In an editorial, The Guardian says: This month marks six years since the beginning of the Arab spring, a series of events that were meant to be a major turning point in the modern Middle East. It was the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor and his death on 4 January that initiated a revolutionary year. The subsequent protests energised ordinary Arabs, who recovered, it seemed, a popular self-confidence diminished by six decades of autocracy. The Arab street was honoured for its people’s courage and determination, inspiring movements across the world. Protesters did not just voice their complaints, it was said, they changed the world. Four Arab leaders fell. Yet six short years on those dreams are now in tatters. In Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, a counter-revolution has returned a military dictatorship. Much of Libya and Yemen is reduced to rubble in a war where outside powers are the principal actors, prepared to fight until the last local is dead. Syria is in ruins, stained by rivers of blood. The sole democratic success was Tunisia, which did see a peaceful transition from authoritarian rule to elective government. The main Islamist party won power and last year declared it would end all of its cultural and religious activities to focus only on politics – becoming a Muslim democratic party, rather like its western Christian counterparts. But every silver lining has a cloud: Tunisians make up the largest number of foreign fighters in the ranks of Islamic State.
The underlying reasons for revolt have not gone away. In many ways the conditions today are even more explosive than in 2011. The Arab state is in crisis almost everywhere: plunging oil prices have holed Saudi’s economy; Egypt’s flawed leadership has created crisis after crisis. The desperate men and women leaving for Europe want a better life than that found at home. According to the UN’s Arab Development Report – the first since the Arab spring erupted – the Middle East is home to only 5% of the world’s population, but accounts for 45% of the world’s terrorism, 68% of its battle-related deaths and 58% of its refugees. This at a time, the UN warns, when the population of young Arabs exceeds 100 million and is growing fast – but not as fast as rates of unemployment, poverty and marginalisation. [Continue reading…]