Making Sense Of The Arab Spring's Ugly Aftermath

Unable to live up to the first wave of optimism, the uprising in the Arab world is nonetheless destined to change history.

Making Sense Of The Arab Spring's Ugly Aftermath
Alain Frachon


PARIS - The “Arab Spring” seems ill-named. Some have called it the “Arab Winter.” Hope, raised in Tunisia more than two years ago, now leaves us staring into the face of tragedy in Syria. Elsewhere, a revolt in the name of democracy handed power to the Muslim Brotherhood. Where the so-called Spring flourished, unemployment now explodes, urban violence surges, political freedom lags, the status of women declines, and Salafism, the most radical form of Islamism, progresses.

“So," we ask, "is that it?” Forgetting the two and a half centuries of troubled history, necessary to install the rule of law and political freedom, Europeans are quickly losing hope in their Arab neighbors. Syria haunts their conscience. Egypt and Tunisia, wrestling with abysmal hardships, make them anxious. In the Western media, the experts of “told-you-soism” thrive. The charge is naiveté, leveled against all those who had seen true hope in the “Arab Spring.”

They groan about the governments, in Paris or London, which gave support to the movement, abandoning local despots who, in the case of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, were allies. Worse, the Western critics suggest that the US and Europe could have saved the autocrats from Tunis, Cairo or elsewhere.

Nonsense. Egyptian and Tunisian regimes fell victims of their failures, not because of some sort of Western “betrayal.” The United States does not possess this Promethean power imagined in the Arab world. Moreover, if Americans, British and French had not intervened in Libya, the most likely scenario would have been a protracted civil war rather than some kind of swift, clean victory of the Guide and his followers.

The elections did not give power to those who took to the streets? But all observers have said that there was only one opposition force seriously organized in the region. Under different names, leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood -- political Islam, in more or less radical versions -- were the only ones able to win votes. The “Arab Spring” illustrated this old truism of political science: the street is always more anti-establishment than the ballot.

“It is necessary to get through the experience of Islamism in power” explained the London-based Franco-Lebanese scholar Gilbert Achcar in Le Monde (February 23 2013). It will be an exercise of disillusion for a very simple reason, he adds: the governing capacities of the Brothers have been overestimated.

The intra-Islam conflict

In Egypt, like in Tunisia, they manifest an inept political sectarianism—the contrary of the much needed opening up. They were known to be without a real agenda, other than a slogan: “Islam is the solution.” They mistake charity with social policy. They have a vague liberal conception of economy, nothing else. They have studied the Koran, not public finance, the Prophet's writings, not Adam Smith's. While unemployment rates are surging, they are about to prove this other truth: when it comes to governing a country, Islam is not the solution.

The error has been to hope the Brotherhood would copy the Turkish Islamist Party, the AKP. In power for more than ten years in Ankara, the AKP has had the wisdom not to repeal the economic reforms of the end of the 1990s. It facilitated the emergence of a new generation of Turkish entrepreneurs, from the very heart of the country, who shared its conservatism. More importantly, AKP, favoring Turkish entry to the European Union, has achieved many of the democratic changes requested by Brussels. A real nuance, at last, AKP is an Islamic party, not an Islamist party. It never believed religion was the “solution.”

“Spreading Islam and governing are two different things,” Turkish Deputy-Prime Minister Bulent Ariç declared during an April visit to Paris.

If the Brotherhood's management skills have been overrated, the old fault line crossing the Muslim world and shaking the Middle East, has been underestimated. For fourteen centuries, the main river, Sunnism, has opposed the minor stream, Shiism. When it reached Syria, a multi-faith country, the “Arab Spring” exacerbated the antagonism. It put face-to-face, Bashar Al Assad's regime, dominated by a Shi’ite sect, (the Alawites), and a rebellion, coming mainly from the Sunni majority.

The Syrian tragedy does not belong to a “Spring” that would have turned particularly wrong. It oversteps intrinsic Syria. It is the expression of a regional confrontation on a vaster scale. The rebellion is indeed supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, funding godfathers of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sunni fundamentalism. It fights a regime defended by the Islamic Republic of Iran, leader of militant Shi'ism, sided with Arab Shi'ite allies—in Lebanon, Hezbollah, and in Iraq, the Prime Minister Nusri Al-Maliki's party.

It is not only a battle for Damascus. It is a merciless fight for regional dominance. Saudis, Qataris, or Turks want to break, in Syria, Teheran’s main supporting outpost for dominating the Near East. It recalls Europe's 16th-century religious wars, and it is probably far from over.

Hardly a friend of the Islamists, the writer Salman Rushdie commented on the recent events in December 2012 in Les Inrockuptibles: “History takes time. I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic, I just know the longing for freedom is still there, working.”

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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