Arabs still riding the pro-change wave

ALI ABO REZEG
Published 30.01.2019 01:04 Modified 30.01.2019 01:04

Eight years ago, Arab countries experienced one of the severest trends of change to hit the region in almost a century. Since then, protests have erupted in Tunisia and managed to topple the dictator there and later arrived in Egypt with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets and calling for Hosni Mubarak to step down. The protests that hit Egypt, with its strategic location and tremendous cultural influence over the entire Arab world, were a turning point in the history of the Middle East.

Hence, the 18 days of protests against Mubarak inspired the people of different Arab states to take the initiative and launch protests against their rulers, mostly in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.These countries have, so far, experienced little progress toward democratization and many setbacks with only the Tunisian model managing to survive the backlash of the Arab counterrevolution coalition, which was established to contain and terminate that wave of change. A coalition, comprised of some Arab monarchies, had been able to ally with the domestically dissatisfied groups to undermine any bid for change in the region. To a large extent, this alliance managed to avert the pro-change attempt in Egypt and tried to do so in Yemen and Libya, where the situation, unfortunately, became a proxy regional war.

These setbacks prompted many to say the wave of change that hit the region in early 2011 had come to an end. However, 2018 was full of developments that many argue the 2011 uprisings inspired with their pro-change wave that has yet to be totally terminated. These events could be summarized in the Palestinian peaceful protests on the Gaza borders, Iraqi people protesting the government's corruption and the Sudanese protests that erupted at the end of the same year.

The decades-long Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation has inspired not only Arabs but also free people worldwide. Hence, followers of the protests in the region have also seen Palestinian flags and "kufiyahs" among the demonstrators. Even during interviews with youth who led the protests, they said that one of the reasons that prompted them to take to the streets was their government's policies that had not supported the Palestinian cause.

In 2018, Gaza-based Palestinians came up with a creative idea that, to a big extent, stemmed from the Arab Spring's peaceful protests of Arab dictators. Palestinians, who were struggling peacefully against the British mandate during the 1920s and 1930s, have turned, largely, into the armed struggle following the occupation of their lands in 1948. The Gaza-based peaceful protests near the security fence, known as the Great March of Return, for the 45th week in a row was an extension of the Arab Spring. This can be easily seen in choosing Fridays as the days to protest and with the Gazan youth using "revolutionary units, revolutionary youth, and Friday of rage" while protesting.

Another indicator that the Arab Spring has yet to come to an end was the anti-corruption protests that hit Basra in July last year. In Basra, protesters have been demanding that the government improve public services and provide more job opportunities.

Iraq has been ranking high among Transparency International's annual list on fraud, corruption and mismanagement of the state institutions. The organization's 2017 Corruption Index report showed that Iraq ranked 169th out of 180, which means Baghdad's government is the 11th most corrupt out of a total of 180 in the globe.

The months of protests and the demonstrators' insistence on a peaceful method to accomplish their demands proved that the setbacks affected neighboring Syria during the Arab Spring and didn't deter the Iraqi people from engaging in protests despite the government's nonstop promises to meet their demands.

The abrupt Sudanese protests were the third indicator of the resilience of the Arab Spring for the Arab masses. In a visit he paid to the Egyptian capital in late January, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashar addressed the issue by saying that the demonstrators were trying to copy the Arab Spring in Khartoum. Sudan, home to more than 40 million, has been suffering from crippling economic and life conditions for years.

These three cases in 2018 demonstrate how much Arab youth believe in peaceful change for their relapsing conditions. Eight years have passed since the first flame of the Arab Spring was ignited, and Arab dictators that allied with counterrevolution coalitions have yet to suppress the pro-change trend, despite their iron fist approaches.

* Ph.D. student at Yıldırım Beyazıt University's Department of International Relations

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