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💬 "The Arab Spring, 10 Years Later"

Today, Explained

Photo by Srdjan Popovic / Unsplash

Host: Sean Rameswaram
Guest: Borzou Daragahi, Correspondent, The Independent
Category: Society & Culture | 💬 Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[0:47] “One day in December of 2010, […] a young fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi in central Tunisia got into a spat with a cop and the cop ordered him to close his fruit vending stand. And […] in a sort of act of desperation and humiliation, he poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire in just sort of abject desperation at his plight. And he didn't die right away. He lingered on for weeks. But his plight and what he did inspired protests across Tunisia. […] Eventually, Mohamed Bouazizi died from his injuries and the revolution grew in Tunisia. And eventually the military pulled the plug on [the Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali]. They refused to intervene in protests. He fled to Saudi Arabia.”

[2:22] “That was the sort of spark. That was a first actual revolution, popular uprising in the Arab world in memory, […] not a coup, not a sort of palace assassination, not a foreign invasion, but actual people's uprising leading to the ouster of a dictatorship. And then 11 days later, there was a call for protests in Cairo, in Egypt. […] It was a day of protests that no one thought would amount to much. Even the people who were involved in it were doubtful that people would turn out. But […] it just caught like wildfire.”

[4:18] “[T]hat really inspired revolutions across North Africa and other parts of the Middle East. […] Eventually, you had uprisings in Libya, […] Yemen, […] Bahrain, […] and Syria. A month later, […] you had protest movements in Morocco. […] You had calls for change in Saudi Arabia, and many people forget about that, in the United Arab Emirates even. And this […] was a tidal wave across the Arab world, and even […] in Iran, which is not part of the Arab world, but part of the Middle East, there was protests in solidarity with the protesters in the Arab Spring against the regime in Tehran for months and months after what happened here.”

[8:44] “[10 years later], it's a really dark situation. […] [I]t's hard to tell where the misery over the Arab Spring starts and where the misery over like Covid and economic collapse starts. But in general, the situation in the Arab world, in these countries that […] experienced revolution, even in Tunisia, which is sort of billed as the success story of the Arab Spring, because it didn't end up in either a military dictatorship or a civil war, there's widespread discontent. […] [Y]ou'll find […] protests in Tunisia to this day […] against the government, against corruption and against police brutality […]. And then it just goes down from there. You look at Libya, civil war and separation. You look at Syria, just a nightmare scenario of the dictatorship on the one side and chaos on the other. Yemen, civil war. Egypt, military dictatorship. The Gulf states, tightening authoritarianism. You know, just like very little signs of hope in the Arab world right now.”

[13:43] “I think that in many respects, it's too early to say [if this entire movement has failed]. […] It's still unfolding. […] If you look at the Middle East and North Africa geopolitically, the kind of structures, the axes that were formed because of the Arab Spring, are continuing to wrestle with each other. […] [Y]ou have this axis of conservative, autocratic regimes that includes Egypt's government, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Khalifa Haftar in Libya, […] this sort of warlord in eastern Libya fighting against this Islamist populist axis that includes Turkey and the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar and the government in western Libya and a few other parties. And then you have Iran and Syria and Hezbollah and so on. And so […] all these forces are still fighting it out. And meanwhile, you have these aspirations on the part of people that are continuing and you still have, […] massive uprisings. […] [L]et's not forget, […] that we had a year or two of major protests in Sudan, which is also part of the Arab world. […] You've had protests in Iraq, you've had protests in Lebanon. And all of these incorporated the themes of that Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Many of the ideals were expressed, many of the tactics were used […]. So I would say that it's just a long way of saying that it's just still too early to say it was a failure.”

[15:42] “This is an evolution and there's a lot of pain and trauma, maybe a lot more pain and trauma that the people expected that were involved in the initial uprisings, and definitely a lot more pain and trauma that journalists and political scientists were expecting when this first erupted. And it's been a learning experience for the people of the region and it's been a learning experience for people watching the region.”

[21:40] “[The Arab Spring] proved that contrary to what a lot of bigots and racists, what we call in the Middle East, the Orientalists, were saying […]. [T]here is this sort of prejudice in the West that people […] in the Middle East live in this situation and live under these autocracies, because that's the way they like it and there's no other way. But, […] in fact, there's a […] very significant portion of these populations that really don't like it […]. And when they see that achieving that pluralistic model right this second, would cost a lot in blood, and they decide sometimes that they don't want to go forward. And I think that's a legitimate calculation when, […] in certain countries, you go forward and you try to make a change and you see the response of the security forces and the response of the security forces is utterly brutal and horrific. And you decide, no, that's not worth it. I think that's a sign of maturity that we should respect.”

[24:32] “[O]ne thing that would be super awesome [to realize the dreams and ideals of the Arab Spring] is if […] countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and France and Germany and so on would just stop selling weapons to these people. Stop selling them the instruments of repression - that includes, like tear gas, police equipment, surveillance equipment, electronic stuff. I mean, we're not only not helping in some respects, in the West, we're actually actively supporting these autocratic regimes as they […] use the most advanced weaponry and crowd control mechanisms and surveillance technologies to repress their own people.”

[26:57] “Joseph Biden during the campaign called for […] a democracy conference later this year where, […] the sort of like minded democracies would get together in an effort to reinvigorate the idea of democratic pluralism around the world. And I think that's a really interesting idea. And that will give a big boost to these groups and these figures who are fighting for democracy in these very tough environments. […] I mean, it'll be much better than under Trump. […] [H]e was like basically coddling the worst dictators in the region. […] I mean, he called Sisi, who is an absolute tyrant, who has turned Egypt into a more brutal dictatorship than it has ever been since World War II, he called him his favorite dictator. He like feted him in the White House. […] I don't think any U.S. president has done that, has, like, embraced so brutal a dictator so warmly. And I think that anything is better than what we just had over the last four years.”

[31:48] “I think that the region has changed, the expectations have changed, the discourse has completely transformed. People have become more sophisticated, politically. They talk about their political situation in a much different way, and a much more enlightened way, and […] with a much more sophisticated vocabulary. And there's no putting the genie back in the bottle, so to speak.”

Rating: 🍎🍎🍎🍎

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 37 min | 🗓️ 02/04/2021
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