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The Arab Spring and the Western Winter

BEIRUT – There are many striking parallels between the “Arab Spring” that began in 2010 and the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, the election of US President Donald Trump, and the far-right resurgence across Europe. In each case, an old order fell, and progressive parties have been too weak to counter the emergence of authoritarian and xenophobic forms of governance.

The growing discontent with the status quo that underlay the Arab uprisings of 2010-11 had many causes, and the opposition took both progressive and conservative forms. Members of the middle class resented their loss of dignity at the hands of an unaccountable elite. Young people decried a future that looked especially bleak when compared to the expectations of their parents’ generation. And Islamists stoked moral opposition to the loss of ethical values in society.

These are all recurring themes in ongoing debates across the West, with its growing population of disaffected whites, displaced workers, and frustrated young people. Over time, as economic liberalism has crowded out longstanding principles of equality and social solidarity, vast wealth disparities have emerged, corrupting many Western countries’ politics.

Meanwhile, globalization and technological innovation have had profoundly negative effects on certain social cohorts, and public policies have failed to mitigate the damage. Far-reaching policy adjustments are now urgently needed, not least because of the deadly threat that climate change poses to the entire globe.