It has been nearly half a decade since Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest of the humiliation he suffered by the Ben Ali regime. This protest ignited a set of global protests known as 'the Arab Spring', calling for the overthrow of autocratic regimes, and for greater civilian control of society.
Many looked toward the Arab Spring as something akin to the 1989 protests which led to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Indeed, these were protests that were grounded in the same origins, yet the results seemed to have by in large differed. The economies in Eastern Europe were crumbling, the people had no ability to petition their governments, and their governments had little to no respect for human rights. While the transition period for these Eastern European countries were tumultuous, only two resulted in the loss of life, Romania and Albania as opposed to the many conflicts attributed to the Arab Spring.
So what of the countries who were changed by the Arab Spring? Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, emerged as a stable democracy. Despite these massive gains for the small country, it has been wrought by terrorist attacks coming from nearby Libya.
Egypt had their first democratic elections, but the new president resorted toward the same heavy-handed approach on the civilian population and was overthrown. A new military government has taken over which is widely viewed as equally, if not more repressive than the former one.
In Libya the long-time dictator, Gaddafi was overthrown after a six-month civil war in the country although factionalism and civil strife tore the country apart.
Today Libya is divided between so many factions that a stable state seems to be nowhere on the horizon, and the ongoing civil war dominates much of civilian life. The Yemeni people overthrew their president for similar reasons, yet like Libya has become a war zone with various factions and groups competing for dominance.
Why have these protests led to such different results from that of the 1989 revolutions? Some would say that the role of religion and culture is pervasive when analyzing this conflict, yet what links all of these countries together? Colonialism.
We often forget that the majority of the Middle East and North Africa were created with artificial borders by Western powers. Unlike the vast majority of Eastern European countries, these were countries that were all held together by autocratic regimes who only wanted to assist their faction, and any type of nationalism or sectarianism was dissolved quickly.The same can be said of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia under various Soviet leaders and Tito, as these were autocratic leaders who held their countries together, but once they were gone it all seemed to descend toward chaos.
So acknowledging this, what is the region to do? They cannot simply change their own borders, they cannot simply change their religious, ethnic, or social affiliations, rather there must be a representative system that represents the people. This succeeded in Tunisia, and to a lesser degree in Jordan and Morocco, in which the heavy-handed government has slowly been diminishing due to popular discontent. Libya and Egypt tried this, yet they unfortunately are at an arguably worse place than before their revolutions.
We can all hope for a more democratic and prosperous MENA region, yet it is difficult to imagine a peaceful region now. ISIS the dominant terror group in the region controls territory in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, with affiliates controlling limited territory in Sinai (Egypt), Nigeria, Lebanon and Yemen. This terrorist group threaten to disrupt the newly instated democracy in Tunisia among other countries, something that must be averted at all costs.