Working Paper

The Arab Spring is Genuine Revolution, But a Bumpy and Arduous Road Ahead

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The Arab Spring has been a fundamental event in the Arab world and yet among Middle East scholars, there is great intellectual and analytical debate about the degree of political change or continuity that the Arab Spring had produced. As reverberations of the global economic crisis
have continued and the international rules of the game have fundamentally remained unchanged, the demand on post-Arab Spring governments to change policy course is high.

Moreover, in cases such as Egypt where regime change occurred and a shift to Islamist governments and then back to the military took place, there is little understanding or analytical conceptualization of whether this pointed to a significant change in style, content, or ideology of policy-making. Moreover, in countries like Syria where the country is aflame, there is doubt about whether it was all worth it and whether regime stability was an ideal after all. This paper argues that despite the chaos that has ensued, the Arab Spring was a legitimate revolution and these two countries are complicated, but were inevitable in part due to the political economic climate produced by autocratic and corrupt regimes.

Unlike many other revolutions that swept the globe to topple autocratic regimes, the Arab Spring was not instigated by the poor, underclass of the Arab world; instead, it was the educated, unemployed, disenfranchised, and likely lower middle class youth, of the region that took to the internet and the streets to protest. The Arab Spring started in countries that actually had economic growth: in 2009 and 2010, Tunisia had 3 and 4% GDP growth, Egypt 4.7 and 5%, Libya 1.8 and 5.2%, Yemen 3.9 and 7.8% and even Syria 4 and 5%; and these countries were also lead economic reformers, ‘successfully liberalizing’ their economies.

The Arab Spring started because of a great feeling of disenfranchisement, growing inequality, relative deprivation, and most importantly because of corrupt and autocratic regimes that had a heavy policy and security sector to stamp out all dissent and free thought. The feelings of discontent among the population had been festering throughout the past decade; yet, it was not until late 2010 that political uprisings and social protests became more pronounced in the region. The uprisings began in Tunisia and soon spread to Egypt (See Alexander, 2011; Gause, 2011; Lynch, 2012). Both of these uprisings resulted in the fall of the presidencies of their respective countries. In countries like Morocco, we saw some constitutional reforms put in place to heed off continued protests. There remain inescapable questions as to what will happen next. One thing is for sure, the popular uprisings in the Arab are calling for a break with decades of authoritarianism, poverty, chronic unemployment, and social injustice. So did the Arab Spring lead to change or continuity of many of the Arab autocratic regimes?