Monday, January 20, 2014
Year Four of the Arab Awakening
CEIP, December 2013
How will history judge the uprisings that started in many parts of the Arab world in 2011? The label “Arab Spring” proved too simplistic from the beginning. Transformational processes defy black-and-white expectations, but in the end, will the awakenings be more reminiscent of what happened in Europe in 1848, when several uprisings took place within a few weeks only to be followed by counterrevolutions and renewed authoritarian rule? Or will they more closely resemble the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, after which some countries swiftly democratized while others remained in thrall to dictatorship?
Whatever the case, it is clear that the process of Arab transformation will need decades to mature and that its success is by no means guaranteed. The movements driving it are more unanimous about what they are against than about what they are for. But the debate to define this awakening has begun.
Transforming the movements sweeping the Middle East into coherent and effective forces of change will take time. In all of history, no such process has taken only two or three years to mature, evolve, and stabilize. The question over the long term is whether the present changes, however uncertain and difficult, will lead to democratic societies. The coming year will offer signs that indicate whether countries of the Arab world are heading toward democracy and pluralism or away from them.