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The Eternal Promise of the Arab Spring

Instead of undergoing a genuine transition to freedom and social justice, almost all Arab Spring countries have reverted to various combinations of autocracy and various degrees of poverty and violence. But four lessons from the past decade could be useful in guiding the region’s political trajectory.

VIENNA – The Arab Spring that erupted a decade ago was a quest for human dignity whose protagonists sought to overcome decades of repression, poverty, and inequality. It occurred in two waves, the first cresting in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, followed by a second in 2019-20 in Algeria, Sudan, and Lebanon.

Sadly, neither wave fully achieved the protesters’ aims. Instead of undergoing a genuine transition to freedom and social justice, almost all Arab Spring countries have reverted to various combinations of autocracy and various degrees of poverty and violence. Except for Tunisia, to a certain extent, most Arab societies are more polarized and fragmented today than they were before.

Democracy is not like instant coffee. It needs an enabling environment and a hospitable culture to flourish and grow. A history of colonialism, followed by decades of authoritarianism, meant that this environment was absent in the Arab world. The people who revolted and took to the streets loathed the regimes that had tyrannized them for so long. But they lacked a clear, unified vision of the change they sought.

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