Did the Arab Spring actually fail?

Did the Arab Spring actually fail?
5 min read
29 Jan, 2016
Comment: Razan Saffour.
Categorising revolutions as either successful or failed is problematic and ahistorical [Getty]

Failure appears to be the descriptor looming over one of the most defining moments in contemporary world history.

So far, and by large, the Arab Spring has been examined through a material lens: the tangible achievements of each nation and the repercussions of that nation's uprisings.

It has been a conscious attempt to pit revolutions against each other by polemically categorising the "successful" and the "failed'; and many irrelevant comparisons have been drawn to events in the region over the past 30 years. 

All attempts to contextualise the revolutions have done the exact opposite.

To render the Arab Spring a failure is but a reductive assessment, undermining the extraordinary developments that have taken place - and are still ongoing - in the region. These developments are of a political, social and cultural nature - and at the very essence of each has been nothing short of a revolution of consciousness.

If contextualising history meant something today, one could take the example of the Palestinian resistance movement after 1967, which, while failing to uproot the regime of colonisers settling upon its soil, remained a revolution of social structure, national liberation, and heightened consciousness.

The Palestinians then knew well that relying on Arab and world powers would do little to strengthen their cause - and so took it upon themselves to organise; in absence of a state and bureaucratic framework, their organisation was popular and proved by the far the most democratic among all Arab states at the time.

Decades of intellectual repression and fear were shattered on the streets of Tahrir

Grassroots movements from education to military training became the driving factor of the Palestinian spirit. The movement was far from flawless, and gave birth to many negative consequences, yet it was organic - it taught the nation valuable lessons in development and independence, and most importantly in consciousness.

The Palestinian was free to think; to speak his mind; to criticise; to grow - all while being considered invisible and stateless before the law.

This consciousness is precisely what sparked into life within the individual at the onset of the Arab Spring. Decades of intellectual repression and fear were shattered on the streets of Tahrir, and the Arab citizen found a voice he had not known was within him.

Today, I argue that the Arab Spring is successful.

I neither use the term "was", because the Spring is a continuous stream of developments which is yet far from over, nor do I succumb to the failure argument, because my measurement is per the changing dynamics of Arab consciousness, and not per material results.

Perception in the Middle East today is a concept alien to the region before 2011; both in individual consciousness and in organic progress.

Much like the Palestinians, disillusioned by "international support" - ordinary Egyptians, Yemenis, Libyans and Syrians alike have taken it upon themselves to champion their own cause.

Today, the average shopkeeper of 2011 thinks for himself, he fends for himself, he criticises state and opposition fearlessly and depends on none but himself regarding the ambiguous notion of "national security".

Today, organic initiatives of an educational, critical, political and social nature have sprung up across the region.

Budding activists in Egypt have taken it upon themselves to educate impoverished unschooled children on the street in absence of a nuanced educational system, and, in Syria, new curriculums are being produced, injected with revolutionary vigour and a high dose of critical thinking, to ensure a levelled consciousness and vision in the future generation.

One such initiative which has launched in this capacity is the Education Development Commission, an effort of individuals working across borders in collaboration with schools and centres within warzones, to provide access to quality education and personal development.

Power structures have radically transformed from incredibly bureaucratic and hierarchical frameworks to organic, democratic, horizontal organisations.

We see this in creatively youthful revolutionary activity such as the Ultras Nahdawy, who actively seek to shake Sisi's regime; operating a decentralised horizontal structure across the country, with the ability to mobilise en masse within a short period of time.

Or in local democratic elections, conducted under regime bombs, with candidates of both civilian and military nature, neither threatened by the other's presence and both respectful of the outcome.

Such structures which would have not existed had it not been for the Spring, and have been heavily resented by the autocratic regimes - purging their people for the sake of espousing such notions.

Much like the Enlightenment, what we are seeing today in the Middle East is an awakening of minds

The Spring forced the nations away from submissiveness and surged them forwards towards reform, political consciousness - and a fundamentally new perception of a future Middle East.

Thus, the assessment of a "failed Spring" misconstrues the very essence of the Arab Spring - which is itself a vision, and not a set of immediate goals with a deadline.

Much like the Enlightenment, what we are seeing today in the Middle East is an awakening of minds, still on their path of discovery and development with an ultimate vision of transforming the region from an autocratic monopoly to an organic-led, popular framework - leading the way towards progression.

The savage bloodbaths consequential of states' resistance proves only the success of the Spring, albeit in perhaps the most horrific and unfortunate way; the fear of the regimes (and their supporters) from awakened nations and the strength of a vision.

The make-up of the Arab street today is drastically different to that before 2011; a new citizen inhabits the country now - a consciousness that regimes and world powers are yet to grasp.

A new citizen who has suffered the worst of losses, torture and brutality, awakes in this new consciousness, and cannot simply "return" to the old ways.

Ultimately, the common scepticism clouding the hopes of some - who dwell on the "reality" of counter-revolutionary movements - dismisses the fact that triumph was also a reality, and not long ago. And this triumph will remain as long as the consciousness of the Arab Spring spirit is kept alive.

Razan Saffour is a masters student of history at SOAS, University of London. She works with the Syrian Human Rights Committee, and is particularly active on issues related to Syria and the Arab world. Follow her on Twitter: @RazanSpeaks 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.