Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘The Arab Spring’

The Unfinished Arab Spring

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th May, 2020

The Unfinished Arab SpringIn the wake of the December 2010 self-immolation of the impoverished young Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, a wave of unrest swept across much of North Africa and the Middle East, leading to the ousting of Presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. At the time, I railed against fellow journalists who adopted the lazy slogan of “Arab Spring” for the new phenomenon. Lazy for at least two reasons. First, the term was a clumsy adaptation of the 1968 (ultimately failed) Czech uprising against the country’s Soviet occupiers (the “Prague Spring”); just as virtually every US political scandal since Watergate brought down US President Richard Nixon in 1974 has similarly been sloppily dubbed X-gate or Y-gate. But the second, and more important, reason for my displeasure was that it was blatantly obvious from the turn of events, not least when they reached Syria, where I was lecturing in March 2011, that this momentous political trend was not a matter of just one season. Or indeed one year. I predicted it would take at least a decade, probably two, before we could map its trajectory or judge its success.

Tahrir Square demosWhile I was working with the late Palestinian-Jordanian Minister, Jamal Nasir, on his autobiography, we adopted a fresh term to describe what was happening: The New Arab Awakening. We were intending to write another book, with this title, deliberately echoing that of the classic 1938 history of the rise of Arab nationalism by George Antonius, The Arab Awakening, but sadly the nonagenarian Dr Nasir died before we got very far with that. Now, however, a book has appeared that effectively does what we would have wanted to achieve, but with the added benefit of bringing together contributions from a wide range of distinguished scholars, many of them from the MENA region themselves. The title is well justified, too. The Unfinished Arab Spring  (Gingko, £40), edited by Fatima El-Issawi and Francesco Cavatorta, is in two distinct parts. The first is a series of case studies, covering Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Morocco and Algeria (Yemen being an interesting omission). Each chapter’s author takes a different approach that is country-specific and illustrates well how very differently each uprising or revolution has turned out, from “delegitimising democratic demands” in the case of Egypt to “resource competition” in Libya. The second part brings an analytical approach to the dialectic between the “dynamics of change” and the “dynamics of continuity”. Various agents and actors are identified, from well-educated youth to secular women, but so too the technological context, not least the prevalence of social media and other alternative platforms.

Algeria demosIn the second section, Tunisia receives particularly close attention, which can be justified not only because this is where the so-called Arab Spring began (in mid-Winter, of course), but also because Tunisia is the one country in which the New Arab Awakening can be said, more or less, to have been a success. Whether others will prove to be in the long term remains to be seen, though there have been encouraging recent developments in Algeria.

All of the chapters have extensive footnotes and at the end of each there is a very useful bibliography. This is, after all, a serious collection of academic papers, though most of its authors have nonetheless managed to write in a style that is accessible to the informed general reader. As a part-time SOAS academic myself, I did momentarily baulk at one chapter heading in Part Two: “Youth Activism and the Politics of ‘Mediapreneurship’: The Effects of Political Efficacy and Empowerment on Mediated Norm Conveyance in Tunisia and Morocco”. But do not be put off by this, or indeed by the price of the book. For a work of such scholarship, £40 is quite reasonable. And if you cannot afford to buy the book yourself, get your library to order it. You and they will be grateful.

Posted in MENA, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Is the GCC Unravelling?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th November, 2017

C0F4FE57-2826-47BC-B8AE-6C6F8B4B45BCThe Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, more commonly known by its previous name, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has been in existence since 1981 and aims at a degree of economic integration between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman as well as cooperation in other fields, but some of its more ambitious plans have been quietly shelved. Following the launch of the euro there was talk of moving towards a single GCC currency, to be called the khaleeji (Gulfi), but Oman said it would need to opt out and enthusiasm waned elsewhere. Then at the time of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, tentative moves were made to bring two other Arab monarchies, Jordan and Morocco, into the fold, despite neither being in the Gulf. However, the one obvious geographical absentee absentee is Iraq, which overthrew it’s short-lived monarchy in 1958, was never a serious contender while Saddam Hussein was in power and has been equally unpalatable to the Sunni Arab monarchs since Shia-dominated governments have been in charge in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion. When there was stronger than usual unrest among Bahrain’s majority Shi’i population in 2011, Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent in troops to help the Al Khalifa monarchy quash it. Since then, Iran has been the focus of much of the GCC’s animosity, notably from Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as Tehran’s rival for regional hegemony. But since this summer, another deeply complicating factor has emerged: the embargo of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, mainly because of the activities of the Doha-based TV channel, Al Jazeera, and Qatar’s alleged cosying up to Iran (with which it shares a gigantic gas field). Kuwait has been trying to mediate, while the wily ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos, is keeping well out of it. The Saudi Foreign Minister the other day downplayed the importance of the row, but it has inevitably made the facade of GCC unity crumble. And if the standoff continues for long, the GCC would be in real danger of unravelling.

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »