The year of dissent: The Arab Spring
Three revolutions shook the Arab world in 2011, and other countries are now seeing protests but no change of power as yet. The successful revolution in Tunisia was the ignition point for the whole Arab world to seek democracy and freedom from autocratic rule.
Almost a year has passed since President Ben Ali of Tunisia was forced to flee the country on January 14 after the revolt there. The Ennahda Islamist party came to power but has dragged its heels in introducing any real reforms. The economic and social situations have become worse, unemployment has risen, and people are saying they have not achieved anything they had been fighting for.
The violent protests in Egypt began in January. Thousands of Egyptians inspired by the successful uprising in nearby Tunisia took to the streets demanding the resignation of the authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for some 40 years.
After a week of protests across the country, President Hosni Mubarak was forced to reshuffle the government and to renounce the idea of participating in September’s presidential elections. But this did not stop the Tahrir Square protesters and only succeeded in uniting different opposition groups, who agreed on their number one demand – that Mubarak step down and leave the country immediately and also that the newly appointed military parliament to be dissolved.
A week later Hosni Mubarak’s position had become largely untenable and he was compelled to relinquish some of his powers, transferring many of them to the vice president. But only a few days later he surrendered to pressure and resigned completely, leaving the Higher Military Council and its head, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, in charge of Egypt.
Hosni Mubarak was charged with causing the deaths of some 850 protesters during the popular uprising and may face the death penalty if convicted. His trial was postponed several times following his arrest.
The new military leaders cancelled the country’s constitution and disbanded parliament, and stated they would stay in power until democratic elections take place and only then hand power to a civilian government.
Since then, the interim government has held a nationwide referendum which set the parliamentary elections for late 2011. But many believed it was too soon for the newly-emerged political movements to gain enough momentum before the vote.
Autumn brought concerns that revolution 2.0 could take place in Egypt, as thousands returned to Tahrir Square, demanding the military rulers surrender power immediately. The authorities cracked down on the protesters hard, reportedly using military-grade neuro-toxic nerve-gas and even live ammunition.
Although the series of protests had left scores of people dead and hundreds more injured, the opening round of Egypt's first parliamentary elections since Mubarak's fall began as planned. Islamic parties took an overwhelming lead in the elections. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party gained 40 per cent of the vote, with the fundamentalist Al-Nour Party claiming around 25 per cent.
However, the results are not final as another election round, which is to take place at the beginning of 2012, may change the democratic future of Egypt.
Libya saw the deadliest uprising among all Arab countries so far, with a civil war that left tens of thousands dead – ex-dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi among them. NATO weighed into the conflict with airstrikes which caused civilian casualties. Several months after Libya was “liberated” there is still no peace for the Libyan people. Libya is also becoming an increasingly Islamist state, with few improvements in the social or economic spheres.
Meanwhile, Syria remains one of the flashpoints in the Arab world, with the situation there said to be teetering on the brink of civil war, and control of the situation slowly slipping from President Assad.
“Tunisia was picked as the first in a series of dominoes in a very carefully-planned destabilization strategy, which was planned out more than a decade ago in the Pentagon by the RAND Corporation and others in Washington to redraw the map essentially of the Middle East,” political analyst William Engdahl told RT. “It’s not intended to stabilize or bring democracy to any of these countries.”
“The idea is to create as much chaos through the region as possible in order to justify, I believe, a stronger NATO role permanently in the region,” Engdahl added.
According to professor of international relations Mark Almond the countries across the region still face numerous problems following the removal of the old regimes.
Since the fall of Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, life in the country has not improved much, he told RT. “The revolution gets rid of persons. But it does not necessarily get rid of the economic problems that existed before and it also sometimes brings new ones.”
As for Egypt, Almond notes that there is a great sense of frustration with the democratic process on the part of people who were out on the Tahrir Square during the uprising. “They see that the revolution they feel they made is slipping away from them because the election results so far do show quite a strong surge of support for the Muslim Brotherhood and even more Islamic groups.”