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Has the Arab Spring failed?


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The Arab Spring was supposed to be a mass movement towards secular and liberal democracies. Having ignited in Tunisia back in December 2010, has it been a success?

Late that month, Mohamed Bouazizi, unable to find work and selling fruit by a roadside,  set himself on fire and passed away in early January 2011. This act bought together several groups in Tunisia, who had been growing in anti-government sentiment for several years.

The revolution in Tunisia, at least, succeeded in its aims. The government was overthrown and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the president since 1987, was forced into exile. Ben Ali had overseen a regime that was authoritarian with severe human rights abuses, and he was gone.

Tunisia’s period of transition ended in October 2014 and it is now officially a unicameral parliamentary republic. Tragically, 338 people lost their lives in the revolution.

Elsewhere, it is hard to see success stories. Protests took place throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Libya and Egypt overthrew Gaddafi and Mubarak, but both countries have to now deal with violent insurgencies and Libya is in a state of lawlessness, with several groups claiming to be the legitimate government.

In Yemen, the overthrow of the government has led to a civil war, which has involved brutal Saudi airstrikes that have resulted in severe loss of civilian life.

Then there's the situation in Syria; a six-year-long civil war which has generated the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Iraq has been crippled too, far worse than any point in its recent history.

The death tolls are huge. Syria has lost 400,000 and Iraq around 72,000.

But why has this occurred?

Authoritarian regimes suck up power, like big government on steroids, and when they leave it leads to a complete power vacuum.

The regime controlled all aspects of life and now they’re gone.

The change is too sudden. It needs to be planned, controlled and involve a transition period, as Tunisia’s had.

You’ll then have several groups vying for power. Some may have honest intentions, but as we’ve seen others, more radical groups that have emerged, won’t.

This creates even further instability in a fragile region. Some regimes, such as that of Bashar al-Assad, aren’t going anywhere without a fight, and this emboldens human rights abuses.

Just recently, several Gulf nations have demanded Qatar close down Al-Jazeera. The broadcaster, funded in part by the ruling Al-Thani family, cannot be broadcast in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, with fines being a potential punishment.

Al-Jazeera’s offices in Amman, Jordan have been closed. Their property in Cairo was seized in 2013, amidst claims of support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Regardless of your views on the organisation, this is concerning. This shows a desire in part of nations in the region to crack down on dissenting views, which would leave nobody in the region left to hold these governments to account. This would allow them to get away with more and more human rights abuse.

In Bahrain, despite all the glamour of the Grand Prix, this is even more startling. Bahrain was still relatively safe for journalists until protests in 2011.

In 2011, Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri, a journalist at Al-Dair, a small local paper was arrested for allegedly circulating fake news and incitement. He died whilst in casualty, and authorities claim al-Ashiri died of sickle cell anaemia complications, however, his family claim he did not suffer from this condition.

That same week, Karim Fakhrawi, founder of Al-Wasat, Bahrain’s only independent newspaper who was in custody for a week, also died. The authorities claim he had kidney failure, but pictures of Fakhrawi’s body with extensive cuts and bruises were published online.

Several Bahraini journalists are currently in Jaw prison, which is has been widely reported to be a torture site.

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), has spent several stints in the prison. He once wrote in HuffPost: "Jaw is where civilisation [sic] ends in Bahrain, and it is where civilised manners die, and civilised people [are] broken."

Rajab is currently awaiting another trial, but according to BCHR is in poor health and his family are unable to contact him.

This is how Bahrain treats an opposition leader, someone who can stand up to the government and make changes; he is being silenced and the regime is getting bolder and bolder in attempts to curb dissent.

In June, the government closed down Al-Wasat. Journalists working for foreign news media are being refused accreditation.

The Arab Spring has failed. It may have bought regime change, but apart from Tunisia, this has been negative. Regimes have cracked down further on civil liberties, making the Middle East and North Africa far more unstable than it was back in January 2011.

Algeria, which was crippled by a brutal civil war between 1991 and 2002, escaped largely unaffected. This is despite the government allegedly being figureheads, with the country run by a mysterious unelected group referred to as Le Pouivor.

Perhaps people feared that mass protests would see a return to the days when secularists fought with Islamists to control the country.

These crack downs on civil liberties, right to protest and freedom of speech only increases the power the regimes hold over their population, this makes peace in the region a lot further away from happening.

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