Democracy in the Arab World: Still a Mirage?


More than five years after the Arab Spring began, the euphoria that accompanied the region’s early uprisings has been replaced by a dogged realism, notes RAND analyst Seth G.Jones. From the indignant graffiti scrawled on walls across Tunis to the war-torn neighborhoods of Damascus and Tripoli, the region and the world’s hopes of establishing peace and democracy have largely faded, he writes for Foreign Affairs:

Take Tunisia, where the street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in January 2011 and inspired millions across the Arab world to rise up against oppression. Today, the country, the only functioning democracy to have emerged out of the turmoil of 2011 and 2012, is in danger of sliding into violence thanks in part to the chaos engulfing neighboring Libya. This month, dozens of militants allied with the Islamic State, or ISIS, stormed the Tunisian town of Ben Gardane, near the Libyan border, assaulting police and military posts in what Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi called an “unprecedented” strike that left at least 54 people dead. In fact, it followed several high-profile attacks in the past year: in June 2015, militants targeted Western tourists at the beach resort of Sousse and in March 2015, they did the same at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis. Ordinary Tunisians, meanwhile, are growing restless. A sputtering economy and high unemployment have triggered protests across the country, and the Tunisian government imposed a nationwide curfew that lasted from late January to early February in response.

The United States’ power to force political change in the Arab world is limited, Jones adds:

In 2013, I wrote that the “demise of Middle Eastern authoritarianism may come eventually” but that “there is little reason to think that day is near.” That remains the case today. For the moment, Washington should focus on stemming the Arab world’s slide into further chaos and laying the groundwork for future stability.


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