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A second wave of Arab Spring

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Mohammad Fadhel Al Obaidly

Advisor, Public Opinion Research Center

Tag: Public Opinion
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The veteran Iranian writer, Amir Taheri, writing in Alsharq Alawsat on January 4 wondered: If 2012 was the Arabic version of 1848 in Europe as many observers think, will 2013 be the Arabic version of 1852 which witnessed military coups in Europe?

In fact, Taheri was not the first to raise that question. The similarity between the European Spring in 1848 and the Arab Spring in 2011 is big enough to say that history is repeating itself, but its also possible that the second time around, it might alter course. 

Revolution against tyranny is the main common denominator in both springs. Both attracted different social classes in the struggle against tyranny. In Europe, it was the emerging middle-class, working class and hungry farmers behind the 1848 revolution, but at the end, it was the emerging bourgeoisie who took all the gains the revolutions brought.

And while deterioration of agricultural products and famine in some European countries motivated the revolutions at the time, the global economic crises were just a sign of despair. Chronic problems such as increasing unemployment, poverty and corruption were the destiny of millions of Arabs in 2011.

Somehow, the same happened in the Arab world when the gains went to those who did not spark the revolutions, but joined it later.

This comparison and the speculations of military coups and turmoil might be right.  Many see the revolutions in many Arab countries kidnapped by Islamists who are in the process of establishing new dictatorships. Many observers think that the army, in Tunis and Egypt for instance, might be the only hope to stop an escalation in division because the other social/political powers such as liberals and left are still weak.

This might be true, but such analysis overlooks a major element in the equation of Arab Spring: The youth -- the new generations in Tunis and Egypt and elsewhere who sparked the revolutions.

Basically, the Arab Spring is a revolution of the urban middle-class. While Mohammad Al Bu Azizi immolated himself in Sidi Bu Zaid in the south, the protests came from youth in the capital, Tunis, not from the impoverished countryside. 

In Egypt, it was those young men and women mainly from middle-class, who gathered in Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011, not poor farmers or factory workers or members of political parties ... A generation inspired by rap music more than ideology, one that was more open-minded and liberal  which is why the opponents in both countries Tunisia and Egypt stained them as a generation of obscenity.

Youth represent between a quarter and one third of the population in the countries of the Arab Spring and other Arab countries, but it is not only demography that will keep the motivation for revolution alive.  It is also economy and politics.

The Islamists who gained power by the ballot box do not have their own socio-economic model for development and have less sense of social justice. They are on their way to establish ideological dictatorships.  Meanwhile, history has shown ideology to fail all over the world. In Tunisia and Egypt, in particular, Islamists show clearly that they have not learnt from human history; they have, in fact, become isolated in their own ideological dreams. The battle over the new constitution in Egypt revealed that Islamists were pining to force the entire country to fit their ideological myths. For them, political authority is just a necessary means for coercion.

This will not only push the young generations to line up against Islamists.  It will also draw in the older generations who struggled for decades to get rid of tyranny, especially the urban middle class. Yet the Islamists rely on the large numbers of people who are influenced by religion. For those people, social and political liberties or freedom of expression or even bad economic policies might not be enough to cause revolt against Islamists or topple them at the ballot box.

At this point, we may be facing a major reality in the Arab countries:  the long-lasting bitter struggle against modernity in Arab societies. The same struggle has influenced the Arab world since the 18th century. No wonder many would say that the rule of Islamists is a defeat for modernisation.

It is another chapter in the long-lasting battle which pushed Arab countries to a state of schizophrenia and the Arab Spring was the first stage in a long struggle to recover from this condition. In this battle, young Arab generations will take the lead. They sparked it, they sacrificed, and most importantly they are the real strong social power who will bear the burden of the new tyranny

Originally published in Gulf News January 7 2013

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