Iraqi protesters during clashes with security forces at Baghdad’s Khallani square during ongoing anti-government demonstrations on November 13, 2019.
Young people across the region are frustrated with the corruption and incompetence of their governments
Only in one Arab country, Tunisia, did 2011’s Arab Spring achieve any semblance of success. The four other Middle Eastern and North African nations whose uprisings aimed to bring down their leaders largely descended into chaos or returned to authoritarian rule.
Egypt managed to escape the eviscerating civil wars still crippling Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Protests that rocked almost every other nation in the region simply dwindled.
However, while the revolutionaries’ hopes for democracy and social, political, and economic justice either withered away or were crushed, the conditions behind their desperation have not changed. Graft, cronyism, mismanagement, and flawed democratic processes are still rife in Arab countries, and again, people are demanding change.
Crowds in Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Egypt, and Algeria have all taken to the streets in recent weeks. Just as in Hong Kong, it is the young energising the protests. In Iraq and Lebanon, corruption and incompetence are the main causes of anger, although both are concerned by the presence of sectarianism and the influence of Iran in their politics.
Lebanon is in the grip of unrest that was sparked after the government imposed a 20 cent tax on citizens’ WhatsApp calls while the nation sank deeper into economic crisis and the prime minister, Saad Hariri, was discovered to have $16 million dollars to a South African supermodel.
On Tuesday, just South of Beirut, Alaa Abou Fakher, a member of the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, was shot and killed while he marched against the government. This has brought the protesters’ fervour to a new level, and the Lebanese
Last month, Hariri resigned as a result of the unrest, but the protesters remain unbowed. A repeated chant has become a slogan of the demonstrations: “Kilon yanni kilon” – all of them means all of them.
Spearheaded by Iraq’s young people, who suffer from devastating unemployment, protests started in Baghdad in early October, and have since spread to the country’s South. Iraqis suffer from limited access to education, healthcare, clean water, and electricity, despite receiving the third-highest income from oil exports in the world.
“More than 300 people have been killed as security forces have responded to the mostly peaceful demonstrations by firing live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters directly at the bodies of protesters,” Reuters reports.
“We have nothing – no schools, no decent hospitals. No riches for the nation. Politicians only know how to steal – they steal from us,” said Mohammad Saeed Yasseen. “We have to get rid of these corrupt officials. Without that, there’s no solution.”
Sudan, Algeria, and Egypt
The uprisings in two of the African nations, Sudan and Algeria, are longer-standing than their counterparts in Iraq and Lebanon, and both achieved their initial aim in April: the overthrow of their respective leaders, Omar al-Bashir and Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Both were old, reviled strongmen who had been in place for decades.
Crucially, however, in neither Sudan nor Algeria have the protests abated, as they might have done in 2011. They know their problems don’t reside in a single figurehead, they continue to demand systemic change.
Both Sudan’s and Algeria’s presidents were removed from power by a military establishment hoping that doing so would act as a pressure release for the unrest rocking their nations. The armed forces who deposed their heads of state acted to mollify the protesters, but in doing so they revealed where the true power lies.
The same could be said in Egypt in February 2011, when the armed forces accepted the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. Crowds celebrated in the now symbolic Tahrir square at the news, but only two years later, after a bungled democratic exercises, a military coup installed the unelected Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who remains in power to this day.
Egyptians are now back on the streets. During mass protests in September in Cairo and two other cities, demonstrators shouted “rise up, fear not, Sisi must go” and “the people demand the regime’s fall.”
Protests in Sudan continued this month, calling for the comprehensive disbanding of the entire party structure that surrounded al-Bashir. Algerians have held rallies every Friday since Bouteflika was ousted seven months ago. Their vehemence has not abated, and they continue to demand systematic change. Despite this, the regime has remained unmoved – it seems the removal of Bouteflika was indeed only ever a tactic to cool protesters’ passions.
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The new Arab Spring
“Arab governments who clung to power may have thought they weathered the storm and were safe. But today’s protests show that they didn’t make good use of their reprieve,” writes Marwan Muasher for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “There were no political reforms to make systems more inclusive, and no economic reforms to address corruption, improve governance, and create jobs. The problems continued, and they have now led a wiser group of protesters back to the streets.”
One characteristic that each of the current protests share, says The Washington Post, is “pervasive social media and a rising generation of discontented youth who are masters of it. The combination of the two has changed the balance of power between government and society in both democratic and authoritarian states.”