What Happened to the Arab Spring? Ask Saudi Arabia.

By Ghassan karam

The Arab countries, each and every one, have the distinction of being ruled by undemocratic and illiberal regimes. This has been the case at least since the era of independence that started almost a century ago.  Even prior to WWI the Arab Middle East, under the Ottoman rule, did not experience a major revolutionary movement demanding sovereignty, and personal liberty despite the fact the Turkish rule was ruthless and exploitative.

Many a study has concluded that the Arab countries  have failed to actualize their potential and that the region as a whole has trailed practically all parts of the world in economic, political and social development save for sub Saharan  Africa.  This is why so many in the region as a whole and in the rest of the world were elated when the Tunisian popular uprising was followed by the one in Egypt. These promising and exciting developments led so many to talk about an Arab Spring that has finally arrived to transform the region and deliver on the promise of economic, social and possibly environmental development.

The euphoria was contagious. Demonstrators went to the streets of Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. The last four weeks have even witnessed popular movements all across Syria. Is the Arab Spring here to stay? Is it a historical moment similar to the annus mirabilis of 1848 in Europe?

The Arab Spring appears to have been overwhelmed by a deep frost that might just kill all of the revolutionary buds. With the exception of Tunisia the revolutionary zeal has been either co-opted by the old established ruling class, Egypt is currently ruled by a 75 year old general who has never shown any predilection for democracy and individual freedom. The army has actually imprisoned a blogger for having assumed that it was his natural right to express his point of view.

In Libya it is even worse, much worse. The Libyan dictator or mad man Qaddafi would rather carry a civil war, orders the army to strafe civilian protestors and unleash savage artillery bombardments of those that dare ask for an end to the cult of personality rule. Colonel Qaddafi’s efforts to subdue brutally civilian demonstrators were halted, at least temporarily, by the United Nations Security Council who came to the rescue of the besieged civilians. The French, British and US aerial support has given way two weeks ago to NATO who has not been able to keep up the pressure on the Qaddafi loyalists. It appears currently that what looked to be another victory for the popular masses has been brought to a standstill. Qaddafi might still be defeated but this does not mean that democracy and freedom are about to follow.

Then there is Syria and Bahrain. Two nascent revolutionary movements struggling with established dictatorships. In Syria the Assad regime of the Baath party has promised a modicum of reforms, not the least of which is the lifting of the emergency rules that have been established almost half a century ago. The demonstrators in Syria were initially encouraged by the UNSC resolution on Libya calling for the protection of the peaceful demonstrators. These hopes were squashed when Saudi Arabia in conjunction with Hillary Clinton gave the present regime in Syria the moral support that it needed to deal brutally with the demonstrators. Thanks to the efforts of the Saudi King, the world s’ sole absolute monarchy, the aspirations of the people of Bahrain and Syria have been dealt a serious setback. The legitimate demands for reforms in Bahrain have been silenced by sending into the island Kingdom Saudi Arabian troops under the guise of the GCC, when you have such friends who needs any enemies.

Under the best of circumstances, the chances for an Arab Spring were never overwhelming. But the possibility of success has been dealt a major blow by the unholy union of reactionary forces led by Saudi Arabia whose king was not in favour of even allowing the Egyptian masses to remove the corrupt Mubarak regime in Egypt.  Unfortunately these reactionary forces cannot be dismissed since Saudi Arabia controls the daily production of 10 million barrels of oil in a world described best by Peak Oil scarcities.

Yet, despite all of this, the blame for the failure of the Arab Spring does not lie totally on the shoulders of the reactionary Saudi regime and the dictatorships that it supports. How can the Saudis support democratic representation when they are the antithesis of such societal make ups? The real ultimate reason for an Arab Spring is the same one that has haunted the Arab world for centuries.  It is the lack of a strong personal commitment to the ideas of personal liberty, freedom, equality and secularism. It seems that we are destined to continue offering our allegiances to local tribes instead of cultivating the notion of citizenship and equality.

  • Hannibal

    What I do not understand Ghassan, is the why? The motive? The logic? behind Hillary Clinton’s behavior towards the Syrian revolution… Do you think that Israel could be scared of a regime change that could destabilize the Northern borders and weighing heavily on Clinton’s remarks? After all the Baath party (behaviorally) has been generally good for Israel, despite the rhetorics that come out of Damascus.

    • Hannibal,
      I think that there is a lot of merit to your analysis. This conflict between the “devil that we know vs. the one that we do not know” has always dogged foreign policy and probably always will.
      Israel and the US are not comfortable that a regime change in Syria will bring forth more stability. I believe that the people of the region have not shown a strong commitment to reform and genuine democracy based on respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The pragmatic argument in the West is that it is not productive to change one dictatorship with another that could turn out to be even more brutal than the one in place. I understand the allure of “reforming the Baath” but I reject the logic.

  • Hannibal

    What I do not understand Ghassan, is the why? The motive? The logic? behind Hillary Clinton’s behavior towards the Syrian revolution… Do you think that Israel could be scared of a regime change that could destabilize the Northern borders and weighing heavily on Clinton’s remarks? After all the Baath party (behaviorally) has been generally good for Israel, despite the rhetorics that come out of Damascus.

    • Hannibal,
      I think that there is a lot of merit to your analysis. This conflict between the “devil that we know vs. the one that we do not know” has always dogged foreign policy and probably always will.
      Israel and the US are not comfortable that a regime change in Syria will bring forth more stability. I believe that the people of the region have not shown a strong commitment to reform and genuine democracy based on respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The pragmatic argument in the West is that it is not productive to change one dictatorship with another that could turn out to be even more brutal than the one in place. I understand the allure of “reforming the Baath” but I reject the logic.

  • What I do not understand Ghassan, is the why? The motive? The logic? behind Hillary Clinton’s behavior towards the Syrian revolution… Do you think that Israel could be scared of a regime change that could destabilize the Northern borders and weighing heavily on Clinton’s remarks? After all the Baath party (behaviorally) has been generally good for Israel, despite the rhetorics that come out of Damascus.

    • Hannibal,
      I think that there is a lot of merit to your analysis. This conflict between the “devil that we know vs. the one that we do not know” has always dogged foreign policy and probably always will.
      Israel and the US are not comfortable that a regime change in Syria will bring forth more stability. I believe that the people of the region have not shown a strong commitment to reform and genuine democracy based on respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The pragmatic argument in the West is that it is not productive to change one dictatorship with another that could turn out to be even more brutal than the one in place. I understand the allure of “reforming the Baath” but I reject the logic.

  • antar2011

    the fear of fundamental islamist taking over is great not only by US and Israel but by KSA as well.

    • antar2011
      I agree that the fear of radical islamist is a major factor but is it real? and even if it is does that justify supporting brutal dictatorships?

      • antar2011

        of course not.
        i agree wholeheartedly with you, i was just answering hannibal’s question of why…

        i am actually paraplexed as to why KSA is supporting Asaad regime but could find only the answer i gave hannibal.

        of course this fear is not real as you suggested.

  • Anonymous

    the fear of fundamental islamist taking over is great not only by US and Israel but by KSA as well.

    • antar2011
      I agree that the fear of radical islamist is a major factor but is it real? and even if it is does that justify supporting brutal dictatorships?

      • Anonymous

        of course not.
        i agree wholeheartedly with you, i was just answering hannibal’s question of why…

        i am actually paraplexed as to why KSA is supporting Asaad regime but could find only the answer i gave hannibal.

        of course this fear is not real as you suggested.

  • PROPHET.T

    Ghassan,
    Arab states, the United States, and the western Europeans share one goal, which is to slow down, if not stop, Arab revolutions which had already brought down Tunisian and Egyptian dictators. It is easier to deal with a king or a dictator than dealing with democracies which would hold leaders accountable.
    It was very obvious that the us administration and the Europeans were slow on calling on Qhadafi to step down when it seemed that He was loosing support all over the country. They were even slower to react to his military attack on the demonstrators. There goes the initial movement of average Libyans demonstrating against Qhadafi, and seeking freedom and democracy. The whole momentum slowed down.

    The same goes for Arab states, including Syria and Saudi Arabia; both didn’t care for Qhadafi, yet the survival and /or a protracted conflict in Libya would slow down revolutions in other states, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, or at least what they thought.
    Similarly , Bahrain and Yemen were allowed to suppress demonstrators with modest ,and not too serious ,objections from the west and the Arab states.
    The bottom line is that the west is not yet ready to deal with democracies in the Arab or Islamic world, nor is any regime wiling to allow such transformation to freedom or democracy on their own. Seeking freedom always required sacrifices. Some times the price is greater than expected or greater than some are wiling to pay.
    Although there is no love lost between Assad and the Saudis, they would protect each other’s regimes.
    In conclusion, I think that the train of change has started; it may slow down here and there, but at the end , the wall of fear of dictators have been broken. Sooner or later, change will come.

    • Hannibal

      I totally agree… When Hamas won fair and square the West did not recognize their “new” elected democracy. it is democracy ONLY if it is a Western democracy… The hell with what the people want… lol

      • Hannibal,
        I do not wish to split hairs with you on this issue but I would not call Hamas a democracy given their views of the others and their human rights record.

    • Prophet.t
      I am not sure that the West would not rather deal with a genuine democracy rather than dictatorships. I think that the views of the West are coloured by the likely alternatives to the deposed strong men whether it be Yemen, Libya , Egypt, Bahrain or Syria. Does anyone really believe that Yemen and Libya or even Syria is about to establish a democracy where individual rights are respected and protected? Of course not. Yet the basic problem of the Arab Sprong is not the West. It is simply domestic and regional. Saudi Arabia will resist any attempts at reforms in all fields, political social and economic. It will and it has come to thesupport of all illeberal regimes in the Arab Middle east. A revolution must be genuine and its support has to be widespread at the grass roots level. If the Arab league failed to come to the rescue of the innocent Libyan civilians then do we really have the right to blame the West for being slow? Hell had it not been for the interference by the Western air power then there would have been a major Libyan genocide. I will never forget the rabid speech by Qaddafi when he was shouting that we are coming to get all of you( inhabitants of ben ghaze) and we will flush you out door to door and make you pay. Neither the Saudi King, nor Bashar Assad neither the rulers of Kuwait, UAE or Bahrain have spoken strongly against the mad man of Libya.. Our problems are essentially home grown.

      • PROPHET.T

        Ghassan,
        We are not in disagreement here.My views were from a slightly different angle.Good piece of work you offered though.
        I was not trying to lay the blame on the west. My problem was ,and still with the regimes themselves. Sure the west can’t be more Arabic than the Arabs themselves, nor would they want them to be more free or democratic than they(Arab people) would would for themselves. Yet if it serves the western interests to deal with a king or an absolute ruler, the west would not mind.I will repeat what I said earlier;freedom and democracies are costly,and some are willing to pay the price ,and others are not. those who are willing to pay,would accomplish some form of freedom faster than those who are still dealing with the wall of fear . I believe these rulers would resist as much as they can, but non will be replaced by another absolute rulers in the face of these movements except for the monarchies who will resist and last longer than absolute dictators.

      • PROPHET.T

        Ghassan,
        We are not in disagreement here.My views were from a slightly different angle.Good piece of work you offered though.
        I was not trying to lay the blame on the west. My problem was ,and still with the regimes themselves. Sure the west can’t be more Arabic than the Arabs themselves, nor would they want them to be more free or democratic than they(Arab people) would would for themselves. Yet if it serves the western interests to deal with a king or an absolute ruler, the west would not mind.I will repeat what I said earlier;freedom and democracies are costly,and some are willing to pay the price ,and others are not. those who are willing to pay,would accomplish some form of freedom faster than those who are still dealing with the wall of fear . I believe these rulers would resist as much as they can, but non will be replaced by another absolute rulers in the face of these movements except for the monarchies who will resist and last longer than absolute dictators.

  • PROPHET.T

    Ghassan,
    Arab states, the United States, and the western Europeans share one goal, which is to slow down, if not stop, Arab revolutions which had already brought down Tunisian and Egyptian dictators. It is easier to deal with a king or a dictator than dealing with democracies which would hold leaders accountable.
    It was very obvious that the us administration and the Europeans were slow on calling on Qhadafi to step down when it seemed that He was loosing support all over the country. They were even slower to react to his military attack on the demonstrators. There goes the initial movement of average Libyans demonstrating against Qhadafi, and seeking freedom and democracy. The whole momentum slowed down.

    The same goes for Arab states, including Syria and Saudi Arabia; both didn’t care for Qhadafi, yet the survival and /or a protracted conflict in Libya would slow down revolutions in other states, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, or at least what they thought.
    Similarly , Bahrain and Yemen were allowed to suppress demonstrators with modest ,and not too serious ,objections from the west and the Arab states.
    The bottom line is that the west is not yet ready to deal with democracies in the Arab or Islamic world, nor is any regime wiling to allow such transformation to freedom or democracy on their own. Seeking freedom always required sacrifices. Some times the price is greater than expected or greater than some are wiling to pay.
    Although there is no love lost between Assad and the Saudis, they would protect each other’s regimes.
    In conclusion, I think that the train of change has started; it may slow down here and there, but at the end , the wall of fear of dictators have been broken. Sooner or later, change will come.

    • Hannibal

      I totally agree… When Hamas won fair and square the West did not recognize their “new” elected democracy. it is democracy ONLY if it is a Western democracy… The hell with what the people want… lol

      • Hannibal,
        I do not wish to split hairs with you on this issue but I would not call Hamas a democracy given their views of the others and their human rights record.

  • PROPHET.T

    Ghassan,
    Arab states, the United States, and the western Europeans share one goal, which is to slow down, if not stop, Arab revolutions which had already brought down Tunisian and Egyptian dictators. It is easier to deal with a king or a dictator than dealing with democracies which would hold leaders accountable.
    It was very obvious that the us administration and the Europeans were slow on calling on Qhadafi to step down when it seemed that He was loosing support all over the country. They were even slower to react to his military attack on the demonstrators. There goes the initial movement of average Libyans demonstrating against Qhadafi, and seeking freedom and democracy. The whole momentum slowed down.

    The same goes for Arab states, including Syria and Saudi Arabia; both didn’t care for Qhadafi, yet the survival and /or a protracted conflict in Libya would slow down revolutions in other states, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, or at least what they thought.
    Similarly , Bahrain and Yemen were allowed to suppress demonstrators with modest ,and not too serious ,objections from the west and the Arab states.
    The bottom line is that the west is not yet ready to deal with democracies in the Arab or Islamic world, nor is any regime wiling to allow such transformation to freedom or democracy on their own. Seeking freedom always required sacrifices. Some times the price is greater than expected or greater than some are wiling to pay.
    Although there is no love lost between Assad and the Saudis, they would protect each other’s regimes.
    In conclusion, I think that the train of change has started; it may slow down here and there, but at the end , the wall of fear of dictators have been broken. Sooner or later, change will come.

    • I totally agree… When Hamas won fair and square the West did not recognize their “new” elected democracy. it is democracy ONLY if it is a Western democracy… The hell with what the people want… lol

      • Hannibal,
        I do not wish to split hairs with you on this issue but I would not call Hamas a democracy given their views of the others and their human rights record.

    • I totally agree… When Hamas won fair and square the West did not recognize their “new” elected democracy. it is democracy ONLY if it is a Western democracy… The hell with what the people want… lol

    • Prophet.t
      I am not sure that the West would not rather deal with a genuine democracy rather than dictatorships. I think that the views of the West are coloured by the likely alternatives to the deposed strong men whether it be Yemen, Libya , Egypt, Bahrain or Syria. Does anyone really believe that Yemen and Libya or even Syria is about to establish a democracy where individual rights are respected and protected? Of course not. Yet the basic problem of the Arab Sprong is not the West. It is simply domestic and regional. Saudi Arabia will resist any attempts at reforms in all fields, political social and economic. It will and it has come to thesupport of all illeberal regimes in the Arab Middle east. A revolution must be genuine and its support has to be widespread at the grass roots level. If the Arab league failed to come to the rescue of the innocent Libyan civilians then do we really have the right to blame the West for being slow? Hell had it not been for the interference by the Western air power then there would have been a major Libyan genocide. I will never forget the rabid speech by Qaddafi when he was shouting that we are coming to get all of you( inhabitants of ben ghaze) and we will flush you out door to door and make you pay. Neither the Saudi King, nor Bashar Assad neither the rulers of Kuwait, UAE or Bahrain have spoken strongly against the mad man of Libya.. Our problems are essentially home grown.

      • PROPHET.T

        Ghassan,
        We are not in disagreement here.My views were from a slightly different angle.Good piece of work you offered though.
        I was not trying to lay the blame on the west. My problem was ,and still with the regimes themselves. Sure the west can’t be more Arabic than the Arabs themselves, nor would they want them to be more free or democratic than they(Arab people) would would for themselves. Yet if it serves the western interests to deal with a king or an absolute ruler, the west would not mind.I will repeat what I said earlier;freedom and democracies are costly,and some are willing to pay the price ,and others are not. those who are willing to pay,would accomplish some form of freedom faster than those who are still dealing with the wall of fear . I believe these rulers would resist as much as they can, but non will be replaced by another absolute rulers in the face of these movements except for the monarchies who will resist and last longer than absolute dictators.

  • Fauzia45

    I agree ;There is¨ a lack of commitment to the ideas of personal liberty,freedom,equality,and secularism.¨¨What is needed is a creative and liberal education which stresses the importance of these values! What is needed is paving the way for the rise of democracy which is not easy in the Arab world ;the general pattern being authoritarian!This authoritarianism leads to extremism of all kinds!When there are calls for change ,like we have seen,they become fierce and are met by cruelty and brutality to stop them !

  • Fauzia45

    I agree ;There is¨ a lack of commitment to the ideas of personal liberty,freedom,equality,and secularism.¨¨What is needed is a creative and liberal education which stresses the importance of these values! What is needed is paving the way for the rise of democracy which is not easy in the Arab world ;the general pattern being authoritarian!This authoritarianism leads to extremism of all kinds!When there are calls for change ,like we have seen,they become fierce and are met by cruelty and brutality to stop them !

  • Anonymous

    I agree ;There is¨ a lack of commitment to the ideas of personal liberty,freedom,equality,and secularism.¨¨What is needed is a creative and liberal education which stresses the importance of these values! What is needed is paving the way for the rise of democracy which is not easy in the Arab world ;the general pattern being authoritarian!This authoritarianism leads to extremism of all kinds!When there are calls for change ,like we have seen,they become fierce and are met by cruelty and brutality to stop them !