There are numerous daunting developments in recent months to back that pessimistic view. The violence the Bashar al-Assad regime has unleashed on the civilian population continues unabated. The military, guardian of the old regime in Egypt, has staged a postmodern coup in that nation just on the eve of presidential elections, prompting a mass gathering of people in the streets protesting the military rulers of the country. In Libya, tribal feuds continue to hamper the functioning of the government, while in Yemen the power struggle among political factions has not yet wound down. Tunisia, the best hope for the Arab Spring, is facing huge economic and social challenges in the post-revolution era.
“The Arab Spring is aborted. They [the Arab Spring countries] are now recycling their old regimes with figures very loyal to those regimes,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, touching on the Egyptian and Libyan examples. Atwan also said that the Syrian situation is drifting further towards anarchy and sectarian civil war by the day, saying that the country is becoming “a field of international confrontation,” as the US and European governments support the opposition and the regime is backed -- most importantly -- by Iran, and also by Russia and China.
UN officials claimed earlier this week that Syria is now in a civil war, a declaration that could have legal implications for the Assad regime and rebel fighters in terms of war crimes and compliance with the Geneva Conventions. Gen. Robert Mood, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), sent to observe international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan in Syria, announced on June 16 that the mission had suspended its activities due to an escalation of armed violence between Syrian opposition and regime forces that had impeded the ability of the observers to carry out their mandate.
The UN claims Syrian forces have killed 10,000 people in a crackdown on protests against Assad’s rule that first broke out in March of last year, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world toppling four autocratic leaders. The opposition puts the number as high as 14,000.
Turkish policymakers plan their scenarios for countries in transition in the Middle East and North Africa region for the long haul, predicting that stability will take a long time to re-establish. A Foreign Ministry official speaking to Sunday’s Zaman this week emphasized that it would take decades for the dust to settle in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen, due to internal power balances specific to each country involving new political actors and remnants of the old regime, along with a lack of consensus between international and regional actors on the future of these regimes.
Furthermore, the official stated that pressure is mounting on Russia for it to cease support for the Assad regime as the death toll rises in Syria. In the coming weeks the country plans to lead an international conference on Syria in Moscow, but Moscow’s insistence on Iran taking part in such a conference -- a country that is the most important backer of the Syrian regime, providing military and intelligence support to the embattled government -- raises suspicions among participant countries about whether Russia truly intends to resolve the Syrian crisis.
Egypt, the most important country in the Arab Spring, was thrown into uncertainty last week when its Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the country’s Islamist-dominated parliament, declaring the elections held just six months ago unconstitutional. The decision means that new elections will need to be held, and the current ruling military government has not yet specified a date for this to happen.
The chain of events in the lead-up to the elections -- such as the authorization by the ruling military council of military police and intelligence forces to arrest civilians, the dissolution of parliament and the lifting of a ban on figures of the former regime, for example Ahmed Shafiq, from running in the presidential elections -- points to planned domination by the military, which has held power in Egypt since the fall of ex-President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Following the close of the polls on Sunday, the military brought into force an interim constitution to remain valid until new parliamentary elections are held. This interim constitution makes the military the country’s legislature and gives it control of the country’s budget, while rendering the newly elected president unable to change the makeup of the military council.
In the meantime, a string of al-Qaeda attacks in the last month have killed dozens of people each week in Yemen, destabilizing the new government and security forces in the country, after President Ali Abdullah Saleh reluctantly stepped down in February 2011 as part of a US-backed power transfer deal brokered by Gulf Arab states. On Wednesday, 31 people, including 28 militant fighters and three soldiers, were reportedly killed during army raids on suspected al-Qaeda positions as the government tried to consolidate its grip on militant strongholds.
Coming to Libya, tribal and religious polarization has taken hold in the country, as the situation devolves into civil war due to the uncontrollability of armed militias, which played an important role in the ousting of Gaddafi and now use their arms against each other in the post-Gaddafi era. One of the scenarios envisioned by political observers for a post-Gaddafi Libya is partition due to a shaky administrative system, which has not been fully established in the country’s history.
From the historical perspective, Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international relations and director of the London School of Economics (LSE) Middle East Centre, said that the current dark picture in the Middle East represents the “challenges that all revolutionary societies would face.” Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Gerges explained: “This is an empowerment journey for new political actors, in order to replace old authorities. Transition processes in Libya and Egypt will be very rocky, and no one should expect miracles to happen,” He added that the current problems in Arab Spring countries would only be solved after a healthy period of democratic institutionalization, replacing the remnants of the old regimes.
Professor Koray Çalışkan, a lecturer in the political science and international relations department at İstanbul’s Boğaziçi University, claims that the success of Arab revolutions will rely on systemic achievements that would eliminate the residue of 19th century colonial rule experienced by nations such as Egypt. “The people of the Middle East have tasted democracy, and they will struggle to prevent a step backwards. But the real problem is not the ousting of some individual figures like Mubarak or Ali Abdullah Saleh. As long as the same colonial institutions are in place, disappointment and the continuation of the old system is inevitable,” Çalışkan maintained.
Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, is also facing huge challenges in the social, economic and political areas and is struggling to meet growing demands from the people. It was a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi who triggered the Arab Spring when he set himself on fire on Dec.17, 2010, after officials confiscated the unemployed 26-year-old’s unlicensed grocery cart, reportedly slapping and insulting him. Bouazizi did not die immediately. He passed away weeks later, on Jan. 4, in the hospital.
But his act of ultimate desperation instantly sparked protests in his hometown, Sidi Bouzid, which later spread to the capital of Tunis and elsewhere, forcing autocratic President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country on Jan. 14. The main reasons behind the Tunisian uprisings were both economic and political: high unemployment despite a highly educated population profile and corruption intermingled with a lack of fundamental rights, including freedom of speech. In the aftermath of the revolution the new government has been trying to address these problems with some degree of success.
It appears the Arab Spring has turned into the Arab Autumn already, and in some countries it has even become the Arab Winter. It will take a long time to experience spring in these countries, as elements of the old regime are willing to go to extremes, as in the case of Syria, to burn all bridges and set the country ablaze.