With the third anniversary of the Arab Spring fast approaching, The Economist takes a cold look at what it has really accomplished.
We all remember those heady days, when Timesmen Tom Friedman and Nick Kristof were camped out in Tahrir Square breathing the air of the oncoming democracy.
We remember those who saw the Arab Spring as the apotheosis of the Bush administration’s freedom agenda.
But, we all knew that the crack Obama/Clinton foreign policy team was managing the crisis. What could go wrong? Or, should I say: what could go right?
The Economist offers a sobering assessment:
Yet the fact is that three years after a despairing Tunisian barrow boy named Muhammad Bouazizi (pictured in the poster above) set himself on fire, kindling a region-wide sequence of revolts that some dubbed the Arab spring, a sense of deep disappointment has settled on the Middle East. It is not hard to see why.
What those popular uprisings demanded was an end to despotism, an end to humiliation at the hands of the powerful, and a better lot for everyone.
But the turmoil has brought few tangible rewards. Aside from such momentary thrills as watching dictators tumble, and marching shoulder to brotherly shoulder with one’s fellows, bellowing insults in a fleeting chorus of unified purpose, it has mostly brought trouble. "Revolution?" snorts a barber in Cairo. "It was a revolution against the people."
In the countries shaken directly by revolts—Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria—living standards have uniformly fallen. In some cases—particularly for the poorest and most disadvantaged, they have fallen precipitously. Mr Bouazizi’s hometown, Sidi Bouzid, where unemployment pushed 25% before the unrest, suffers an even higher rate now, and joblessness has surged in other countries, too. Nowhere have the stark divides between classes that underpinned political resentment, and which fueled not only revolution but religious extremism and violence, been addressed meaningfully.
And how could we overlook what has been happening in Syria:
And this is not to mention the cost in blood of the Arab revolts, let alone the utter calamity that has befallen Syria’s 23m people, and increasingly many of their neighbours. Not only have at least 130,000 Syrians perished, and as many as 11m been forced to flee their homes. There is no end in sight to their misery. The concatenation of factors feeding into the Syrian morass, from meddling foreign powers to sectarian and class schisms, have created a perfect storm that may only be tamed by consuming itself.
Of course, there was also Benghazi, but it looks as though the Obama administration is going to succeed in making it go away.
By now, everyone is doing his best to forget the Arab Spring. It’s a good reason to keep it in mind.