Arab Spring fails to fulfil promise
By Raby Ould Idoumou in Nouakchott and Walid Ramzi in Algiers for Magharebia – 11/01/13
Two years after young Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze and ignited the Arab Spring, many across the Maghreb wonder what happened to their revolution.
Critics cite on-going protests and unrest, security concerns and the slow pace of economic progress to argue that results have failed to meet the ambitions and hopes of the forces that brought change.
Observers also wonder about some unforeseen flaw that carried extremist currents to power.
[AFP/Fethi Belaid] Tunisians rally in the capital on January 14, 2012 to mark the one-year anniversary of the revolution.
[AFP/AbdelhakSenna] A young Moroccan holds a February 20 Movement flag at a pro-democracy rally in Rabat on February 19, 2012, the first anniversary of the group's launch.
[AFP/Patrick Baz] Establishing security across Libya is taking longer than toppling the Moamer Kadhafi regime.
"The stage through which the Arab region is going is bleak in some of its details," Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci conceded during a parliamentary session on Tuesday (January 8th).
The people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya "wanted to change their relations with their regimes and governments", Medelci added.
Whether they succeeded was the question posed at an Algiers conference organised by the Paris-based International Centre for Terrorism Studies and Victim relief (CIRET-AVT) and the Algerian Association of Solidarity with Rural Women (AASFR).
Held under the title "Arab Revolution: Reality or Illusion", the seminar found that two years after the wave of change began in Tunisia, new governments had failed to satisfy their promises to deliver democracy and a better life for all citizens.
The "Arab Spring has become an Islamist winter", the conference concluded.
"Results produced by the Arab revolutions in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt were contrary to expectations and had negative consequences in these countries and others in the region," said AASFR head founding member Saida Benhabyles.
Human rights, the status of women and the security situation have all declined, she said.
"These revolutions have deviated from the course and goals of real revolutions, which are based on realising freedom, justice, security and stability," Benhabyles added.
Algeria is not immune to the extremist current, despite the Islamists' failure in the 2012 legislative election.
Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdallah Ghlamallah recently accused the country's salafist movement of seeking to seize power.
"What do those people want?" he asked during a January 1st seminar at Dar El Imam in Algiers.
In Morocco, a series of protests and calls for change from the youth-led February 20 Movement (M20F) led King Mohammed VI to promise constitutional reforms. The referendum on the amended constitution won nearly universal approval.
From Ennahda in Tunisia to the Justice and Development Party (PJD) in Morocco, the Arab Spring brought the Islamist party sweep. But even as Morocco is hailed as the most open of the Islamist movements, the PJD has been criticised for not doing enough to improve the economy.
The spike in food prices has created an economic crisis and caused popular resentment. At the end of December, Marrakech saw demonstrations over high electricity and water bills.
In Tunisia, once a beacon of democracy for the Maghreb and the birthplace of the Arab Spring, there is major economic deterioration and growing popular discontent.
In a report published by The Guardian, many secular Tunisians expressed their fears that ruling Islamist party Ennahda would impose an ideological dictatorship, restrict freedom of expression, and let Tunisia return to a form of the strangling repressive control that characterised ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year rule.
Meanwhile in Libya, after the revolutionaries toppled the Moamer Kadhafi regime, Ansar al-Sharia and scores of small groups of radical Islamists emerged, something that threatened a civil war. Fighting between these groups, their attack on the US diplomatic mission, the liquidation of political adversaries and the intimidation of citizens have hurt a country that urgently needs calm and reconstruction.
The most dangerous result of the Libyan revolution was the flow of weapons to northern Mali, where al-Qaeda and MUJAO terrorists, along with their radical Islamist partners, are taking advantage of the post-coup chaos to begin building a salafist emirate.
Their radical religious view is contrary to the open Islam and the secular spirit of the region's native population.
As they enforce their harsh version of Sharia on a large section of Mali, civilians are held hostage.
In neighbouring Mauritania, the strength of Islamists has also increased, even without an Arab Spring revolution.
"What we're seeing is an inclination towards unilateralism and conflict with democracy in most political Islamist groups, both before and after the Arab Spring," Mauritanian thinker Abul Abbas Ould Borham says.
But across the region, these groups have not proven that they can govern equitably and better citizens' lives, Mauritanian analyst and journalist Fata Ould Matali tells Magharebia.
"It's true that Islamists have reaped the fruits of these revolutions, but they have also reaped the thorns of Arab countries that were already immersed in the marginalisation of peoples," he says.
"The Islamists jumped on the bandwagon before they offered a worthy model of struggle in the Arab world," political analyst Habiballah Ould Ahmed says. "Therefore, their wrong use of the so-called Arab revolutions disappointed the people."
El Dod Ould Sheikh Ibrahim, a young activist in Mauritania's 25 February Movement, says that the results of Arab Spring "were not up to the expectations and aspirations" of those who struggled.
"The Islamists exploited Bouazizi's ashes," he says. "Political Islam tried to reap the fruits of a struggle for which everyone paid."
"We have a wise saying that says: if you put a frog on a throne of gold, it will soon jump to the swamp," the young activist adds.
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