Advertising | Metro Eireann | Top News | Contact Us
Governor Uduaghan awarded the 2013 International Outstanding Leadership Award  •   South African Ambassador to leave  •   Roddy's back with his new exclusive "Brown-Eyed Boy"  •  
Print E-mail

Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture

Last update - Monday, July 15, 2013, 15:48 By Charles Laffiteau

More than two years after the first Arab Spring demonstrations erupted in Tunisia, recent developments in Egypt appear to point to a new phase in the wave of popular discontent that has swept through the Middle East.

More than two years after the first Arab Spring demonstrations erupted in Tunisia, recent developments in Egypt appear to point to a new phase in the wave of popular discontent that has swept through the Middle East.

For starters, many of the political and economic issues that helped drive the initial Arab Spring uprisings are also at the core of what I call the current ‘second wind’. While popular dissatisfaction with autocratic governments has most often been cited as the underlying cause of the protests, there were a number of other factors that combined to drive and sustain the Arab Spring.

I do not believe that the political corruption and human rights violations of dictatorial Arab regimes were the sparks that lit the flames of popular discontent. Rather, I believe economic decline, extreme poverty and rising levels of income inequality, coupled with high levels of unemployment for a rapidly growing and well-educated young populace, were also among the driving forces of the Arab Spring revolutions. In fact, I believe these economic and demographic factors were equally if not more important than Arab citizens’ desires for more political freedoms as underlying causes of the uprisings.

The subsequent inability of democratically elected Islamist governments to address these economic and demographic issues is also the primary underlying cause of the second wind that Egypt is now experiencing. I also question just how successful the Arab Spring protests really were. Unlike the democratic regimes that emerged in eastern Europe after the collapse of communism in 1989, there has been very little regime change in the Arab world.

Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi was deposed thanks to a heavy military intervention by western democratic governments, but has been replaced by chaos and massive uncertainty. Syria’s strongman Bashar Assad still remains in control of most of that country despite western and Gulf Arab states’ support for his opponents. Furthermore, Syria’s opposition has taken on an increasingly Islamist tint because liberal and secular military forces have become increasingly subordinate to al-Qaeda aligned fighters in what is fast becoming a proxy war between western-friendly Sunni Gulf autocracies and Shiite-dominated quasi-democracies in Iran and Iraq.

But in the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi, his Tuareg allies used weapons they acquired from the Libyan conflict to start another civil war in neighbouring Mali, and to aid Islamists fighting the government in northern Nigeria. The Syrian civil war has in turn led to an increase in Sunni-Shia sectarian violence in its neighbour Lebanon as well as Iraq, and tensions between Syrian refugees and native citizens in neighbouring Jordan and Turkey.

The Gulf state autocracies have used their oil revenue to placate popular discontent – or in the case of Bahrain, violent repression – to remain in control of their respective countries. They also brokered the replacement of Yemen’s strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, with a democratically elected president at the end of last year in a country still wracked by al-Qaeda inspired violence. However, other than Yemen, the only Arab Spring countries that actually replaced their autocratic rulers with democratically elected regimes were Tunisia and Egypt.

In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda party won 37 per cent of the vote and the largest bloc of seats in the new parliament, so it is now the governing party of that country. But unlike President Morsi and his Freedom and Justice party in Egypt, Ennahda formed a coalition government that included a number of independent liberal and secular ministers. Ennahda also bowed to secular politicians’ demands that Sharia law not be mentioned in Tunisia’s new constitution, so it has been successful thus far in avoiding the kind of large-scale demonstrations that led to Morsi’s ouster in Egypt.

Even though President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters were not the instigators or leaders of the Arab Spring demonstrations that eventually toppled the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship, they were able to use the Brotherhoods’ superior organisational skills to win a narrow majority in Egypt’s first democratic parliamentary and presidential elections. But instead of forming a coalition government that included secular parties and developing a constitution that incorporated the demands of its liberal and secular opponents, Morsi and his allies focused on appeasing Egypt’s Islamists.

In their haste to build a dialogue with Islamist political parties in the Middle East, European governments as well as the Obama administration also made several strategic mistakes. They chose to ignore warning signs that the type of democracy Islamists were interested in was not a western-style democracy that respects the rights of religious, ethnic or political minorities. Instead of dealing strategically with the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, they also thought they could deal with Islamists at the local level.


Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011.


Latest News:
Latest Video News:
Photo News:
Kerry drinking and driving
How do you feel about the Kerry County Councillor\'s recent passing of legislation to allow a limited amount of drinking and driving?
I agree with the passing, it is acceptable
I disagree with the passing, it is too dangerous
I don\'t have a strong opinion either way
Quick Links