Given the latest protests and riots in France and across Europe conducted by the Yellow Vests group, it only reminds one of how the 2010s has been a decade full of populist protests. Through Brexit, President Trump, the recent elections in both Italy and Eastern Europe and even smaller consumer revolts like Gamergate and Comicsgate, the 2010s has shown us how to conduct populist uprisings that change the political landscape and finally get the people what they truly want. The 2010s have been a showing of great populist politics, and hopefully shall be a blueprint for future revolts of this type. However, while this decade has shown us how successful good populist revolutions can be, it has also shown us how badly wrong others far less successful can go down.
Casein point, the Arab Spring. To those who don’t remember this time in history, it was when a series of mass protests and demonstrations against various dictators in the Arab world led to many either being removed by resignation or wars occurring to try and do so by force, of which occurred nearly a decade ago now. It was hard to go far without hearing about what was happening. Despite all the media hype and hope from the international community that there would be significant change in this region of the world, barely any progress has since been made in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region. Various nations have collapsed socially (undoubtedly contributing to the refugee crisis now hitting Europe), numerous others are stuck in civil war, others have reverted back to being authoritarian dictatorships and to top it all off, terrorist groups (most notably ISIS) have risen to fill in these social and power vacuums.
But why did this significant social uprising go so horribly wrong? There are a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it is partially because much of the Arab world (sad to say) still subscribes to a very tribal culture. This is not a racist factor to acknowledge; conservative commentator Dennis Prager has brought up before how such statements have been made by Arab intellectuals at the United Nations. It is a society held back by many draconian religious laws, anti-intellectualism and no interest in the outside world. So despite the many advances in terms of technological and science, it is a region of the world whereby gay people being beheaded, women are held back by legislation and one-party states (justified by the recently developed Ba’ath ideology, an Arab socialist mindset) are seen as acceptable. This is a tragedy, given that many of the world’s most prominent religions (Christianity and Islam to name a few) and many innovations once came from this region.
From this, it has often been behind other countries around the world when it comes to democratic and societal advances since decolonisation, and is not ready for full democracy yet. This is why it was many young people (of who were more apt to social changes and new technology that contributed to the Arab Spring) who led these protests and how many Islamist parties were elected to power post-Arab Spring. This mixture of conflicting ideologies has led to on the one hand, a desire for change, and on the other a reluctance to do so. This is further worsened by the lack of political consensus following many of the protests, of which I shall talk about later.
Secondly, it is also because of how foreign intervention, both from within and outside the Arab world, has undermined many of the protests that have taken place. Most notably the interventions on behalf of the international community to intervene in both Libya and Syria has done a lot of damage to those two countries; for the former, it has led to us destabilising another country in that region and leaving Libya to become a failed state, and for the latter, it has led to the war being endlessly prolonged, all the while leaving us to back questionable groups like the Free Syrian Army. It is akin to how we backed the Kosovo Liberation Army during that conflict, of who also were very questionable, especially with their links to other terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, the likes of Saudi Arabia have conducted their amount of brutality during this period. During the revolution in Bahrain, they crushed the rebellion with deadly force, leading to many dead. Meanwhile in Yemen, their involvement has been extremely controversial, due to the heavy death toll caused by their air strikes, and their backing and arming by the West has been quite rightly frowned upon. All of this not only undermines the internal revolutions by leading to creating power vacuums but also leading to more brutality despite peaceful protest, if the Saudi interventions are anything to go by.
Finally, and most prominently, is that there was no consensus as to how to follow these overthrows for the most part. As in while there was a consensus that social change was needed, there wasn’t an equal idea as to how to go about it, especially when it came to the former country’s individual rulers. Tunisia was the only exception to this, as all parties, whether they be more moderate or more Islamist parties, were all agreed on that the then country’s ruler (the then President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali) was bad and deserved to go, to make way for a legitimate democracy. This is why during the 2014 elections in the country, the main Islamist party (the Ennahda Party) conceded defeat after losing to the more moderate Nidaa Tounes Party.
This story is not the same in other Arab countries however. For Egypt, while there was a consensus against the then President Hosni Mubarak, there was a division as to how to replace that system. In turn, this led to an Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood affiliate Mohammed Morsi being elected, and then overthrown following massive protests and an army coup (proving that the military really rule Egypt) leading to the authoritarian dictator Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to take charge, all the while groups like ISIS have grown in popularity from disillusioned Morsi supporters.
For others, there was still a segment of the population supportive of the dictators, leading to various civil wars. For Libya, this meant the overthrow of Gaddafi, but a failed state whereby no central power has control and groups like ISIS have gained much support. For Syria, this has created a civil war that has lasted for 7 years, all the while many have fled and others have been killed in the ensuing fighting. The worst affected by this is Yemen, whereby a historically divided country (given that the territory used to be split between the Islamist north and the pro-Soviet Union communist south until its reunification in 1990) has led to a civil war between the more hard line Islamist Houthi movement has clashed violently with moderates in the country. This lack of consensus has obviously led to a power vacuum in many regions, hence the continued divisions and the rise of either new dictators or terrorist groups. It is hard to see the rise of ISIS without acknowledging their quick rise because of these new power vacuums created by the Arab Spring.
All in all, the Arab Spring has failed badly for numerous reasons. The tribal cultures that have led to many of the desired changes on behalf of the protestors out of reach. Foreign intervention of which has undermined these protests and has led to many dead with nothing good achieved. And finally, the lack of a political consensus in many areas affected by the Arab Spring has led undeniably to a breakdown in the social order in many of these countries, not to mention the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS.
All of this shows how a populist revolt can go badly wrong, and why protests that end in violence (like the various yellow vest ones across Europe and many other parts of the world lately) should be proceeded with caution; such protests can never end well. It also proves Thomas Hobbes and John Locke right with their State of Nature theory; with no social cohesion at place, a society quickly unravels and becomes a free for all. And boy, are the post-Arab Spring societies a very sombre confirmation of that.
(Articles reflect the views of the author, and not necessarily those of Luke Nash-Jones, The Red Pill Factory, or Make Britain Great Again.)