The Arab Spring is in its death spiral. Does the West still care?

The Arab Spring is in its death spiral. Does the West still care?

Kim Ghattas writes:

The past few months have brought despair to millions of Arabs as they’ve watched the rapid and seemingly definitive restoration of an old, dictatorial order throughout a region that was not long ago full of promise. The end of the Arab Spring has been forecast many times already. Now the last stubborn buds have been crushed.

Tunisia, the country that started the wave of democratic uprisings in December 2010, served for more than a decade as a model for other states contemplating the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Now it’s sliding back toward autocracy, with President Kais Saied, elected in 2019, appearing to outdo the country’s previous dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, in repression. Since assuming office, Saied has imposed an emergency regime, suspended parliament, and rewritten the country’s constitution. In recent months, he’s taken to cracking down on any whiff of criticism of his rule by arresting journalists and union and political leaders.

Sudan renewed hopes for a democratic wave when a year-long movement of protest, led mostly by women, brought an end to the two-decades-long dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir in 2019. A 22-year-old woman named Alaa Salah, standing atop a car, dressed in white with large gold earrings and leading men in a chant about freedom, became the image of that democratic revolution. But last month, two of the generals who helped remove Bashir went to war against each other in an all-out battle for control of Khartoum. The conflict has already killed more than 500 people and led tens of thousands to flee the capital, with no end in sight.

Then there is Syria, whose revolution was the bloodiest of them all. For 10 years, world leaders shunned President Bashar al-Assad for his ruthless repression of what began as a peaceful uprising in March 2011 and became a bloodbath in which 500,000 Syrians were killed, an estimated 90 percent of them by Assad’s regime and its allies, Iran and Russia. Assad, who also used chemical weapons against his people, has now come in from the cold, at least in the Arab world. His neighbors have turned to him for help resolving a host of problems that he himself created, such as huge outflows of refugees and a lucrative trade in a highly addictive synthetic amphetamine called captagon, produced in Syria under the control of the Assad family.

Successive American administrations have treated the Middle East as a lost cause, a place to fix by force or to ignore. Former President Barack Obama described strife in the region as “rooted in conflict dating back millennia,” suggesting that it was an inevitable and eternal condition. Such an approach risks blinding Washington to the region’s place in the bigger global story that the current U.S. president, Joe Biden, likes to speak of as a worldwide contest between democratic and autocratic forces. In the Middle East, the autocratic side is making a strong comeback. What happens there will have ramifications for the West, whether in the war in Ukraine or the standoff with Iran. [Continue reading…]

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