Arab Spring 10 Years On: Life Has Got Worse Since Then, Say People in MENA Region

Written by | Friday, December 18th, 2020

On this day (17 December), 10 years ago, a Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid and triggered the Arab Spring – a wave of protests across North Africa and the Middle East which have had profound ramifications. Tunisia is a democracy today, which has withstood assassinations, terrorist attacks and the ideological gulfs of its leaders, at crucial moments pulling back from the precipice of returning to authoritarian rule, as happened in Egypt, and of civil war, as in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Still, 10 years later, there is little hope of a new beginning – civil wars, repressive regimes and jihadism have instead shaped everyday life in some of the countries across the MENA region.
What’s perhaps worse is that majority in nine countries across the Arab world feel they are living in significantly more unequal societies today than before the Arab spring, an era of uprisings, civil wars and unsteady progress towards self-determination that commenced a decade ago, according to a Guardian-YouGov poll. The results of the far-reaching poll of 5,275 people across genders and age groups suggest the feelings of hopelessness and disfranchisement that have fuelled this turbulent chapter across the MENA have only increased, even if most people do not regret the protest movements – except for, notably, in the countries where they led to civil war. The feeling of being worse off than before the Arab spring was unsurprisingly highest in Syria (75% of respondents agreeing), Yemen (73%) and Libya (60%), where street protests gave way to foreign interventions that led to civil wars that have shattered each country. Fewer than half of those surveyed in Egypt, Iraq and Algeria said they were worse off compared with before 2010; but in none of the three did more than a quarter of people say they were better off either.
Still, the Arab Spring inspired people in many other countries around the world, including Africa. For example, in Burkina Faso, in 2014, thousands of people protested against another term of office for long-term President Blaise Compaore, who had ruled for 27 years. In Senegal, the youth movement “Y’en a marre” successfully fought against the constitutional court’s decision in 2012 to allow President Abdoulaye Wade to run for a third time. And in Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir was ousted from office in 2019 after months of civil unrest. But protest movements like those in Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Sudan are exceptions. The “African Spring” lacks all the essential prerequisites and ingredients of the Arab Spring, says Gilbert Achcar, Professor of International Relations at SOAS University London. “Countries in sub-Saharan Africa do not have the same structural crisis,” Achcar says. “In African countries, there is fighting over politics and elections, but this is different from a movement that aims to overthrow the whole system.” Besides, youth unemployment in the MENA has been the highest in the world for over 25 years, according to the US think tank, Brookings. In 2017, unemployment in these regions stood at 30%.

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