The Arab Spring: 10 years on.

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On the 17th of December 2010 Tunisian fruit seller, Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself alight over harassment by the police after a rousing speech over how he just wanted to do the best for his kids and his family. However the police still destroyed his stall; little did he know that it would be the start of a massive movement that would change the Middle East forever. Later that month, thousands of Tunisians went to the streets in protests against high unemployment rates, brutality from police and political restrictions. By the end of January the event which had spread nationwide ousted then President Ben Ali and inspired other movements to happen across the Middle East such as in Egypt, Libya and Syria. I would like to look at whether these popular uprisings achieved their purpose and whether they had a positive or negative impact on the countries involved and in the region. I am going to be looking at four main sections of interest and how they have been affected: Military, Political, Economic and how it has affected the lives of the people on the street. The popular uprisings happened in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Egypt. I will look at all of the countries , however, I will look more in depth at Egypt since I am a national citizen of Egypt and can get good information from people who have lived there before, after and during the Arab Spring.

Political

The Arab Spring was a new type of uprising because it was organised on social media, which at the time was a relatively new invention and had not been properly harnessed by the governments who had long been in power. The revolutions were predominantly started by people from middle- class backgrounds who were liberals and wanted a democracy, like the Western World has today. However, if you look at the groups currently in power, only Tunisia is run in a democratic way. It is run by a liberal government which shows that the revolution achieved its goals, although it may not be the type of democracy they were hoping for, as Muslim extremist groups do hold many seats in parliament, overall it was a success. Egypt had a coup a few years after the revolution and is run by the same party that was ousted in 2011 – the Army, which shows that really there has been very little political change there, just a new head of the same party with the same ideas. However for two years the Muslim brotherhood were in power , democratically, but their rein was a disaster as there were shortages of items and electricity cuts were a common occurrence. It seems to have worked well for the army as their main opposition had a stint in power but it worked so badly that it proved the uprising wrong – sending the message of: “ it’s either us or them,” and frankly, the Muslim brotherhood were terrible in power so the coup was a good thing for the average person. On to Libya, where after removing Colonel Gaddafi, the country has broken down and is now lawless with no government and resorting back to tribes. There is no ruling party to stop boats of illegal immigrants from crossing the Mediterranean sea to Europe claiming refugee status which is not helpful at all to Europe so their help to the uprising against Gaddafi has back fired as a once rich (from oil) stable country is now rife with crime sending immigrants on boats to Europe by the day. This shows how the Arab Spring didn’t just affect the Middle East but also other regions such as Europe. Another example of how it affected the rest of the world is that, according to the EUISS’s study, the foreign aid that Europe has been giving to the Middle East has gone up from $4396 million in 2010 (a year before the Arab Spring) to $6679 million in 2016.

Economics

As I said previously, foreign aid to the region increased significantly after the revolutions. Another economic result of the Arab Spring is that the currencies of the countries have plummeted in value which means that the money held by the citizen has decreased in how many dollars they could get for a their own currency. For example, before the Arab Spring, £1 could get you 11 Egyptian pounds, however, at the time of writing £1 can get you around 23.5 Egyptian pounds which is more than double, so the value has more than halved. This has had a big effect on the economy. Another statistic provided by the EUISS is that it has been calculated by the EU that the region as a whole has lost approximately $614 billion in growth alone. The Atlantic council findings show that during 2011 and the years after it there was a sharp rise in inflation with some cases, such as Yemen, having inflation of up to 19.5% , also the real GDP ( percentage change) of these countries suffered. For instance, Egypt, who had been experiencing growth of over 5% before, then dropped to under 2%, but Libya, who had also been experiencing around 5% then at one point was losing growth of 61%. Losing growth is a phenomenon in the developing world but 61% is unheard of and is very hard to recover from.

The ordinary people

But how has the Arab Spring affected the normal people on the street, is it just about big political powers above or does it affect you and me? One of the main things that affects the average people is that the percentage of unemployment in the region has gone up 7 percentage points which, in terms of population it has gone up by almost 29 million, which is a lot of people to be out of work in only the space of half a decade, thus many people will struggle to find jobs in a growing population. Despite the growth in population dropping significantly of 5 years across the region, it is still above the world average which means that the population, although slowed by the conflicts and political uncertainty, is still growing fast and the larger the population, on the whole, leads to poverty and large populations in poverty are breeding grounds for political extremism and terrorism, which is a problem that already plagues the region with Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Muslim Brotherhood. This organisations are currently major players in the political scene exploiting young, poor and impressionable people and brainwashing them to think that what they are doing is right and convincing them that becoming a suicide bomber is like becoming a martyr, and the last thing these countries need are terrorist attacks because, especially for Egypt, tourism was their biggest industry so having terrorist attacks deters tourists which prevents the large flow of money from coming into the country and creating jobs. It is a vicious circle, less jobs create terrorism and terrorism creates less jobs, and due to the Arab Spring’s political turmoil, destroying jobs they entered the vicious circle of which it is very hard to leave. However, since the actual uprisings there has been very little change in Egypt on the streets it’s very much the same as before except that now people have seen an uprising work and have the belief that if they wish to do so again, it has a chance of working and that the normal people on the street will support them and they might be successful. This makes the people feel empowered so that even if they feel that their vote doesn’t count due to many different reasons, for example, undemocratic counting of votes being the main cause of non-voting, but now they feel that they can have a say if they don’t agree with the current political scene which could be seen as a positive output of the Arab Spring. As I said, the currency in countries affected by the Arab Spring has decreased in value significantly which will, of course, affect the average person because their money will not be able to go as far  as it was able to previously perhaps decreasing their quality of life and probably quality of food as well as materials. Another impact for the regular people on the street would be the divide between Islamic and liberals both trying to implement their way of life, the extremists attempting to get into power and get the Sharia law to have greater precedence in your lives, but the liberals will be looking towards the West to make religion less of an impact on people’s lives, replacing it with a modern democracy. These struggles could be very easily seen for normal people as the dilemma between Westernisation and religion is a hot topic.

Military

In countries in which the Arab Spring caused a civil war the results for the military were obvious, but how did it affect the other countries that it affected? Compared to all other areas of the world, as a percentage of GDP the Middle East spend the most on its military which shows how militarised the area is. For example countries such as Egypt have been under the army’s control since 1952 bar a one year period in 2012-2013. It is also a requirement for men aged 18-40 to serve national service for 2 years –with exceptions. This shows how  the military is ingrained into the culture of some of these countries. Although one may think that in turmoil a country may increase spending to their military units in fact unlike Syria and Yemen who are in the midst of a civil war are forced to spend on their military the other country encouragingly either kept the spending the same or in cases such as Tunisia they opted to have a smaller army which was more professional in all the cases the army are seen to be an agent of change between the regimes. The fact that the spending was not increased shows that the countries are more focused on other areas of spending to improve living qualities rather than the military. As said earlier the Middle East leads the world in military spending as a percentage of GDP which is perhaps not exactly what the region needs. Right now it needs to be spending money on education and health which are sectors in which the country can start to move forwards also other countries in the area such as Iran , Saudi Arabia and Israel building their artillery is not good either as peace and prosperity will bring good trade deals to the region which can help it move forwards rather than war and nationalism which block trade and destroys infrastructure. If the region has good relations rather than military spending it will be able to enter a new democratic age of peace.

Conclusion

I believe that the Arab Spring has brought benefits and problems to the region. Only time will tell whether it will ultimately be hailed as the event that revolutionised the area or plunged it into chaos. It is good that the youth are beginning to feel that they could up rise again if they wanted to, however this has led to more authoritarian rule. The Middle East is now starting to come off the amount of foreign aid that they were on though their currencies are still very weak. The unemployment level is very high however the birth rates are going down to western levels which means that in the future each child will have better resources. As you can see the future is very delicate and hangs very much in the balance but one thing is for sure that the Arab Spring has been a catalyst for change and the optimistic can only hope that it will be for the better. Personally I can also see signs that the region is becoming more stable as governments are being re-elected however you can also see that they are going back to the same old ways and it is just a different face of the same old idea – such as the army in Egypt. But it does look to have long term benefits? How long, for example, will they have to wait for tourism to begin to take off again bring money into the country? I do feel that on the whole the benefits have been positive but very marginally.

 

Sources

(BBC, 2014, Who are the winners and losers of the Arab Spring)

(Wikipedia, 2010, The Arab Spring)