The Arab Spring’s Balance Sheet

CAIRO – Last year’s events in Egypt and Tunisia drew the curtain on a tottering old order and delivered much of the Arab world into a long-awaited new era. But what that new era will look like remains very much an open question, given the many challenges that the region’s countries still face.

The old order that has begun to vanish extends beyond the former regimes. The region’s entire value system – a political culture forged by autocracy – is being transformed. Arab men and women have shed the sense of humiliation and inferiority that despotism imposed on them – and that fostered desperation, anger, violence, and insularity.

This transformation, though far from complete – indeed, it may well last years – has nonetheless started to bear fruit. If the 2011 uprisings had not occurred, we would now be witnessing another year of autocracy, with more talk of dynastic successions. That would mean further humiliation for ordinary people, who bear the brunt of corruption, as government officials and their crony capitalists continued to siphon off public funds.

The Arab media would still be heaping uncritical praise on the region’s presidents and their families, while development programs would be looted by them. Education would continue to stagnate, and Arab societies, which are divided across sectarian, tribal, and regional lines, would experience rising levels of retribution and violence. The infamous “death boats,” on which hundreds of young North African men risked their lives every year in search of employment and a better life abroad, would continue to deliver those who survived the journey onto Europe’s unwelcoming shores. And Arabs’ rage would reach unprecedented levels, causing utter mayhem and destruction.