The dilemma that the so-called Arab Spring has entered in its third year since its inception in 2011 makes many wonder if it deserves the name in the first place. It is an Arab winter, bloody, gloomy and dark. The political deadlocks in Tunisia and Yemen, the rampant violence in Egypt, the demolition and possible division of Syria, instability in Libya, slow change in Morocco and Jordan, and controlled change in the Gulf are arguments put in the forefront to express disappointments over the Arab massive street protests and the little they have achieved. It should be remembered, however, that social movements always bring a spirit, and that is what marks them in history. That is what turns them into revolutions, after being mere revolts, unorganized protests, that are or appear to be leaderless, and of little internal and external support. The American and French revolutions took decades to stop violence and social distrust, and about two centuries to reach their current status (which other nations and societies are not obliged to mimic, but only to learn from).
Freedom and Democracy
A large green circle held by a human-shaped tree trunk with arms extending like branches laden with leaves and inside the circle the words “Gezi Partisi” is the symbol of the new Turkish political party. It was inspired by the June protests held in the name of individual and collective freedom, opposing the government’s authoritarianism and its economic policies, which caused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to quake.
Freedom, equality of opportunities, defense of collective goods: eventually Turkey found its ideals. With one strike, the country lying in between the western and eastern world experienced its own “Occupy” movement and “Spring” turmoil. Erdogan and ten years of controversial governance were at the core of the protest which put Istanbul and the whole country on fire. In the streets there was a whole generation: some call it generation “Y”. Umuth Turk, Turkish, 26 years old, just graduated from the University of Milan, Italy, and went back to his country to join the protest. He has lived in Italy for four years, between Milan and Pisa. He developed his own critical view about his country of origin, but also with respect to the neo-liberal policies born in the western world. We conducted an interview with him in order to better understand which political forces triggered the mobilization, the social context of Turkey and which goals have been achieved so far by the protest.
BEIRUT - Every morning I grab a ‘service’ (a Lebanese shared taxi) to go to work at the ‘Cola bridge’ (Jisr Cola near one of the the two city’s bus stations, Cola Station), a mainly Sunni neighbourhood. A few weeks ago the bridge was ‘empty’. You could see and hear cars and noise, chaotic as Beirut is everyday with its pedestrians and urban bustle. Now, more and more Syrian refugees have settled beneath this bridge. Entire families – you can see their children playing early in the morning while their parents try to fix breakfast as best they can.
The Arab Spring, astonishing and admirable, has been dogged from the start by often unrealistic expectations, a growing and deep confusion about the conditions that enable democracy, and a persistent lack of patience not only by participants but by busybody onlookers trying to jumpstart other people's freedom march. The spirit of the original uprisings was rooted in compelling historical necessity and powerful moral conviction. But history is not always predictable and morals a less than sufficient guide for politics.
Many Egyptian artists consider the June 30th revolution “theirs” and they are not wrong. The civil and political commitment of hundreds of poets, painters, photographers, musicians, singers and dancers from all over Egypt resulted in numerous ‘occupations’, the starting point for a joyful and determined peoples’ protest. According to Morsi’s supporters, one of the former president’s greatest merits was his campaign against corruption, blasphemy, the West’s influence and all that is haraam; hence impure and forbidden by God. In line with this objective, the Minister for Culture, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, appointed on May 7th, had started to replace those responsible for the Egyptian cultural scenario, making new appointments based on strictly political-religious assessments. The project soon alarmed the lively Egyptian cultural world, worried about seeing its independence being subjected to a new obscurantism of Islamist origin.
CAIRO - The army is back. Maybe not in politics and in the street, but at least on the screen. In a statement read out on state television on Monday night, the Egyptian Armed Forces gave Islamist president Mohammed Morsi 48 hours to respond to the wave of mass protest demanding his ouster. “If the demands of the people are not met in this period – the army – will announce a future roadmap and measures to oversee its implementation” the statement said.
Today, two years after the beginning of the “Arab spring”, the region is torn apart by a series of conflicting forces, which go much beyond those who toppled the then current regimes, first in Tunisia, then in Egypt. The clashes witnessed first along Avenue Bourghiba, then in Tahrir Square at the beginning of 2011 pitted authoritarian and largely secular regimes against a protest movement, largely composed of young educated people, who demanded freedom, dignity, justice and, by implication, a measure of democracy. The impression one could receive was that a new generation was in the making that - while not yet a majority in the respective societies - was an indication of their progressive transformation along more modern and open lines, in part thanks to the Internet and the social networks.
Doha – In Qatar the world’s wealthiest citizens live alongside those now considered to be among the most exploited in the world. The emirate has the world’s highest per capita GDP of over $100,000 according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), thanks to the 77 million tons of LNG (liquefied natural gas) the country produces every year from the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. According to data in the 2013 Report on Wealth in the Middle East published by the Qatar Financial Center Authority in cooperation with Campden Wealth, there are over 4,000 millionaires in Qatar, out of a local population of about 300,000 Qataris and 290 so-called “ultra-rich” citizens with assets worth more than $30,000,000.
On March 18 a symbolic funeral march was staged in front of Turkey's historic left-wing newspaper, the Milliyet, for the silent “death” of one of its most honorable authors. Hasan Cemal, 69 years, “dies” as a provocative columnist after having defended the disclosure of the minutes from a meeting between the representatives of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and PKK's leader Abdullah Öcalan. The leaked record helped the nationalist front to criticize the government's negotiation with the Kurdish leader. “If this is journalism, down with it!” cried Prime Minister Erdoğan, and the writer was suddenly suspended.
Roger Owen, Professor of Middle East history at Harvard University authored, among many books, two classics on the history of the region: State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East and A History of the Middle East Economies in the 20th Century.
In less than one month, they have already collected more than 3 million signatures. In a moment of increasing delusion for the social, political and economic evolution of the country, Egyptian activists decided to get back to the street. This time they do not march in the usual demonstrations. They are asking commuters to fill out photocopied pieces of paper with the heading: “Rebel campaign: to withdraw trust from the Brotherhood’s regime.”