Murad Alazzany for National Yemen
The revolutionary wave that has rocked the Arab world represented the most gigantic event in the modern history of the area. There are many features that distinguished these events. The most significant one is that they appeared to come spontaneously out the blue but to alter fundamentally both politics and history of the region. Future historians will take long to mysteriously ponder the dynamics that fed these events. The self self-immolation of the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi which triggered them was a small event- compared to many events happened before and were discouraging enough to stimulate the anger of the public.
Another feature distinguishing the events is that they have been civil, passive and contagious. As the uprising started, its tsunami progressed from Tunisia to Egypt, Bahrain to Yemen, and Libya to Syria. Hitherto, a revolution has succeeded in Tunisia and Egypt, it turned into bloody skirmishes or a civil war in Libya and brutal repression of protests in Syria and Yemen.
In spite of their calamities and risky twists and turns, the arresting events represent a defining moment in the history of the Arab world. They at least have made it impossible for autocracy to thrive again as the change appears irreversible.
The overthrown of two dictators and the trembling of many others have inspired Arabs to dream of a new era in which they can maintain a self-governance, a dignified life and equal citizenship in the sight of the law. However, these dreams might turn into a nightmare as there are tremendous challenges ahead. Some of these challenges are home-made while others are foreign connected. The seriousness of these threats may vary according to each country’s institutional state and social structure.
The first and eminent challenge that might threaten the democratic transitional change in the Arab world comes from the remnants of the old regime. Those remnants may reorganize their forces to launch a counter revolution to wear out the change. They are now amplifying uncertainty in countries like Tunisia and Egypt and the turmoil situation in Libya and Yemen to their own political advantage.
Later, they will utilize everything within their reach and influence to thwart any fundamental reforms-political or economical in countries where the revolution has already blossomed or promised to do so. That is in Tunisia and Egypt where they can distract new elected governments from realizing their revolutionary promises and ideals to focus on crisis twisted by them.
They may also play a role in fueling the ongoing conflict in Libya and in perpetuating the turmoil situation in Yemen and Syria. That is in order not lose the privileges there were used to be lavished by previous regimes. The least they can do in such countries to invest on the autocratic tools of old regimes in sowing general instability. They can utilize problems that have social roots in some Arab counties-either in the form of a sectarian conflict, a regional rivalry or tribal clashes- to make them sink in a series of endless crisis.
In brief they intend by their counter revolution to prove new governments a failure and to make people look on back on overthrown dictatorship as the good old days. That might convince people to join people in restoring the power they lost.
It is true that some countries may go through phases in which counterrevolutionary forces could cause a temporal turmoil and instability. But these forces will break against the unity and solidarity of the revolutionary forces. New governments should focus on improving the democratic mechanisms running their countries.
Another threat that may challenge the revolution is that the revolutionary forces might risk a conflict among themselves in the post revolutionary phase. Most of the groups that participated in the revolutionary change were usually fractious but got united around the goal of toppling down regimes. Having toppled the regimes, may start to fight for political advantages. They may start accusing each other of adopting foreign agendas and even of treachery. However, the real threat comes from those groups aspiring for political advantages beyond their lot and number. Thus, these groups will to secure political advantages through the political means of democracy. Thus, they may resort to non democratic means in an effort to force new governments to make concessions or compromise with them any political advantages. This kind of scenario is possible as the groups that participated in the revolutions have diverged political agendas and various political advantages.
The revolutions will also be challenged by the high expectations the Arab public have put on them. The protesters directed their ire against a confluence of social and political problems- mainly problems of poverty, unemployment and autocracy. Thus, they expect the the new elected governments to have a magic stick that will swiftly improve their social conditions and bring them prosperity. As they are far to be fetched, the governments will be viewed a failure in the sight of the public. Thus the current revolutionary protest could be only a prelude to something more extensive. That stands true as the Arab public have newly exposed to means of change which in spite of being civil and peaceful are random and chaotic.
They have just realized that protest are more potent than guns in changing the society. Thus, when members of a social group the feels the dissatisfaction with any situation, they will easily take in the street and chant the overthrown of government. Such means of change might leave the situation in some countries temporally in turmoil.
New Governments to overcome such problems must not let a gulf between them and the public to be created. They have to alert of them about the heavy inheritance passed to them from old regimes. That is long periods of autocracy and corruptions espoused by long periods of failure in political and economic development. At the same time, they have to share them the goals they have set to achieve and the challenges they face. By such transparent policy, the public may show willingness to share them the responsibility rather to rise expectations.
Another challenge that might brandish the revolutions is the misunderstanding and mis-practice of the concept of democracy. The youth have led this revolution as they demanded a great political voice and freedom. As they many dictators were and will be toppled, the post revolutionary phase will witness a proliferation of active politics. Many political parties will be registered, many television channels and newspapers will be licensed and subsequently many agendas will come into the fore. Arab countries in general will be a theatre of competition between Islamic, national and liberal parties.
As the Arab public are newly exposed to the concept of democracy, the transitional period will be an ultimate mess. Countries like Syria and Yemen are likely to endure a temporal unrests as some forces might take advantage of the power gap ensuing from the removal of the regimes. In amidst of this conflict, new alliances will be created with regional forces to get support against political opponents. That may widen the influence of some regional forces in intervening with the interior affairs of such countries.
In fact it is normal for nascent democracy to go through such a stage. In the short term, is inevitable in the area given the underdeveloped infrastructure.At the end, democracy means a mess. In the long run, there will be a filtration by which many parties will disappear as well as many newspapers and Television channels. Only those parties that have a cultural resonance and historical connection will be able to survive so will their Television channels and newspapers.
Other challenges for the success of the revolutions in the area world are mainly foreign connected. They are represented in the intervention of Western countries in the area transitional. That will decide to a great extent the future of Democracy transition in the Arab world. This factor will be discussed in my next article.
Murad Alazzany is a professor in the department of English Studies at Sana’a University, Yemen. His main research areas are ‘the representation of Islam and Muslims in the Western media’ and ‘the political discourse of Islamic movements in the media’.