The unrest that was in the Middle East in 2010 was hailed as a reawakening of human rights and socioeconomic revolution. Western media applauded the progression of the Islamic states’ people as they called for change while governmental leaders sought ways in which to aid the rebel groups in gaining a foothold across the Middle East; however, when dealing with other cultures, things are not always as they seem. People have a tendency to display ethnocentrism; that is, the propensity to use one’s own culture as a yard stick when judging the ways of another’s culture. In the case of the uprising across the Middle East – fondly named the “Arab Spring” – the ramifications of the revolution that has been touted in the West have been far from ideal. In fact, in the majority of the cases, the Arab Spring has ended up having a negative influence in the region and has ended up bolstering groups committed to terror.
Beginning as what seems to be a “grass roots” movement, 2010 saw a movement throughout the Middle East that called for human rights equality and reforms in socioeconomic issues. The movement quickly progressed to include most of the countries in the region. These nations included Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Israel and Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen (National, 2011). Each of these nations has had varying results with protests and rebel activities. But can the idealism the West was looking for be found within any of the countries after nearly four years into the Arab Spring? Not to any real extent.
In Libya, where the United States sent both aid and resources, the fall of Muammar Qadhafi has left a void in the region. Through the act of toppling Qadhafi’s regime, the region has continued to be unstable. “Libya’s transitional government has been unable to implement rule of law throughout much of the country” (Roach, 2013). To make matters worse, groups have attempted to aid in the instability.
The instability within the country was certainly realized in 2012 on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York. With Islamic radicals running unchecked across the area, the attack on the United States Embassy seemed to bring a reality check to the West. The attack killed the American ambassador and three other Americans. As more information made known, it became evident that terrorist groups including al-Qaeda were enjoying the anarchy. Nearly two years later, no one has been brought to justice for these crimes, nor has the region found its footing. In the meantime, the French military has been forced to intervene as the al-Qaeda backed militant violence and terrorism has spilled across borders (Roach, 2013). In truth, Libya’s Arab Spring movement has only led them to trade a dictator for terroristic unrest.
The instability due to the Arab Spring that is allowing terror groups to plague the Middle East is not confined solely to Libya. A nation that possibly rivals the volatility of Libya is Egypt. In the beginning, Egypt’s ousting of President Mubarak in the early stages of the Arab Spring brought large praise from the West. More aid and supplies were quickly sent to Egypt’s rebel forces in an effort to aid the cause. It was quickly seen that the Muslim Brotherhood had a well organized plan that quickly propelled them into mass popularity (Roach, 2013).
It only took a short time for both the West and Egypt to realize how the Muslim Brotherhood had played their hand to quickly gain control. The new president, Mohamed Morsi, proved to be little more than a dictator. The Arab Spring had taken the nation from bad to worse. “After only one year in office, Morsi managed to indict more Egyptians under the charge of ‘insulting the president’ than Mubarak did in over 30 years in power” (Florance & Scarpitta, 2013). The government, which was now run by the Muslim Brotherhood, did much to undermine the stability and security of the country.
During the same time as the Benghazi attack on the United States Embassy in Libya, anti-American protests in Cairo were exacerbated with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood government. The frenzy this perpetuated caused violent confrontations around the United States Embassy in Cairo. “Four days of violent protests followed…with protesters scaling the walls of the U.S. Embassy, shredding the American flag and replacing it with the black flag favored by al-Qaeda” (Dettmer, 2012). It was through this and other similar instances of unrest worsened by their own government that the Egyptian people had, once again, had enough.
The Arab Spring once again spread through the country. Egypt’s second revolution within the same number of years came by way of a military coup. As the country quickly divided between those for and against the Muslim Brotherhood, the populous was once more in a state of confusion. To make matters worse, the economic climate seemed to play a larger factor in the second Arab Spring.
Throughout the turmoil in the Middle East, the economic health of the region has been made worse. Instability within a region wreaks havoc on socioeconomic wellbeing. Egypt had not been immune to its demise. Simply put, “Egypt’s economic woes have translated into the high unemployment of young males…” which led to a greater amount of persons available to protest (Florance & Scarpitta, 2013). This is not an unfamiliar plight in the Middle East. Between the unrest due to the Arab Spring and war ravaged areas, more and more of the population is turning to illegal means to support themselves and their families.
Most people do not think of terrorism as a means to support a family; however, in the Middle East, it is well known. As ruthless as terror organizations are, they do make good on their promises to take care of family members who sacrifice themselves for the jihad. Additionally, the Middle East is the perfect environment for the growth of the opium poppy. In 2012, Afghanistan was responsible for 75% of the world’s supply of opium (Welch & Stanekzai, 2013). As the socioeconomic climate of the Middle East continues to be unstable, the prospect of a greater number of people willing to turn to illicit activities increases. The Middle East is in need of stability rather than additional coups and unrest.
Many argue that peace cannot be maintained in the current climate, and much political reform, such as democracy, is needed. But as Spindlove and Simonsen point out, the region has never known democracy. The different factions that are rooted at the core of the Middle East culture have much to gain or lose in this struggle. Religious sects such as Sunni and Shiite have proven over the centuries they are unwilling to settle differences peacefully (Spindlove & Simonen, 2013, page 548).
Indeed, the Middle East has a long way to go until they reach a point where peace, democracy and human rights rule. Thus far, there is little evidence that the Arab Spring has added to stability. Rather, as this paper has shown, it has led to an entrenchment of terrorist groups and activities while also furthering the compromised socioeconomic climate in the region. The West’s hopes of stronger human rights equality has also not come to fruition. But the last chapter for this region has not been written. Though the Arab Spring has so far come up dry, perhaps it will usher in a new era of hope into the region.
Florance, C., & Scarpitta, A. (2013, July 19). Egypt: The Arab Spring 2.0. Retrieved from http://blog.heritage.org/2013/07/19/egypt-the-arab-spring-2-0/
National (2011, June 17). The Arab Spring country by country. Retrieved from http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/the-arab-spring-country-by-country#full
Roach, M. L. (2013, February 14). Taking terrorism and the Arab Spring seriously. Retrieved from http://blog.heritage.org/2013/02/14/morning-bell-taking-terrorism-and-the-arab-spring-seriously/
Welch, D., & Stanekzai, M. (2013, November 13). Afghanistan’s opium production hits record high. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/13/afghan-opium-production_n_4264634.html
Spindlove, J. R. & Simonsen, C. E. (2013). Terrorism today: The past, the players, the future (5th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Dettmer, J. (2012). So much for the Arab Spring. Maclean’s, 125(38), 32-35. Retrieved from the EBSCOhost database.