The sixth anniversary of the start of the Arab uprisings

Gilbert Achcar writes: Six years ago, on 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. Bouazizi did not know that by this extreme form of protest, he was setting not only himself or his town on fire, nor his province or even his Tunisian homeland alone, but the whole Arab region. Indeed, his protest inspired millions of others — “from the Ocean to the Gulf” as the saying went in the heyday of Arab nationalism — to protest their regimes and the status quo.

The tragedy is that this wave of protests did not bring the renewal that was promised by the branding phrase “Arab Spring,” but rather what followed were more of the old calamities, aggravated to a frightening degree in some cases. It is necessary therefore to emphasize two crucial issues regarding the sad condition under which we commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Arab uprisings.

The first issue concerns a view that has spread quite understandably in the Arab region, according to which the lesson of the past six years is that the old order, despite its huge problems, was better than the revolt against it since the latter only managed to create a bigger disaster. The truth is that if we were to apply the same logic to any of the great revolutions in history, assessing them only a few years after their beginning, we would condemn them all. Thus, if we envisaged the French Revolution from the angle of where it stood six years after its start in 1789, we would find an appalling situation in France with an ongoing civil war that killed hundreds of thousands and a revolutionary regime that executed tens of thousands in a reign of terror. France was, later, to go through an imperial stage followed by the restoration of the monarchy that the revolution had overthrown. Only close to a century after the revolution’s start did the republican regime stabilize. And yet, the anniversary of the French Revolution on 14 July is the greatest yearly celebration in contemporary France, and the French recall their revolution as a glorious historical event, which most of their historians rally to defend against anyone who denigrates it by trying to portray it as a catastrophe. [Continue reading…]

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