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The Seasons After the Arab Spring

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Images of popular protests that recall the revolutionary movement of 2011 have dominated news from the Arabic-speaking world for months. Uprisings began in Sudan on December 19 and in Algeria with the marches of February 22. They revived memories of the huge, peaceful demonstrations early in the Arab Spring that shook Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria.

Commentators have been more cautious this time, asking questions rather than commenting directly, mindful of the bitter disappointment that followed their initial euphoria over the Arab Spring. The repression of the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, crushed after only a few weeks with the help of the other oil monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), could have been the exception, given the unique characteristics of that club of states. But two years later the region entered a counter-revolutionary phase, with a new chain reaction going the other way.

Bashar al-Assad launched a new offensive in Syria in spring 2013 with the help of Iran and its regional allies. Then came the army-backed establishment of a repressive regime in Egypt, and the return to power of members of Tunisia’s ousted government; in Cairo and Tunis, forces linked to the Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the initial revolutionary impetus. Emboldened by 2013’s developments, remnants of the former regimes in Libya and Yemen formed opportunistic alliances with groups that had jumped on the bandwagon of the revolution and shared their hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood. Their attempts to take power by force ended in civil war. Enthusiasm gave way to melancholy in the “Arab Winter” as the totalitarian terrorist enterprise ISIS gained a foothold.

Though this latest avatar of Al-Qaida was eventually crushed in Iraq and Syria (groups operating under the same franchise remain active in Libya, the Sinai peninsula and outside the Arab-speaking world), other counter-revolutionary forces remain on the offensive. The Assad clan continues its reconquest of most of Syria’s territory with the help of Russia and Iran. In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi’s despotic regime, careless of the potential impact of rebellions in Sudan and Algeria, has adopted a constitutional amendment that allows him to remain in power until 2030.

A long-term revolutionary process

In Libya, Sissi’s admirer General Khalifa Haftar—backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and France, lately joined by the US—has since April been pursuing a military offensive in the west to take control of the whole country. Haftar wants to remove the Government of National Accord, recognized by the UN, the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, and Turkey, and is undermining UN mediation for a new, inclusive political solution. In Yemen, civil war is still raging, its consequences made worse by the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition. There is little hope of lasting peace in the near future, or of national reunification.

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