Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Arab Spring Explained

Image: NPR

In the 21st century, the Arab World are restless. Iraq War shook them to the core; it is shocking that a trade conflict can cause a full-blown war with some rather curious justifications such as Iraq’s possession of Weapon of Mass Destruction. Combined U.N. rapporteurs and U.S. inspectors found no evidence to that allegation (Borger, 2004). After the war, there is a sense of uneasiness during the relative peace of the middle east years after that.  The short period of peace happened in part because of the continued U.S. involvement in the Arab Gulf, especially with their allies such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Post-Saddam Iraq. On the other hand, it is problematic as far as it goes as a solution because not only that U.S. presence in Arab Gulf is not permanent; they will leave eventually. Their presence might also make the new Iraqi government more dependent. It is no wonder that right after the full withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Iraq in 2011, the Arab Spring commenced. On the other hand, U.S. and its allies’ intervention also creates political and societal problems in the Middle East. The prolonged stay of the army helped to demonize their own presence as an aggressor or occupier. Tensions with the locals were rising on a daily basis. One recent poll suggested that 93% of young Iraqis perceive the U.S. as an enemy (Al-Sudani, 2016). This is further strengthened by the fact that the war itself took heavy casualties, especially on the Iraqi side. A study shows that at least 174,000 Iraqis were killed in the war (IBC, 2010). Consequently, to understand the Arab spring, we first need to examine how it happened and its impacts.
One of the key factor which incite the Arab Spring is economic troubles. The more thorough integration of the Arab market into the global market structure allowed them to abandon their key welfare policies in favour of an IMF-styled cuts and reforms. Furthermore, the liberalisation also paved way for the despotic governments to transfer said welfare responsibilities to the private sector, establishing a corrupt patronage politics. This resulted in a trickle down system of capital accumulation that works only for the few elites. Thus, when global recession happened in the late 2000s, it hit the Arab world quite hard: causing soaring prices, among others. Unemployment also makes matter worse, with the number reaching 23% in the region (Heydarian, 2013). All those reasons triggered the self-burning act of a vegetable vendor in Tunisia as a symbol of discontent toward those ruling bureaucratic oligarchs. Shortly after, a widespread social unrest followed suit and shook the Arab world.
Accordingly, the social unrest that has been building up materializes in the form of mass protests against the government. The self-burning act inspired many in the region to take to the streets – marking the start of Arab Spring. This is caused in part by the already common use of social media. Twitter, a microblogging social media platform, is the most popular choice of the protesters to interact with each other to coordinate and spread news quickly. Experts even coined the term “Twitter Revolution” (Alhindi et al, 2012). The protests in most countries during the Arab Spring have a universal appeal. Instead of sectoral issues, the protesters were addressing broader problems such as corruption and state repression. This makes them more focused and unified towards achieving their goals.  These massive, highly organized uprisings finally got the whole world’s attention and forced global powers to intervene.
Afterwards, the largely peaceful protest against Ghaddafi in Libya started to take a turn for the worse. Violent clash between protesters and the government sparked a full-blown civil war. Urged by the hawkish element of their leadership, multi-states armed forces led by NATO started to bomb Libya. One report suggested that at least 112 tomahawk missiles were fired during the first day of NATO intervention (Dwyer et al, 2011). On 20 October 2011, the rebels caught and killed Ghaddafi when he was en route to Sirte. Although there was a hope of peace after that, a civil war broke out between the various opposing forces. Until today, the civil war remains unresolved. Similar situation happens in Syria. What was a huge peaceful protest in several parts of the country turns into a bloody civil war that still rages on. Massive foreign supports helped the opposition to form armed forces. The overwhelming rebels began to gain its momentum and almost toppled down the regime, if not for their divisiveness. Various donors in Syria have their own agendas – hence the divisive nature of the opposition. Foreign intervention in Syria did helped to empower the protesters. But at the same time, they also separated the rebels based on their donors' cause. For example, Islamist factions within the Free Syrian Army – once a broad grouping of rebel forces – sponsored by Saudi and Qatar established their own government in Syria called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Mahmood et al, 2013). We can see that in Libya and Syria, the fall or weakening of the old regimes does not bring much good; it instead ushers bloody conflicts.
Before the civil war in Syria, the U.S. and its allies – including all the Arab Gulf states – anticipated the collapse of several autocratic governments in the Middle East which are considered to be hostile to them. Even though the U.S. did not intervene directly at first, they funded and trained some supposedly “moderate and secular” elements within the opposition in Syria. This proves to be a colossal mistake: they are actually preparing the would-be members of Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to take over the country (Mekhennet, 2014). Instead of creating friendlier establishment, they assisted the process of Islamist state-building in the Middle East, especially in Libya and Syria. To this day, both Libya and Syria are still in the middle of a bloody civil war; displacing and killing almost half the population (Nebehay, 2014).

To summarize, by examining the pretexts and impacts behind the Arab Spring, we can further understand and have a more complete outlook on the phenomenon. All those conflicts give rise to racism and to some extent, fascism in the Western World, through massive immigration caused by the instability. The Brexit affair and the U.S. election result which make Donald Trump president, among others, are the excesses of Arab Spring. The author stressed the need to solve the problems pertaining Middle East conflicts because the longer they go on, the bigger they persist to cause more instability throughout the entire world.  In this perilous times, it is important to recognize the need to stand together united as human being.

Al-Sudani, T. (2016, April 15). 93 percent of young Iraqis perceive US as enemy – poll. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from https://www.rt.com/news/339672-iraqi-youth-usa-enemy-poll/
Borger, J. (2004, October 07). There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Retrieved December 09, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/oct/07/usa.iraq1
Iraq Body Count. (2010, October 23). Iraq War Logs: What the numbers reveal. Retrieved December 12, 2016, from https://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/numbers/warlogs/
Dwyer, D., & Martinez, L. (2011, March 19). Tornados and Tomahawks begin Libya bombardment. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from http://abcnews.go.com/International/libya-international-military-coalition-launch-assault-gadhafi-forces/story?id=13174246
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Heydarian, R. J. (2013, April 21). The Economics of the Arab Spring - FPIF. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from http://fpif.org/the_economics_of_the_arab_spring/
Mahmood, M., & Black, I. (2013, May 08). Free Syrian Army rebels defect to Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/08/free-syrian-army-rebels-defect-islamist-group
Mekhennet, S. (2014, August 18). The terrorists fighting us now? We just finished training them. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/08/18/the-terrorists-fighting-us-now-we-just-finished-training-them/?utm_term=.613882f92711

Nebehay, S. (2014, August 29). Syrian refugees top 3 million, half of all Syrians displaced. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-syria-crisis-refugees-idUKKBN0GT0AZ20140829

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