RAND Corporation analyst Shelly Culbertson’s book The Fires of Spring examined what’s happened in the region since the “Arab Spring.” We talk about the backlash against democracy and how it has affected Turkey, Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia.
Just before noon on December 17, 2010, a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi from the boondock town of Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire. He was protesting extortion by local police and government officials demanding money to let him set up his stall. By the time he died, he had become a national figure and the spark on a rebellion that overthrew the 23-year dictatorship of then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
2 months later Bouazizi’s martyrdom had set off what was christened, perhaps by a former HERE AND THERE guest Marc Lynch, “the Arab Spring.”
The references were 2: to the Revolutions of 1848 known across Europe as “The Springtime of Nations,” and more recently, the 1968 Prague Spring, during which Czechoslovakia briefly liberated itself from the tyranny of the Soviet Union, and the hope was, the Arab Spring would bring the liberation of much of the Arab world from the notorious and noxious regimes that ruled the region.
Can those hopes be less than 6 years old? They seem as dead and buried as an Egyptian royal mummy, especially in Egypt where the results of a democratic election produced an irresponsible Muslim Brotherhood government which was then overthrown by a military coup. Today’s dictator, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is considered even more oppressive than Husni Mubarak who was kicked out by Arab Spring protests.
What has the American government had to say about all this? Not much. What can it do about it? Less.
This is the new reality of the Middle East, and most of the rest of the world. In the 21st century, the powers of the great powers, even of the “sole superpower” look neither great nor super.
The US – Arab conspiracy theories notwithstanding – did not create, nor did it control either the Arab Spring revolts, or their mostly disappointing results.
Shelly Culbertson has lived, worked, and traveled extensively in the Middle East. She is The Fires of Spring: A Post-Arab Spring Journey Through the Turbulent New Middle East – Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Tunisia a Middle East analyst at the RAND Corporation and formerly worked at the U.S. Department of State. Her commentaries about the Middle East have appeared in Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, on CNN.com, and elsewhere. Her new book is The Fires of Spring: A Post-Arab Spring Journey Through the Turbulent New Middle East – Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Tunisia. (St. Martin’s Press, NY, 2016).