Arab Spring raised political awareness and should not be a cause for disappointment

Fashionable as it has become to refer to the chill that has settled across the region as the Arab winter, it is wrong to contend the uprisings were in vain

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 10:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 10:29pm

There would seem to be little to celebrate on the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring, the series of peaceful demonstrations that toppled or threatened at least six dictators in the name of democracy. Only one country, Tunisia, has retained a democratically elected government. Elsewhere, hopes of change have seemingly been dashed by military control, civil wars and crackdowns on opponents. But as fashionable as it has become to refer to the chill that has settled across the region as the Arab winter, it is wrong to contend the uprisings were in vain.

Tunisia’s non-violent demonstrations that led within a month to the flight and resignation of long-time dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011, were bound to stir passions across the region. Increasingly youthful populations had grown tired of the corruption and mismanagement of their ageing and autocratic leaders. Social media gave them inspiration and one by one, regimes came under pressure from protesters.

When Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president of 30 years, was ousted on January 25, the sense of victory was palpable. But idealism is no substitute for experience and lessons were learned the hard way. Into the leadership void stepped Islamists, extremists and opportunists. The military is again in power in Egypt, civil war rages in Syria and Yemen, Bahrain is back in the hands of autocrats, political rivalries prevent Libya from moving forward and the Islamic State and terrorists stalk the region.

In the wake of the Arab Spring has come disappointment, bloodshed and frustration. But a political awareness has now taken hold, just as it did in Asia after the people power revolution in the Philippines in 1986 and Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall three years later. There is still a desire for transparency, accountability, tolerance and a host of other freedoms. Governments recognise the need for change and are slowly implementing reforms. Societies are being altered, politically and culturally. A lesson has been learned though: That change, no matter how dramatic, takes time.