Expert: Arab Spring has resolved little

'Friday for defending the revolution' in Tahrir Sq, Cairo, Egypt. Photo by flickr user lokha

Despite democratic transformations in a few states, the problems that led to the Arab Spring largely remain unresolved, Dr Toby Dodge, IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for the Middle East, told an audience in Manama on 29 May 2012. In his talk, ‘Drivers of Instability: Reflections on the Arab Spring’, Dodge pointed to short- and medium-term factors such as rising food prices and demographic bulges, as well as the broader failed policies of Arab authoritarianism, as some of the causes of the Arab revolutions.

Yet unemployment remained high in the region more than one year after a street vendor in Tunisia set himself alight and a wave of protests began. Many of the youth who spearheaded the uprisings had not been integrated into post-revolutionary transitions.

Dodge said that several factors determined how each country fared during the uprisings. The outcome varied according to the state’s capacity to co-opt, repress or buy off protesters agitating for reform; the ruling elite’s cohesion; and the domestic opposition’s ability to sustain popular mobilisation.

He classified outcomes into three categories. In states including Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, governments had succeeded, at least in the short-term, in repressing anti-regime protest through a combination of increased patronage, ideological recalibration and extended security crackdowns.

In a second category of states, including Egypt and Tunisia, a section of the old ruling elite were forced to meet the demands of street protesters and manage democratic transitions, while struggling to defend their economic privileges.

In Egypt, the downfall of the old order was caused primarily by corruption and neoliberal economic reforms that had served to generate further exclusion. Dodge called Egypt a laboratory for all that drove the Arab Spring forward, although the outcome of its transition remained far from certain.

In a third category of nations, exemplified by Syria and Libya, calls for change sparked a violent and protracted struggle between a fractured opposition and a largely coherent state apparatus. Dodge drew comparisons between the fragmented nature of the Syrian National Council and its counterpart in Libya.

The talk was part of the IISS Global Perspectives Lecture Series.

Listen: Drivers of Instability: Reflections on the Arab Spring


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