Approximately two and a half years after the revolution in Egypt, what is happening today has led me to question the past, present and the future of the Arab Spring.
First of all, I think that one should come to realize how the "revolutions" in the Middle East remain unsuccessful. These uprisings are not yet revolutions, but remain as "bottom -- up mass movements" that demonstrate the power of the people. However, interestingly the uprisings also show how their power is constrained. Until recently, the countries in the Middle East have changed to stay the same. The protesters will remain unsuccessful until they manage to change one thing: the regime. The uprisings have not delivered democratization, but have only been able to shake the very foundations of their regimes creating an earthquake. Unfortunately, changing just the leader doesn't change anything in the equation of the outcome. For these populist movements to be considered revolutions and create political change, increasing the severity of the earthquake, they should deliver democratization. In the absence of a real regime change, democracy will never be certain. The real work begins after you cut off the king's head. While revolutionaries show us the power of popular mobilization we won't see substantive political transformation until there are structural changes in the regime. Yet beyond this, what is it that hinders these people from providing a regime change with their movements while they spill on to the streets?
A book I recently read, Brownlee's Democracy Prevention, is an attempt to answer a part of this question; suggesting that foreign actors have thwarted democracy in the Middle East for so long in order to pursue their strategic self-interest. The January 25 "Revolution" has "differed in process and outcome" writes Brownlee as he argues that "during the uprisings in Egypt, the U.S. did not promote popular sovereignty, but instead backed an orderly transition". The protesters in Egypt were only able to replace a ruler, but not a regime. Even though Mubarak resigned, the same institutions kept running during the time Morsi ruled the country.
At the end of the day, is it the national interests of major players that matter the most? Prevalent foreign policies are hard to change and many people shy away from challenging the status quo. Is this what prevents structural changes in the regime from becoming a reality.
After questioning why mass movements in the Middle East fall short of providing political transformations, it is still hard to make any sound future predictions. While the Arab Spring shows us the power of popular mobilization, regime change still seems far down the road. Autocratic regimes didn't surrender easily even when faced with seemingly unstoppable movements. Although the Middle East continues to shock people and challenge the norm, it sometimes ends up falling back into it. History has shown us how authoritarian governments have wound up following mass movements. My hope, however, is to see the people succeed and witness the establishment of real democracy in the Middle East in the future.