By Huang Peizhao, Jing Yue and Li Xiao
Global Times 2020/12/16 21:13:42
Students wearing face masks gather during an event at a school in Cairo, Egypt, Oct. 17, 2020. Egypt officially reopened on Saturday tens of thousands of schools for millions of students across the country to start the new academic year while implementing precautionary measures against the COVID-19. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
Editor's Note: Ten years on from the Arab Spring - a string of uprisings across the Middle East that first started in Tunisia - how has the Middle East fared? While some governments have been overthrown, the reforms many once demanded still seem to be a far-fetched dream. Some countries have even entered an era of more turbulence and insecurity.
Are the people living in those countries satisfied with their current situations? The Global Times reporters talked to people in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria to gauge how some see the outcomes of the Arab Spring.
Food for thought
"Little has changed in these Arab countries once swept by the so-called revolutionary storms. While these countries have thrown away their original 'dictators,' they ushered in greater uncertainty and instability," Mohammed Albasly, Chairman of the Silk Road Mediterranean Organization in Tunisia, told the Global Times.
Although these countries have experienced one of the most destructive decades of the modern era, the turbulence still shows no sign of waning. Except for Syria, almost every country that was caught up in the Arab Spring has witnessed transfer of governments; countries such as Tunisia have even gone through a number of leadership rotations, Mohammed said.
The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in December 2010 when a street vendor set himself on fire to protest the arbitrary seizing of his vegetable stand by police.
Altahir, a journalist in Tunisia, told the Global Times that the biggest change since the Arab Spring is the general environment is more relaxed and people can freely speak out their opinions in Tunisia.
He said the atmosphere of democracy has thickened. However, this kind of freedom and democracy is vain and they cannot be converted into meals people can eat, he said.
Altahir said he prefers to make more money to better feed his family. But his real income has declined thanks to inflation and other factors. He said he did not have any sense of harvest that he once expected from "revolution," let alone the sense of happiness.
Tunisia was enjoyed economic indicators and development indicators that were among the best in the Middle East and on the African continent before the uprising.
'Not the revolution we expected'
The fire that first ignited in Tunisia later sprawled to Egypt. Beginning on January 2011, a flurry of street demonstrations, marches, rallies, riots, and strikes led to Hosni Mubarak stepping down after being president for 30 years.
"The 'revolution' damaged social peace and people's sense of security. This was not the revolution we expected," an Egyptian young man said.
Saeid Medhat, a graduate from the department of Chinese language of Ain Shams University told the Global Times the revolution which was believed to be a cure to a backward society riddled in corruption gave people hope. But he said the uprising unfortunately turned out to be just a superficial revolution and failed to touch the underlying institutional problems.
Looking at the rising prices of commodities, Medhat noted he sometimes missed the stable and low prices before the revolution. But he also clearly realized the stability of that time was a period when everyone was just muddling along. At that time, young college graduates were unable to find good jobs if they did not have connections.
"People were just living an idle life, without ideals and life goals at that time," he said. In retrospect, he said the widening gap between the rich and the poor made people with no jobs and no properties feel resentful so that they were eager to change the situation with a bottom-up reform.
Some analysts pointed out that the economic reform ultimately benefited the cronies of bureaucrats and capitalists associated with the Mubarak family, which was the root cause of the mass protests in 2011.
"However, the reality has not proceeded as we expected. After Mubarak stepped down, our living conditions have not improved. The negative effects of political instability cropped up here and there with terrorist attacks and economic collapse," he said.
Some Egyptians even began to question the necessity of the revolution and felt they were simpleminded to participate at the protests.
However, in the view of Saeid Medhat, those who thought revolution was unnecessary had pinned too high hope on it. It was unrealistic to expect to change the status quo overnight.
Following Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood took power in the Egypt. However, its ascension to power even led to more unrest. In 2014, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won 96.91 percent in Egypt's presidential vote.
"After political changes and economic reconstruction, more Egyptians have come to realize that stability is what the country needs most. Only stability can promote the smooth progress of all kinds of construction, and only stability can achieve economic development and people's happiness. China's development model is worthy of our reference," Medhat said.
While some Egyptians still hold grudge toward the government for cutting subsidies, the Global Times reporter noticed current protests have sparse attendance and are extremely sporadic.
According to the "Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia" report released by International Monetary Fund in October, Egypt is the only country in the Middle East and North Africa that will witness positive GDP growth in 2020 and is expected to stand at 3.5%.
Some analysts pointed out the political upheaval in Egypt has set the country back by at least 15-20 years
"Although the recession needs a long period of time to heal, I still feel satisfied with the current situation. While life is more stressful and our pace is faster, the country is now stable and developing," Medhat told the Global Times. He now works at the Chinese smartphone company Vivo.
Professor Rawandy from Cairo University said while the revolution was ultimately started by the public, it was used by Western countries.
He told the Global Times the US worked so hard to promote its so-called "democracy" and fostered local research institutes and used NGOs to advance Western democratic theory and quietly change the traditional social structure and people's values in Egypt.
Medhat complained to the Global Times that wherever the US and other Western countries have intervened, families were broken and everything you see were left in ruins. Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and other countries are no exception. "The democratic revolutions they instigated are revolutions with ulterior motives. In fact, they are promoting the implementation of the 'Greater Middle East Plan'. What they have done is an act of aggression and outright hegemony. We are the martyrs of 'Western democracy.'"
Between 2018 and 2019, Medhat studied in China where he appreciated the country's governance based on the country's own conditions. He said Arab countries should take reference from China to find a development path suited to their national conditions and people's conditions and learn to properly handle the relationship between stability, development and democracy.
Crimes of the West
"Originally I thought that physical disability would be the biggest obstacle and frustration in life, but later I gradually realized that it was just the beginning of a series of nightmares," said 45-year-old Sayid.
In the chill winter in Damascus, Sayid got up early to start his workday at a store making bread.
Sayid once lived in Aleppo in northern Syria and inherited a small store making and selling soap. His life was cozy but all changed after the war.
After the anti-government forces took control of a large part of Aleppo, the relentless bombings happened every day, forcing Sayid to migrate with his wife and children. However, the day before departure, he lost his left shin due to a shell explosion.
The family later managed to settle down in the capital. "Although life is hard, I have never thought about leaving Syria because this is my home country," Sayid said.
Bombings killed his wife in 2015 and son in 2019. The man now lives with his only daughter. "I can't even allow myself to spend too much time grieving because I have to protect and raise my daughter, and I want to see her have a really happy life in Syria in the future," he said.
Syria's political analyst Hakeem told the Global Times the opposition should understand that addressing deep-seated structural problems requires systemic reform, not turmoil and war. This cannot be realized at the cost of ordinary people's lives.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a report on December 9 that during the nine years' conflict, about 387,000 people died in Syria including 116,911 civilians and 22,149 children.
Hakeem said that in the Middle East including Syria, the sprawling unrest and conflicts over the past 10 years were "essentially caused by the US-led Western countries. They plunder resources, foster rebels and separatists, spread rumors, create chaos and forcefully impose so-called Western-style democracy in the Middle East for its own ultimate goals and interests. They tried to provoke conflicts among different ethnic, religious and sectarian groups."
"When people looking back what happened in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria over the last 10 years, one thing is gradually changed, that is, more and more realized that Syrian issue should be resolved led by the Syrians and the problems in the Middle East should be solved led by countries in the region," Hakeem said.