The ‘Arab Spring’ as Winter Descends

Honest reflection on the past twelve months of discontent, as manifested in various forms of revolutionary zeal, rhetoric, and violence, exposes a solitary thread weaving through all the demonstrations and “rebel” and “opposition” movements that cycloned through the Middle East and North Africa: In each case, local issues were the engines of public mobilization. Whether discussing Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia, the tribal swaggering in Yemen, or demonstrators’ exploitation of opportunity (and Iranian money) in Bahrain, it is clear that the “Arab Spring” is a haphazard series of disconnected local events, united in time but varying greatly in motivation.

This idea contrasts with the all-too-frequent invocation of a loose web of universal values to explain these political outbursts. The Arab Spring is a set of rebellions against current rulers, but it has never been about a regional application of new systems of governance, mechanisms of accountability, or even sources of legitimacy. While some of the more thoughtful political movements have heralded democratization as a rallying siren, their sentiments were neither widely endorsed nor convincingly pursued.

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