In truth, it depends on how carefully you look at what happened. On the surface, many of the political upheavals look like failed revolts against dictatorships. But, dig a bit deeper into the societies of these Arab countries, and there are reasons to believe what we have seen is not a simple revolt, but an epochal change.
No doubt the Arab Spring started spontaneously in its first phase as an expression of a new generation’s hopes of change. This was before two players played an important role in destroying these hopes — the domestic factor represented by political Islam and the international factor represented by the role of imperialists.
With these two factors in place, the Arab Spring was transformed from a revolution into both religious wars and civil strife. The communities that suffered from this phenomenon were divided in two, with imperialist interventions allowing the dismantling and re-establishment of the region to better serve their objectives.
If the result of protests was the transition of Arab Spring countries to democratic societies, there was an unknown player who was deliberately working on instigating chaos to affect the state and national unity by encouraging extremists from all over the world. They seized border crossings to facilitate the task and destroyed state-owned social and economic institutions.
Arabs believed that the Arab Spring would bring them freedom and democracy and would improve the lives of the poor and the oppressed. But many countries witnessed chaos, bloodshed and instability due to conflicting regional and international interests, as many of these players have taken stands that served their own future interests rather than the interests of the demonstrators. This has instigated hatred and terrorism in the Middle East, resulting in infighting and sectarian wars, sedition and destruction. The question is: How did the Arab Spring start and how did it end? Who won and who lost?
In this sense, we have moved from a situation in which people from different factions were unified for democratic change to regional, religious and political conflicts. National allegiance was replaced by religious support or political loyalty and allegiance to a certain figure. The destruction of communities, the emptying of the population and the transformation of citizens into refugees all over the region is the negative outcome of the Arab Spring. It has also created new communities with sectarian, ideological and ethnic differences, which reject the principle of co-existence.
To what extent have the Arab Spring demonstrations succeeded in achieving the goals of the people? The basic drivers of the protests remain, as little has been achieved so far. Nowadays, many of the countries that witnessed the Arab Spring are not happier, they are still under the same depressing conditions and their ordeals have not come to an end. In other words, the Arab Spring was artificial and the region had to go through it to reach a status of anarchy under the pretext of achieving their dreams.
Many of the countries that witnessed protests are not happier and their ordeals with their rulers have not come to an end, largely because of the contrasting interests of domestic political Islam and external imperialist powers.
In the 18th century, the French revolted against their rulers because the population increased and young people had no jobs due to the corruption of top officials. Thus, people’s living conditions were getting worse and they were getting poorer at a time when the rich were getting richer.
So the similarities between the French Revolution and the Arab Spring are clear, but the Arabs have been divided based on domestic political agendas and the external agendas of colonial powers. Though the unemployment rate reached more than 30 percent in some Arab Spring states, this was not the only reason for the demonstrations. Economic performance was also negative in many of the Arab countries that did not have their own supply of oil.
The Arab Spring was, however, a blessing for arms producers.
The sales of arms to Arab countries have greatly increased since the beginning of the protests. This has helped some countries, including Russia and China, to have access to the Middle East market. The Arab Spring has brought Russia back to the region through its two military bases in Syria: Tartus and Hmeimim. The security and stability of Middle Eastern countries and the continuation of their regimes depend on regional and international alliances, particularly in Syria, where the regime was heavily reliant on the Russian intervention that helped turn the balance of power toward the regime forces.
If we look at the conflict today on the basis that it is a blow to the strained relationship between the ruler and the ruled — and that it is evidence of the imbalance of the “social contract” that governs that relationship — then we can conclude that this imbalance is a shared responsibility between the two parties. The reform to tackle this discrepancy must take the form of a complex effort involving cultural, religious, economic, political and social factors, which makes the region responsible for initiating a broad reform process to challenge the dysfunctional relations, misconceptions and conflicting interests.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub).