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ARAB SPRINGS: A Mixed Bag, Five Years After


Arab-SpringsGOING by the activities of the self-styled Islamic States and the gruesome sectarian conflicts engulfing a number of Arab countries, actions which are some of the uncomfortable offshoots of the December 2010 Arab Springs, the fifth anniversary of the famous uprising may call for less clinging of glasses and backslappings.

When Tunisian food vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, was intimidated by the authorities to the point of self-immolation, it remains doubtful if the 26-year-old would have envisaged the outcome that ensued.

Immediately Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali took to flight in Tunisia, the unthinkable happened in Libya. Then longest reigning Head of State in Africa and one of Arab world’s most powerful leader, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, was harangued into hiding and eventually killed on the streets of Sirte, where incidentally, he had vowed to die. Gadhafi’s counterpart and favourite of Europe and America, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak succumbed to popular uprising, leading to the termination of his 30 years hold on power. Questions were immediately asked in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and other gulf states, but the questions remain muted for the time being. Not so for Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen in a devastating order of events. Libya, Syria and Yemen, in particular, have largely caved in as functional states.

BY far the happiest story of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is still struggling to keep pace with acceptable democratic standard. Emerging from many setbacks along the way, the country held free and fair general and presidential elections in 2014, and adopted what many considered a relatively liberal constitution. The recognition of that effort is underscored by the Nobel peace prize awarded to four civil-society organisations that helped keep the country on the path of tranquility.

By 2013, much of the optimism that followed the spring was in tatters, to be replaced by widespread strikes, violence and terrorist attacks. A transitional parliament, the National Constituent Assembly, led by Ennahda, allegedly attempted to impose a religious constitution, which did not go down well with forces in favour of a secular constitution. Clashes between paramilitary groups were recorded across the country, and for a moment, it looked like Tunisia was set for sectarian conflicts between religious groups, on one side, and the Ben Ali’s old guard on the other.

On July 25, former rebel and leading critic of Ennahda, Mohammed Brahmi, was shot dead by a gunman in front of his wife and daughter. Police later found that the same gun had killed another government critic, Chokri Belaid, some, six months before.

Tunisia was on the verge of civil war and everyone was aware of the example of Egypt’s Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi.
The country has been rocked by two major terror attacks this year. The first on the Tunis’s renowned Bardo Museum in March, in which 22 people were killed, and the second on the resort of Sousse in June, in which 38 tourists were killed.
But with the formal Nobel Prize award in Oslo on Thursday to the Tunisian quartet, who helped steer the country away from going under, there is no indication that Tunisia may have overcome the spring.

THE oxymoron –– sweet bitter may not be too pristine in describing the Libyan situation. After 40 years of strglehold on leadership, Gadhafi had no shield to deflect the uprising by the time the Arab Spring reached his shores on February 17, 2011. He was already an old man and a tired leader, who was ill prepared for the forces stalked against him; including those of NATO. He hid, ran and feebly fought back. On October 20, 2011, his effort earned him death on the streets of Sirte and his body displayed for the global audience as trophy.

The transition process that followed appeared to have started off well, but the country with strong clannish and tribal identities was bound to experience hiccups. There was no consensus on what Libya was to become.
In July 2012, elections for a national congress took place, but armed groups, formed during the revolt, including terror groups, continued to operate almost freely and the government accomplished little.

In July 2014, voters voted massively against religious movements, who in turn tried to make up for what they lost at the ballot box.

Groups on both sides of the political spectrum have used militias as a political weapon in Libya, and now these militias have grown too powerful for these groups to control.

With thousands dead, towns smashed and 400,000 homeless, the big winner, according to a report, is Isis, which has expanded fast amid the chaos.

Tripoli, which used to be Libya’s most liberal city, is now home to religious extremists. Women can no longer leave the city, on the few flights still operating, unless they have male companions. Gunmen have attacked statues, Sufi mosques, a library and the art college. They also warn against displays of idolatry. Beauty salons are closed and schools segregated by sex. This week one unit announced the arrest of a woman for witchcraft, posting photographs of her and a mutilated black cat.

Meanwhile, Benghazi, Libya’s second city, where the revolution first began with protests outside the courthouse, has been rendered prostrate by fighting between government troops and militias.
This is even as Italy continues to deal with the arrival of thousands of migrants funneled through Libya, many drowning on their perilous journey.

With continuous plunge in oil price and the country barely surviving on its foreign reserves, it may not be long before Libya becomes broke. According to reports, the country may run out of money to feed itself, run power plants, and fuel the pumps that supply the cities with water from deep wells in the Sahara.
But with the world’s attention squarely on the crisis in Syria, discussion about the deteriorating situation in Libya is lacking.
Last Sunday, the warring factions, meeting in Tunisia, said they had reached an agreement to be approved by rival parliaments on how to end the political deadlock.

BY January 25, 2011, the uprising had reached Cairo, the Egyptian capital. Less than three weeks later, it consumed, President Hosni Mubarak.

The once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, a political charity organisation that renounced use of violence in the 70s, won parliamentary elections in January 2012, and in June, President Mohammed Morsi of the party, narrowly won the presidency.

But before the end of the year, he faced strings of street protests, which became stronger after the constituent assembly proposed hardline draft constitution.
With huge protests underway, Morsi was overthrown in a military coup in July 2013. Deadly clashes followed and the military declared a state of emergency. Curiously, western powers shifted the goal post to accommodate al-Sisi- in a military supervised election, which he won. Since then, it has been uneasy calm in Egypt.

But by the time the Russian plane was shot down, killing over 284 on board, the reality of chaos that characterize Egypt might begin to dawn on the world.

Egypt has long been an important country to the West, especially the United States because of its stabilizing factor in the Arab world, a large population and the presence of the Suez Canal, one of the major avenues for world trade. The importance of this relationship can be quantified by the $76bn in aid given to Egypt since 1948, including $1.3bn annually for Egypt’s military. The escalation of the Syrian war and the downing of the Russian plane, killing all the 284 on board, shows that Egypt is still vulnerable.

BY far the most calamitous aftermath of the Arab Spring. As a state, Syria may just be hanging by a thinning thread of fabric as a nation.

Immediately the uprising reached its shores and after making some initial conciliatory gestures, President Bashar al-Assad sent out the tanks to help quell the protests. By July 2011, Assad’s opponents had formed the Free Syrian Army and the uprising gradually morphed into civil war.
The opposition was making gains, but by chains of events, principally activities of terror groups and entrance of Russia, the military situation seemed to have turned in Assad’s favour.

From onset, the civil war was also a big proxy war. Assad has employed the support of Russia and Iran and its allies; the supposedly more moderate opposition elements had the support of the U.S. and the West, while some Gulf monarchies, like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, backed the more fundamentalist factions.
Presently, the country may have been divided into four sovereign entities, with areas controlled by the Assad-led government, the Islamist opposition (sometimes labeled terrorist organisation), the secular opposition and the Kurds.

But beyond the common enemy, ISIS, the presence of two separate coalitions on the Syrian battlefield — a US-led group that includes Turkey on one side and Iran and Russia on the other — has long prompted fears of accidents or unintentional confrontations.

Recently, Turkish fighter jets have stopped flying over Syrian airspace as part of the US-led coalition — a move that may have been hastened by Russia’s decision to shift batteries of surface-to-air missiles to Syria, following the downing of its jet by Ankara last month.
As the was continues unabated, Syria has become the real theater of the spring.

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