“This house regrets the Arab Spring” was the statement presented to me this evening during a debate hosted by my university. I initially thought this was a strange assertion, since what could possibly be wrong with the Arab Spring that one could ‘regret’ its occurrence?
I soon came to realise that actually, this was more divisive than I had initially expected: the ‘proposition’ argued from the premise that the Arab Spring, rather than begin the Arab worlds transition towards democracy, actually created greater turmoil in the region than existed under dictatorship; the opposition panel, in contrast, exclaimed that the Arab Spring should not be held responsible for political upheaval following the revolutions. The regions collapse was an unfortunate consequence of a necessary revolution, thereby entailing that the Arab Spring was not a regret.
It did not take me long to realise my alliances lay with the latter viewpoint.
What astounded me was the argument of the proposition, that the Arab states of Libya, Egypt and Syria lacked the ‘judicial’ framework for the implementation of democracy. By this, they inferred that any democratic transition must be put temporarily on hold until these institutions were firmly in place.
Now, this was an arrogantly astute observation that would have Edward Said turn in his grave. Who are we, in the West, to determine what is the ‘correct’ moment that a revolutionary process should begin? The Arab people of these nations are the ones solely enduring the memory of repressive government; they are the individuals experiencing injustice, gender inequality and who have had their political aspirations violently suppressed. Neither the U.S, Great Britain or France have encountered instances of dictatorial government for two centuries at least; we have no immediate interaction with this type of behaviour, therefore we have limited grounds in condemning the revolutionaries for their poor choice of time to protest.
Additionally, this argument unintelligently ignores the historical legacy of our own ‘Western’ revolutions. Where were the judicial institutions protecting French Catholics who were slaughtered in the name of liberty following the French Revolution? Maximilien Robespierre’s ‘Reign of Terror’ certainly did not accommodate any notion of legality, nor did Vladimir Lenin and the factions opposing him care much for the immediate implementation of democracy; absolute governmental power was their aim, regardless of the human cost of these ambitions.
What the proposition panel were saying, in agreeing that ‘this house regrets the Arab Spring’, was that the revolutionary upheaval should have waited for a more accommodating situation. This suggestion firstly implies we, in the ‘West’, enjoyed the ‘perfect’ conditions to revolt and that our revolutions were bloodless transitions in political history. Secondly, it also alludes to the belief that revolutions will evolve as peaceful affairs.
Revolutions apparently are not bloodless, and perversely, the propositions supporting evidence appeared to show this. Statistics issued by the UN and IMF factually portrayed that after the Arab revolts gender inequality had risen; human displacement had risen; political violence had risen. Their reference to the 250,000 dead in the Syrian Civil War is undeniably true. But whether the Syrian people waited 15 years for the ‘right’ or ‘peaceful’ conditions is irrelevant; the reaction of the Assad regime would remain the same, and these people would have died 15 years older.
It is a Euro-centric, outdated opinion to assert what the correct ‘instance’ is for a nation to revolt. This is an attitude rooted in our imperial ancestry, that the conquered regions of the world need a guiding hand in modernising their ‘incompetencies’. False.
These nations drove us out and left us abandoning an imperial legacy with our tail hanging between our legs. Their political conscience has committed them to change; their desire for liberty driven them in calling for the eradication of dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. When the first murmur of activism appeared in 2011, the Arab governments retaliated with force. Similarly, when the Russian people denounced their autocratic monarchy in 1905, they were murdered; when the Hungarians adopted a process of liberal reform, the imperial forces of Communism stopped them in their first instance.
Revolutions are rarely a bloodless transition of government. ‘Democracy’ is not an overnight transformation that implements universal values into every nook and cranny of a country. The ‘proposition’ tonight were wrong. The Arab Spring should not be regretted; it should be honoured for its gallantry effort to bring about democracy in a region plagued by absolutist, dictatorial rule.
I would just like to add that I have kept this piece as short as possible and have mainly focused on the proposition. When criticising their argument, I have tried to take a historical approach which I believe discredits their fundamental premises. Furthermore, I acknowledge I have offered little insight into why the Arab Spring has had such a turbulent aftermath, specifically the rise of factional movements such as ISIS and the emergence of Civil War in Libya. This was a deliberate approach since I felt it more valid to outline why these revolutions should have occurred, and why the West specifically should ‘not regret the Arab Spring’.