The State of the Arab Spring After a Year & Another Spring

The youth groups that made the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, were mainly leftist or liberal. They revolted against immoral police states run by clan cartels and their paid cronies. The demonstrators had allies among labor unions and office workers.

The Arab Spring movements demanded free, fair parliamentary elections as the next step towards democratization. But the groups best organized to campaign, canvass and fund-raise were the Muslim religious parties and to a great extent the remnants of the old regime.


Egypy1The Muslim religious Egypt2parties got about sixty percent of the seats in the Egyptian parliament in fall 2011 election. Although that parliament was struck down by the courts for voting abnormalities, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad Morsi, won the presidency in June, 2012, and installed many party factotums in high positions.


The Renaissance or al-Nahdah, religiously varied party woTunisia1n 42% of the seats in the Tunisian parliament and gained the office of prime minister, though al-Nahdah had to ally with liberals and leftists, from which the president and speaker of parliament were drawn.


Although the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya did poorly in the summer 2012 parliamentary elections; a significant number of independents were inclined toward the religious right.  Although the Muslim Brotherhood and those independents leaning toward the religious right were not a majority, they became a force to be reckoned within the government.


These outcomes were branded an “Islamic winter” by neoconservative critics of the Arab world.  Many Islamists call the neoconservative critics of the Arab world “those professional critics of a single ethnic group, Islamists, about whom they never have anything positive to say.”


From the neoconservative ranks have come a large quantity of articles and books published with the thesis that Arabs/Islamists are religion-obsessed fanatics who can never be truly democratic because of their fascination with theocracy.


Beginning in the fall of 2013, events took a different turn in Egypt. The youth movement, Rebellion (Tamarrud) staged enormous demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood and in particular President Morsi.  By June 30 and after, provoking a military coup and a comprehensive crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood had been broken and driven underground. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was condemned by the Egyptian officer corps and activist youth (Tamarrud) as autocratic, mysterious and covetous, in short a kind of cult. The generals now dismiss it as a terrorist organization, having arrested 2000 party leaders and even more followers. As a military-appointed commission crafts a new constitution, it is likely that it will outlaw religiously-based parties permanently. Most Egyptians are believers and either practicing Muslims or Christians, both Coptic and Protestant. But most of them from all accounts have turned on the Muslim Brotherhood and its mystical ways.


In the summer of 2013 Tunisian youth and the labor activists of the UGTT (French acronym for General Union of Tunisian Workers) challenging prime minister, Ali Larayedh  of the Renaissance party. They blamed Ali Larayedh for being soft on Muslim terrorists and allowing two assassinations of members of the far-left Popular Front. The youth and UGTT demanded Ali Larayedh step down in favor of a caretaker government that would oversee free and fair parliamentary elections. Thousands assembled regularly at Bardo outside the parliament building. The alliance of the young crowds with the powerful UGTT gave the crowds a bargaining chip. If the country’s workers struck en mass, it would paralyze the Tunisian economy, already limping. So by the past weekend, the Renaissance Party had agreed to step down in favor of a caretaker government. Many among the Tunisian demonstrators use a militantly secular discourse in their discussions with the Ali Larayedh government.


The Muslim religious parties lost control of Egypt.  In Tunisia power has shifted to the youth groups and the UGTT union.  The religious parties, still somewhat ill-defined are merely influential in Libya, with leftist and pragmatic members of parliament dominating the scene politically.  Those who are pragmatic extol Islamic theocracy but vote for democratic reforms.


In the Yemen, the religious right has not taken over the country. Yet there are deep fissures in the government as it attempts to fight-off terrorism and deal with very unpopular drone flights and strikes by the United States.


It is reported in northern Syria that strong divisions have developed between those Muslim fundamentalist rebels who are against the regime, and the more nationalist Free Syrian Army, which is also fighting against the regime. There have been firefights between these two factions in the multi-faceted civil war.


The result of the past sixteen months has seen a massive and comprehensive reaction against the religious parties previous summer and fall (2011 & 2012). Arab bloggers have sometimes declared they atheists, though that is rare and can result in prosecution.  More often these bloggers are Muslims who have split religion and government into two equal spheres.

Although the fears of the imminent imposition of Sharia (Islamic) law over a vast stretch of the Arab world has subsided it has not yet disappeared. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has lost most of its popularity outside of the committed members of many years.  The present military in Egypt seem to have marginalized the hard core of the Muslim Brotherhood for now.

The Renaissance Party in Tunisia announced in spring 2012, that they would not try to implement Sharia or Muslim canon law.  The outcome in Libya looks as if it is approaching the same rapprochement as the factions in Tunisia, but at a slower rate.  Northern Syria is a quandary as is all of the remainder of the country, which was at one time, was a cosmopolitan society where Muslim, Christian, and Druze lived together in peace.

Some optimist say there should be no further talk of an “Islamic winter.”  Those optimists say the idea of an “Islamic winter” does not comport with reality. The revolutionary youth in the Arab world is for the most part not theocrats and won’t be ordered around by the clerics. The officer corps likewise reacted against Brotherhood excesses.

The real question is whether a place can be found in democracies.  Can Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan and Syrian democratic politics work if a large minority is fundamentalist like the Muslim Brotherhood?



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