Polarization between secular and Islamist trends prevents any serious discussion about the main social and economic challenges facing the respective countries. The Armed Forces are watching, if not monitoring, developments within Tunisian and Egyptian society, while foreign countries are readjusting their positions and strategies.

And there is a certain reality that is setting in where I too believe that things aren’t going to move toward Democracy, that the forces within these countries and from outside prefer centralized dictatorships to democratic rule.

Its true that revolutions don’t just bring about stability and good governance, justice and rule of law, economic growth and opportunity.  History is littered with many examples of post-colonial nations struggling to establish themselves, many are still unable to stand up- Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Kenya and countless others.

But when we look at Latin America you see how even under the shadow of American imperialism there is a source of new national independence and an exertion of sovereignty.  This is a great piece from the New Yorker, written by Jon Lee Anderson, drawing the eerily similar parallels to the coups that rocked Latin America and what is happening in Egypt today, albeit I don’t think the US is behind this coup.  But being that I am in the US I had to wonder if the US made an easy transition to Democracy or was it rocky and filled with near moments of madness- like the Egyptian armies overthrow of a Democratically elected government.

Even the United States, after our revolutionary war, was not the perfect union it is today.  In 1786, eleven years after we won our independence, the US was rocked by Shays Rebellion.  War veterans not having been paid due to financial difficulties brought about by a post-war economic depression, a credit squeeze caused by a lack hard currency, and fiscally harsh government policies instituted in 1785 to solve the state’s debt problems.

Thomas Jefferson, who was then in France serving as an Ambassador, in a letter to his friend, said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

This wouldn’t be the last rebellion or tumult the young U.S. of A. would experience.  In seven years time, 1791, we would expierence the Whiskey Rebellion,  the prolonged 10 year Fries’s Rebellion– all of which influenced the final document that would be ratified, and revered around the world, The Bill of Rights.  It also impacted the thoughts on how the Federal government needed to be made more centralized and endowed with greater powers then what had been conceived originally in order to put down these sorts of rebellions.  The Bill of Rights itself would set up the Northern and Southern states on a collision course for the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.  But it wouldn’t end there.  In fact, today the Bill of Rights continues to draw battle lines, albeit legal and ideological on a host of Constitutional issues.

It might be hard to take the revolution back now.  I agree with Tariq Ramadan that what we see happening around us may neither be an “Arab spring” nor a “Revolution” but rather a call by the peoples of the Middle East to shed off the shackles of fear and to stand up for dignity.  But whether thats what people get, remains murky.

Just today I read in the New York Times about how Leftist are being called “Islamists” in a radical redefining of the term by the military appointed regime.  I would laugh and say #poeticjustice if it weren’t utterly scary that this too is in effect a replaying of Latin America’s history.

Something is changing there and its leaving us confused and saddened because of our privileged and entitled status as citizens in the West.  We may be demanding to much from a people who have lived under the yoke of dictatorship for so long.  Regardless though, we all should be saddened by loss of human life and the stealing of a persons dignity regardless of their gender, race, religion, political thought or sexual orientation.

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