It is a customary practice to see Arabs and non-Arabs browse for the latest news about Arab revolts, called the Arab Spring. They find civil unrest in Tunisia, riots and regime destabilization in Bahrain, tribal armed clashes in post-Gaddafi government in Libya, military conflicts with Islamic fundamentalists in Yemen, recurrent mass protests and disorderliness in post-Mubarak Egypt, and massacres and bloodthirsty assaults of Assad’s regime on civilians in Syria and so on.
And so, they wonder why Arab people have to pay this bloody cost to shift from autocracy to democracy. They try to contemplate what the Arab revolts have missed, which led to this long road of agony and turmoil to attain democracy and freedom.
Alongside the negative effects of the longstanding reign of ruthless dictators on people’s political skills and awareness, Arab’s social and political movements missed having the first and most significant phase in their quest for democracy. They overlooked securing a transitional period, known as the ‘Liberalization’ process. Actually, malcontented Arabs have marched on randomly toward their objectives without prior political scheming and tactical arrangements to cope with the expected response and consequences of such life-or-death power struggle.
Typically, the purpose for adopting a liberalization process is to put gradational pressure on authoritarian rulers, military elites, and interest groups to trade some civil rights in return for public inactivity and hence slacken the power grip of the regime. This transitional process or passage is meant to protect, to some extent, individuals and social groups from the tyranny and brutality of authoritarian regimes. It is also recommended because it allows the economy and civil society of the country to rearrange its tracks to deal with the incoming irregular situation. Each liberalization process, whether it is conducted in a peaceful way or revolutionary mode, needs to set its own form, phases, and pathways mindfully.
In effect, similar transitional processes are patterned either in a low-pressure manner or in a revolutionary mode depending on the motivation and tolerance levels of the commonalty. Ruling politicians usually play, designedly or not, pivotal role in the change process, since soft-liners and hard-liners alike, are always anxious to retain control and preserve their interests.
Soft-liners usually tend to position themselves gradually in line with the basis of the change to contain, de-escalate, and deactivate the motion of the opposition. While hard-liners employ their excessive authority to hamper and undermine people’s revolt or conduct unrestrained oppressive armed operations in the name of public stability and country’s interest.
Though most Arab revolutions have managed to overthrow their despotic regimes, they are yet to bring real democratic reform to their nations. Unfortunately, unheeding the importance of transitional process is the initial reason Arab democratic activists could not transmute people’s massive support into new common political drive. All because Arab civil societies and political movements were not preconditioned to cope with such political vacuum at which they grudgingly lost the political theatre to the most organized parties—typically, the Islamist parties.
Following the victories of the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen, most Arab societies were—as now—psychologically ready to go through a real free democratic society. Yet, there are growing doubts that Arab Spring countries will not enjoy a West-like democracy in the next decade or so. Most likely, they will have recurring free elections at best. Realistically, there are grounds for similar political analyses and forewarnings. This is mainly because most Arab nations rationalize democracy as a form of formulating the governing bodies only, disregarding that it has to guarantee the free will of citizens, deliver unconditional civil liberties, and respect human rights in the first place
Though Arab Spring countries have accomplished free multiparty elections, yet fell short to apply the most two vital concepts of democracy: justice and equality. Since, the newly installed parliaments and governments have not yet drafted or constituted laws and decrees to bring forth some rights to Arab women and children, for instance, or to equalize legally between their various social and religious fabrics. Seemingly, justice and equality are not on the priority lists of the newly elected rulers, seeing that solidifying power and taking vengeance are topmost items of their agendas.
Freedom, justice, and equality are the cornerstones in building any civilized society or nation. Actually, the belief that political policies should make people equal was massively adopted long since the French Revolution, in 1789, and the American Civil War in 1861. Beyond these dimensions, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with its Civil Rights subcategory, has guaranteed by international law three main groups of rights; namely:
a) Individual civil and political liberties (freedom from arbitrary arrest and torture; freedom of movement, association, expression; religious and philosophical liberty; the right to privacy; the right to vote; and the right to a fair trial).
b) Social and economic rights and freedoms (rights to education, healthcare, work, fair conditions of employment, and to maintain a minimum standard of living).
c) The collective rights (the rights of the populace) designed to advance the position of minorities and to encourage self-determination and equality.
Alas, if none of the likes is to materialize soon in the Middle East; the change would be for the worse. For that, Arabs Spring countries should recalibrate their action plans to include civil liberties the soonest before it is too late.