The Inevitability of the Arab Spring


by Ghassan Karam

The uprisings in the Arab world did not take me by surprise. I am not implying that I knew, with any precision, when these uprisings would erupt but I am merely referring to the fact that I have been predicting such an upheaval for decades. This does not make me a seer but it does make me a member of the group of people in the world who would rather base their views about the future on an analysis of facts about the forces that exist in societies at a particular point in time. Whenever I was asked about while was not surprised that an Arab uprising has taken place my simple answer has always been; the real surprise would be if no uprising has taken place since the societal structure of the Arab world was and still is ripe for a radical change.

Let us review some of these facts:

(1)All Arab regimes can be looked upon essentially as continuations of colonialism. With very few exceptions the systems in power in each country was installed by the colonial powers and in a few examples some minor revolutionary changes took place, revolutionary changes based often on the promising idea of Pan Arabism, a concept that is dead for all intensive purposes. It is with this in mind that the Arab Spring may be viewed as the beginning of the post colonial era as Professor Hamid Dabashi argues in his latest book.

(2) Political pluralism was (and still is in many places) practically nonexistent in the Arab world. Political parties are either banned outright or if not banned then the formation of one required all sorts of permits and governmental approvals that made the process Kafkaesque.

(3)Constitutions or whatever passed for constitutions were not documents about the aspirations of the citizens since these citizens ever played a major role either in their formulations or in their adoption.

(4)Conditions for a free press, arguably one of the most important institutions in a vibrant dynamic democracy were made very difficult. Most Arab countries; 17 out of 19 according to one count; required special permits for the establishment of a newspaper. In many cases the number of permits was fixed, as in Lebanon, while in others no free press was allowed. A permit inhibits the behaviour of the recipient under the best of circumstances.

(5)Political succession was either mandated as in the Kingdoms and the GCC emirates or became quasi dynastic as in Tunis, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria. Even the Lebanese had no problem in amending the constitution to accommodate desire by Presidents to stay in power unconstitutionally.

(6) Many ruled by giving themselves emergency powers (Syria, Egypt, Algeria and Sudan to name a few) that have been in effect for decades. The justification was usually the false claim or blackmail if you will that it is either the regime or disintegration and chaos without it. This appears to be, at the moment, the favourite explanation by the Syrian regime supporters about the need to put down the uprising so brutally.

(7) State security was given almost free hand to apprehend torture and spread fear among peaceful citizens who might wish to object and dissent. Civil liberty was an alien concept in most countries.

(8) Economic performance among the non oil exporting countries was close to dismal. Unemployment was high, economic growth was low, wealth distribution was inequitable, food insecurity was rampant, educational opportunities very limited

(9) Modern technology has made it difficult to keep the abuse, the inequities and the underperformance hidden. The world did shrink as a result of inexpensive transportation but essentially as a result of telecommunication revolutions that allowed individuals to make telephone calls overseas, communicate with friends and relatives in more prosperous parts of the world and the ability to learn that other people in other countries do not have to put up with the daily abuse to their personhood. They have had enough.

As all of you now the above brief list could be expanded into many other areas as corruption and cult of personality. But I trust that the above is enough to make it clear that no people will willingly choose to live under these unjust, unfair and abusive conditions. It was only a matter of time before people would rise and demand their freedom: an inalienable right. That is how history unfolds. All people are destined to be free and all dictators, authoritarian regimes and tyrannical rulers will ultimately fall. This you can count on it is a law as valid as that of gravity. The entire Arab world will ultimately be free.