Hopes over the ‘Arab spring’ were premature

Darker, colder world awaits, one in which other people matter less than would have been thought possible six years ago.

2017/01/22 Issue: 90 Page: 7

The Arab Weekly
James Snell

For my generation, 2011 came close to being our 1968. Like the latter, it was a year of political change, change that seemed dynamic and accelerated.

The world was on the verge of being transformed. It seemed as though undemocratic regimes, for too long a regrettable fixture of the Middle East, could be over­thrown and replaced. More than that, there was a sense of real optimism. It seemed the weight of history had been lifted.

The “Arab spring” personified the best of this forward-looking global trend and it gave hope to the rest of us. The struggles of ordinary people to liberate them­selves from the monolithic forces of state oppression were inspiring and exciting and appeared to sig­nal a sea change in international politics.

Such hopes proved premature. Five years on, this optimism has evaporated. Now the agents of political change are different. Ret­rograde forces have won the day.

The causes of this pall are nu­merous but they are linked. All of them contribute to the countries of the world — and especially the West — turning inward, placing domestic concerns above global ones and abandoning any sense of international obligation.

Most notably, this has been manifested in the form of anti-immigrant populism. This senti­ment has always been present and has always exerted influence on contemporary politics but never so explicitly as in the last year.

Though the official campaign for a leave vote in Britain’s refer­endum on the European Union couched its terms carefully, the subtext of immigration was present in every argument, every debate, every apparently uncon­nected question about the Nation­al Health Service or infrastructure or our national character.

Other campaigners relied less on making implicit appeals to nativ­ism. The “Leave EU” campaign, for example, put immigration front and centre. That was the reason most people voted the way they did.

This has changed the nature of British politics. Now it is assumed that the electorate is hostile to immigration, that it does not want to accept refugees fleeing the dis­aster areas of the Middle East — or any of them at all.

In the United States, the election of Donald Trump to the presidency demonstrates the same impulse but at an even higher pitch. This is a man who said he wanted a “total and complete shutdown” on Muslims entering the country. He wants to kill the wives and children of suspected terrorists. He wants to reinstitute torture and cannot imagine why anyone would have a problem with that.

This has necessarily challenged certain international norms but it is also a symptom of a wider moral malaise.

The dramatic nature of this change in emphasis can be seen in Western abandonment of the Syrian revolution and widespread regret — feigned or real — over the end of the Qaddafi regime in Libya. Defenders of these regimes, from both the left and right, are multiplying.

These people say Arab coun­tries do not know what to do with democracy and that they cannot truly want it in any case. They suggest that war crimes commit­ted by the Assad regime are either overstated or justified — a Western lie or a good thing too.

This position sums up the past year and will, in all likelihood, dominate 2017. A darker, colder world awaits, one in which other people — and other countries — matter less than would have been thought possible six years ago.

James Snell is a British journalist.

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262


Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved