When valiant Tunisians in 2011 succeeded in carrying out one of the most remarkable accomplishments in modern Arab history – the overthrowing of their tyrannical ruler from the confines of absolute power in an incessant street uprising – they inadvertently set a precedent for their fellow regionalists on how to do away with autocratic rulers and pave the way for democratic accountability.
Such was the speed and tenacity of the uprising that it even left otherwise cynical observers to quickly synonymize the country’s unprecedented events as those which could potentially trigger a domino effect that would culminate into ushering in the birth pangs of long-desired democracy in the volatile Middle East.
And to the surprise of many, in just over a year from the day Tunisia’s ruler was rendered to doing a bunk to the mother of all tyrannical refuges—Saudi Arabia—the Arab Spring, as it would commonly become known, had thunderously spread its tentacles to incorporate the despots of Egypt, Libya and the Yemen on to its victim list.
But just as iconic manifestations of democratic transitions appeared to be finally taking root in these respective ‘post-revolutionary’ societies, the road to the throes of a second and counter-revolution seemed to become ever more present.
The first of these telltale signs emanated from the birthplace of the Arab Spring itself, Tunisia, where following the first post-dictatorial election in which the Islamist Al- Nahda party garnered the majority, it soon became apparent that the domestic scene had become incrementally beset with an acutely worsening political polarization.
The ruling party’s critics point to a consistently sluggish economic growth, lack of wider job opportunities, failure to revitalize the vital tourism sector that had been the only source of income for many, tensions with the emergence of an extremist Islamic faction, and the brutal assassination of the popular left-leaning and secular politician Chokri Belaid as evidence of their continued inability to handle the everyday responsibilities of the state.
Although political indifferences have not yet taken a turn for the worst in terms of translating into mass and violent street agitation, the burbled announcements and ineffective policies being presented by the cabinet in Tunis have summarily been dismissed as lackluster or worse.
In Yemen, which was able to send its former ruler to his new refuge in a more diplomatic way, hopes for the prevailing executive moving from a revolutionary to a reformist mindset has been dashed by intermittent bomb attacks and gun battles becoming regular occurrences in the largely impoverished nation.
They arise either from corners wishing to rid the last vestiges of former President Saleh’s supporters from the establishment, or from sectarian fears, tribal rivalries and the vying for increased political influence and power between the country’s long-persecuted Shiite Houthi sect and the majority Sunni’s.
Considering that the Yemen is right now in dire need of foreign investment and assistance to keep afloat its fledgling economy, the breakdown of law and order, coupled with inherent institutional corruption in state organs, is not only driving away any chance of economic recovery but is in fact bringing about exactly the sought of pessimism that’s left a once hopeful population to ponder about their country’s very mortality.
Then there is post-Gaddafi Libya.
Despite the emergence of an elected leadership and parliament, vast reserves of oil and gas along with acute foreign assistance and investment in almost every sector of the country’s economy, Libya’s first democratic experience has so far been a shambles.
The government has struggled to maintain sufficient control over extremist Salafist factions in the volatile east, the resurgence of Gaddafi loyalists in the west, lawless marauding of armed groups in the country’s rural areas as well as maintaining control over their own revolutionary soldiers that now make up Libya’s de facto armed forces.
The fragile security nature has thus culminated into attacks on the American Consulate in Benghazi in which the Ambassador was killed, bombings targeting security forces and even hospitals, and armed sieges of the foreign and justice ministries—all of which ensure the country will remain a powder keg with a central authority susceptible to the mercy of tribal loyalties in order to carry out some semblance of a working state.
Finally, it was the turn of those elected, and then abruptly removed, from ruling the ‘mother of the Arab world’ that has allowed for the official era of the counter Arab-revolutions to commence.
The Muslim Brotherhood, for so long denied a fair crack at the Egypt’s political jackpot in a system that all but killed and jailed its most notable leaders over a period spanning several decades, found themselves overthrown in a sinister but bloodless coup a few days ago.
The given explanation for the coup was that the incumbent president, who happened to be elected by more than half the population in the country’s first democratic election, had disastrously failed in ‘protecting’ the revolution that brought down his autocratic predecessor and was hell-bent on pursuing an Islamist agenda against the wishes of the Egyptian people.
The head of the country’s armed forces has placed the constitution in abeyance, directed the head of the country’s dubious Supreme Constitutional Court to become temporary president and handpicked a former finance minister to take over the reigns of the Prime Ministers office.
Even more worrisome is that the junta’s actions were surprisingly averse to any western or Arab condemnation, where even failure to officially utter the word “coup” has allowed one to infer that they were recipients of advance knowledge on the impending military actions.
In the case of the Americans, perhaps being oblivious to the word has something to do with it triggering legal requirements that would cut off aid, estimated to be worth some $1.3 billion annually, to their heavily dependent cronies in the Egyptian armed forces.
In other words, the military coup in the Egypt is one that the Americans don’t want referred to as one.
What might the immediate future hold?
The country’s prevailing rulers are hoping the removal of President Morsi, detaining him along with key figures in his government at a military mess, rounding up scores of brotherhood supporters across the country as well as shutting down their television and newspaper outlets, will sooner or later allow for another political transition.
They certainly have some popular legitimacy if one considers the millions-strong uprising and the subsequent coup that rode on a popular anti-brotherhood wave—despite it being decried as antithetical to the basic precepts of popular democracy.
But concurrent events seem to be dampening that expectation.
As this is being concluded, more than 50 people have been killed and in-excess of 1,000 have been hurt as pro-Morsi supporters take to the streets in calls for his reinstatement, further inflamed by long-time Brotherhood theologian Sheikh Qaradawi issuing a fatwa calling the coup invalid and for the reinstatement of the President.
The streets of the capital, Cairo, appear to be in a state of uproar and anxiety, perhaps driven by premonitions that a replay of Algeria in the 1990’s when Islamist parties were denied power in a free and fair election they won – turned to a bloody revolt in which thousands were killed.
Right now, it’s anyone’s guess to which direction the power play will go.
The Muslim Brotherhood government certainly made mistakes that proved fateful with segments of the masses.
They include the derailed promises of economic and social policies amid the bickering, and occasionally inept workings of the new bureaucracy-laden ministries, a blatant disregard for protecting Christian minorities and even enraging the army by attending rallies in which Egyptians were asked to join the conflict in Syria and which espoused anti-Shiite rhetoric.
But who’s to say that if they cannot be reinstated into the reigns of the executive which they legitimately won, they won’t decide that it’s time to turn the Kalashnikovs on those who usurped them from the corridors of power?
The future of these societies that were lucky enough to experience their first blast of freedom following the heroic sacrifices they made in the violent oustings of their respective tyrants, are now looking bleak.
The unforeseen events in Egypt over the last week need to be a wake-up call.
The audacity of the junta to once again take over the throngs of power in what appears to be with western acknowledgment and the acquiescence of ostensibly democracy-cherishing opposition leaders towards unconstitutional acts is now the biggest threat to the spirit of the revolutions which they earned with blood and tears.