Arab spring was a non-violent, pro-democratic movement, carried out by ordinary people against their corrupt regimes to demand political and civil rights. It started from Tunisia when a young street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi, frustrated with the bad policies and corruption of the authoritarian government that had created inflation and unemployment, set himself on fire in December 2010. This led to the massive street protest by the ordinary people demanding the government to step down in favour of democracy. Initially the Tunisian government resisted, but was soon overpowered by the people. As a result, Tunisia’s autocratic president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali stepped down and fled to Saudi Arabia in January 14, 2011. It marked the end of his 23 years long rule. Consequently, Tunisia embarked on the route of democracy as a democratically chosen president and prime minister took office in December 2011, and a new constitution was promulgated in January 2014.
The success story of Tunisian people was shared on social media and encouraged Arabs of Middle East to raise their voice against their corrupt regimes. Thus, Arab Spring soon spread in the most of the Middle East countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and so on. However, it failed to bring democracy there but got a temporary victory in Egypt.
Inspired by Tunisia, hundreds and thousands of Egyptians marched peacefully in Cairo on 4th February 2011 to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year rule. The Egyptian government initially cracked down violently on the protestors. Afterwards, the military refused to use force against them and called for the removal of president Mubarak. As a result, Mubarak reluctantly stepped down on 11th February. Consequently, first election in the sixty-year history of Egypt was held on 16-17 June 2012 in which Muhammad Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood attained victory and formed a democratic government. Soon Morsi established diplomatic relations with Iran that had remained frozen during Mubarak’s thirty years long rule. It was disliked by Saudi Arabia.
From 1950s to 1990, Saudi backed Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt both ideologically and financially. It parted ways with the party when its leaders opposed the stationing of American troops on Saudi’s soil on the eve of US-led coalition campaign to oust Iraqis from occupying Kuwait in 1991 and in the folllowing years its leaders remarked that Sharia law could be introduced in an Arab country through ballot. Democracy is the biggest threat to Al-Saud of Arabia because they knew that it would put an end to their glorious position. Further damage came after the success of Morsi as a democratic leader during Arab Spring when he developed diplomatic relations with Iran against the wishes of Al-Saud. As a result, Saudi Arabia, together with UAE decided to topple his government in the favour of general Abdul Fattah el Sisi, the commander-in-chief of armed forces and Defense minister of Egypt and remained successful. Dictator Sisi, in order to consolidate his power, oversaw the killing of 817 Muslim Brotherhood protesters in a single day in August 2013. It was one of the largest massacres of protestors in modern times according to Human Rights Watch report of 2017.
The problem with Muslim Brotherhood was that many of its followers were Islamists with radical mindset. For example, one of its members was Sayyid Qutb. He used the term “jahiliyyah”(a period of ignorance) to describe the modern world. He saw the West as a historical enemy of Islam. According to him, Muslim leaders who govern through non-Islamic systems such as capitalism or communism should be declared unbelievers and become a target of revolutionary Jihad. Egypt’s military used arguments such as preventing Islamists to govern the country, to legitimate its July 2013 coup and violence. Thus, Arab spring got temporary victory in Egypt.
Although, Arab Spring overthrew dictator Gaddafi, the country instead of embarking on the path of democracy, caught in the vortex of civil war. Arab Spring gave an opportunity to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Turkey to get rid of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. Undoubtedly, he used force against the peaceful protestors to suppress them. The Gulf countries used their media to highlight violence of Gaddafi and passed an Arab League Resolution to force the US and United Nations Organization (UNO) to a humanitarian intervention. They also provided weapons and money to the local militants to fight the regime. Qatar and UAE supported different groups against Gaddafi. As a result, they indulged in civil wars after his removal. Till today, Libya has not a stable government thanks to the proxies of the neighboring countries.
The gulf countries and turkey started to believe that the way they removed Gaddafi from the power by supporting the local militants, they could do the same with president Bashar-al Assad of Syria to eliminate the influence of Iran in the region. Qatar started to supply weapons to Islamists of Muslim Brotherhood through Turkey because Tayyip Erdogan was friendly with the Brotherhood. Since Saudi Arabia was harsh towards the Brotherhood, it resorted to supplying weapons to Anti-Assad groups functioning as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), led by defecting officers from Syria’s military. By March 2013, over 160 military cargo flights from Saudi and Qatar landed at airports in Turkey and Jordan to channel weapons to Syria through their borders.
Consequently, Iran came forward to assist Assad to counter domestic threats. Thus, Syria became a battleground between the gulf countries and Iran first. Afterwards Russia intervened in the support of Syrian government against the US assistance for the anti-Assad elements. As a result of continuous encounters between the government and demonstrators, around half the population of Syria has been displaced and half a million been killed. Many have fled for neighboring countries, mostly Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The intervention of some countries negatively affected the peaceful protest of local Syrian people and gave an argument to Assad to continuously suppress the protestors by declaring them as militants of the Gulf countries.
The huge supply of weapons to the different militants by the Gulf countries and Turkey resulted in the emergence of a totally separate group called Islamic State (IS) formerly called ISIS. It turned its weapons to all the opposition groups including Saudi Arabia and the US and vowed to establish Islamic rule in the entire Muslim world. It became the greatest challenge for the entire region. The group successfully occupied a large part of Eastern Syria and Western Iraq, eradicating the border and declaring itself a new caliphate. However, Iran assisted Iraq to defeat the IS and drive them away from its territory. The US, finally, eliminated the group by working and assisting other local groups.
Bahrain’s monarchy violently crushed its nascent antigovernment popular uprising, unleashing a wave of sectarian repression. There is 70 per cent Shia population in Bahrain ruled by minority Sunni Arabs. More Alarming, Shia held only 13 per cent of high ranking public posts. Arab Spring gave them an opportunity to protest for their basic rights and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa who had held office since independence in 1971. However, the government suppressed the protest by invoking sectarian violence. Hence, Arab Spring failed in Bahrain as well.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman tried to block Arab Spring by providing economic benefits to the people. for example, during Arab Spring, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia promised an aid package of $130 billion that included higher salaries and more housing assistance for the local citizens. In February 2011, the Kuwaiti government gave every citizen 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars (3314 USD) and free staple food for over a year. In Oman, the government funded 30,000 more jobs and 40 per cent more university scholarships.
Thus, Arab Spring failed to bring change in the Middle East. It created civil war in Syria. The authoritarian regime suppressed the uprising of the people. The proxies by different countries left negative impact on the struggle of ordinary citizens to get rid of the monarchies. The supply of weapons to the different militant groups sidelined the common citizens and brings militants directly in conflict with the governments.