The Arab Spring : what was seen by Westerners as a step toward the democratization of the regimes

Between the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 a series of riots inflamed the Arab world. These revolts, although characterized by some common elements in the causes but in themselves different, have been indicated by the Western media with a unique name: Arab Spring. This name was given to these events because they were compared with the collapse of the regimes of the former communist European countries.
This phenomenon was thought by Westerners as the ultimate step towards democracy because it was seen as a series of movements from below whose goal was to dismantle the existing authoritarian systems ,that permeated every area of society oppressing the citizens that lived here, and achieved it.
In the Arabic world there were, before the Arab Spring, authoritarian regimes. Regimes ruled by a single despot who had absolute power, from which partially benefited the narrow circle that surrounded him, to the detriment of the remaining part of the population. The sharing of the power have led to the consolidation of military and economic corrupt elites. The others experimented a sense of paralysis. There was a sort of ‘hogra'(contempt of the ruler toward the citizens).The rulers were more interested at their affairs than at the rights of the one that where under their figure. There was no transparency in the economic field, with the consequent poor redistribution of income, high unemployment and deep frustration of middle classes and intelligentsia towards government policies.
One of the thrusts at the burst of the of the Arab Spring: the malaise of dictatorships caused by dictatorial systems
The main countries of the Arab Spring (Libya, Syria, Egypt and Tunisia)were places ruled by systems with features of sultanism ,in which the sons were the possible dynastic successors,( for example Mubarak was preparing the son Gamal to gain the power as his successor) but especially authoritarian dictatorial regimes which favored a small elite, even from an economic point of view, by preventing the emergence of a dynamic and independent business sector that was genuinely capable of generating employment opportunities and producing profound economic change, encouraging the spread of corruption, lack of transparency and predatory and nepotistic practices. As Fareed Zakara says, the Arab world was a political desert devoid of genuine political parties, without a free press and with few opportunities for work
In Tunisia the family of Ben Ali had a monopoly on all commercial activities and controlled all important areas: communications, air and maritime transport, the banking circuit. More than half of Tunisia’s commercial elites were personally related to Ali. The Ben Ali’s presidency was characterized by a very repressive control of civil society by the government and the harsh oppression of political opponents. Ben Ali’s tightly restricted free expression and political parties
The contents elaborated by the one that contrasted the only officially recognized party, RCD, were constantly under the scrutiny of the police. Opponents were victims of threats and intimidation. The police had the power to repress the voice of opponents. Very often opponents were accused under false accusations of wanting to kill the dictator and want to take control of the state. The freedom of association was almost non-existent. The press was not free and there was no internet access.
Freedom of expression, political participation, and human rights were limited. The younger Tunisian population was left without political representation and without the possibility of aspiring to a prestigious job position from the moment they were favored, for the system of corruption that was present in the dictatorship of Ben Ali, family members, and not only, even though most of them were educated the major part of them were unemployed.
In Egypt Mubarak excluded the opposition parties to the party he led ,whose name was National Democratic Party, from local councils and imposed his control over Parliament. The political system was not transparent. In order to promote the outcome hoped for by the elections, Mubarak had the undesirable candidates arrested, reprisals during the election campaigns, bribed voters and even put fake or precompiled cards. He himself came to power with over 90 percent of votes in favor through rigged elections. President, Prime Minister and Interior Minister could restrict individual rights, search for people or raid without a mandate, monitor and ban publications. People were often judged by military courts. There was no place for popular legitimacy and democratic rule. In this repressive system the autonomous trade unions have had very limited scope for action because of the strong restrictions imposed in practice on trade union rights and the continued intimidation and violence by the police. The only legally recognized organization was the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (Egyptian Trade Union Federation/ETUF), which remained subordinate without interruption to the political power. The State Security ,dominated by military and security apparatus, was present in every educational, work and religious context. It had the monopoly of the media . Mubarak closed 19 satellite TV channels, blocked sites and lobbied businessmen to stop supporting critics, publishers, those who have written anti-regime opinions. Only radios, newspapers and television stations controlled by the Statewere accessible to the Egyptians . The State had also the monopoly of the economy. The government and the army, in fact , holds 40 percent of the economy. From this system were favored the family-close members that had preferential contracts and bank loans without guarantees.
From this system, ordinary people were at a disadvantage. Forty million Egyptians had less than two dollars a day .In parallel with the welfare crisis, an increasing proportion of the population in the last decade in Egypt and Tunisia have seen their purchasing power decline due to the rise in inflation, which has mainly affected food products, in the face of a stagnation of wages and salaries.
Syria’s only Ba’ath party. The Assad family thus controlled the party-state bureaucracy. In Syria the articles published were aimed at strengthening the legitimacy of the government, supporting the cult of the president. Printing licenses were only granted to media controlled by the dominant party. The others were censored. The Ministry of Information censored the media. Syria controlled important branches of the economy. Real Estate Bank, airport stores, mobile phone operator was held by family friends.
As regard Lybia, instead, despite the fact that Libya was, which is still, a member of the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and the country took a great wealth by the export of hydrocarbons(of which it was and still it is the main exponent) the working conditions of the citizens were poor. This was linked with the fact that the government ruled by Gheddafi nationalized large enterprises and appropriated most of the crude oil exports. (oil rents’ outputs all went into the pockets of the state) Gheddafi was against concepts like democracy, freedom of expression trough the mass media. This is well explained in his book. The rise in the level of food prices and the mass of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, helped to exacerbate internal conflicts.
The main spark, the desires of those who made revolutions and the main elements of the revolts
Already before the Arab Spring, citizens had gathered, even if virtually, in groups to share their thoughts. This is demonstrated by the Facebook group called ‘April 6 Youth Movement’, which will be one of the key organizers of the protests in Tahrir Square, created in April 2008 following the killing by the police of four textile workers in Mahalla-al-Kubra in support at the victims.
It is also demonstrated by another group:”We Are All Khaled Said”.It was created by Wael Ghoneim, an Arab Spring youth activist, following the death of Khaled Said for the beating of two policemen.His death happened in the area of Sidi Gaber in Alexandria on 6 June 2010.
But the the new media content in which appeared Mohammad Bouazizi, created a different social impact, an immediate reaction of the people.
Mohammad Bouazizi was a young tulisino man, graduated in computer science, who to support himself makes the peddler abusive. He sprinkled himself with gasoline and set himself on fire ,in front of a government building in the city of Sidi Bouzid to protest police abuses, as a result of the confiscation of his banquet of fruit and vegetables ,by a police officer who claimed he had no sales permit, and the ill-treatment and sanctions given to him by the police(He was slapped in public.The slapping represents a great humiliation in Tunisia) He died later in the hospital due to the injuries caused to him by the damage that he himself had caused.
An apparently insane gesture became the symbol of something much bigger than the same character involved.He,in fact, evoked the suffering of the unemployment of the educated youth, and represented the fuse which has triggered everything.
Many Tunisians have identified themselves with its history, made up of lack of opportunities and human rights under the regime of Ben Ali, his Party, and the secret police.
The protests that began in Sidi Bouzid have spread throughout the country, including the capital, and then spread like wildfire in all other countries of the Arab Spring
All citizens, faced with a greater realization of a static, stagnant, passive authoritarian and corrupt political system and an uneven economic system in the distribution of wealth and unable to give a possible vision of the future in terms of work,were united by a feeling of discontent and anger. All of them demanded freedom, equality of civil and political rights, political participation, development of an economic and social policy for the disadvantaged, economic justice, the construction of a genuine democratic area leading to freedom of expression and political pluralism rather than the establishment of nepotistic and predatory regimes. The protestors’ demand were in fact more focused on issues of justice, freedom and dignity and the spoke against despotism, corruption and clientelism.
For these shared feelings and thoughts they decided to join forces in the uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
The uprisings had different features and have led to different results.
In Tunisia the uprising was known with the name of ‘Jasmine Revolution’.In it there were several demonstrations against despotism and corruption of the Ben Ali regime, with the call for the abolition of the police, the dissolution of the former ruling party and the release of political prisoners, which led to the escape of the same in Arabia Esaudita(France and Malta refused to offer him political asylum)
During the Arab Spring period in Lybia two groups emerged: one still supporting Gaddafi and “People’s Congress”, which was formed by the same ruler with the intent of eliminating any intermediary institution between the people and the dictator, and another who opposed Gaddafi, gathered in a National Transitional Council (CNT),and was assisted by foreign godparents. The Arab Spring for Libya was represented by an internal tribal and separatist uprising. With the help of NATO and Italy, who, under the guise of democracy’s promoters had the most at heart the oil resources of the territory, that sent air fleets and fighters, the rebels of Gaddafi prevailed and killed him after capturing him in the desert south of Sirte.
Up to over 90 per center of people in Egypt said that if he had the possibility of establishing a new constitution for a new theoretical country would guarantee freedom of speech as a fundamental right. They aspired to transparency, justice and open-mindedness. Only 4 percent had a chance to speak out in front of a public official during the regime of Mubarak due to this they demanded the resignation of Mubarak. The Egyptians priorities were work, economic stability and education. To achieve this In Egypt the promoters of the revolution demanded not only the resignation of Mubarak but also the lifting of the state of emergency that had strengthened the power of Mubarak and the release of political prisoners.They received great support by the army. After several clashes with the armed forces, the occupation of the Tahrir square under the the slogan: bread, freedom, social justice and intense negotiations between the diplomacy and an arm-wrestle between the opposition and the government that appeared without result, Hussein Mubarak, for thirty years President of the Egyptian Republic, resigned on 11 February. The news that Mubarak had left the charge was given by the Vice President of Egypt, whose name was Suleiman. He added that Mubarak had left the government to the armed forces whose role become to manage the affairs of the sate and decide the political fate of Egypt. The news was received with joy.
The same positive results cannot be indicated with regard to Syria and other countries that participated in the Arab war in which the conflicts have seen so much blood but to which the demonstrators have not been able to oppose what they wanted.
To sum up Tunisia is the only country that can be considered democratic and that has managed to achieve what it asked for ,through the 2011 riots, which is namely the ratification of a constitution and an elected parliament. Although the most negative results that emerged from the Arab Spring riots where most did not get what they wanted, at the same time is to indicate the attempt at democratization that has been emphasized by the mass media.

Bibliography and Endnotes

-(Gajdo, Primavera Araba,L’ondata dell’impossibile democratizzazione-Autoritarismo e Democrazia in Tunisia,Egitto e Siria- 2016/2017)

-(Alfred Stepan, Democratization of Democracy 2013)

-(Paciello, La Primavera Araba:sfide e opportunita’ economiche e sociali 2011)

-(Pedde, Cemiss-Piano di ricerche 2012 2012)

-(Primavera araba, o della presa islamista del potere 2012)

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