The phrase that has been so extensively used in the mass-media these last few months (actually since the first victory of Tunisian protesters, in January 2011, and in Egypt, the following month) – the ‘Arab spring’ – will undoubtedly be recorded by history. It will be remembered as the symbolic expression of the immense power of determined masses who strive for freedom and equality and who want to have a macro-social management of their own destinies, determined by their own freely expressed will. This phrase will always be the synonym of the wish of the ‘street’ to end authoritarian regimes clinging to power for decades in a row and using it in their own interest by means of force, lack of transparency and generalised corruption. Not only in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria or Libya, but also in Morocco, Bahrain and Yemen etc., the ‘Arab spring’ manifested both this will of change – naturally at different intensities and results and still not successfully completed in some of the cases, but definitely in progress – which managed to build, in a very short while, a different political and strategic landscape in that vast and important region of the globe.
More than this trend of transformation of their own societies which defined the ‘Arab spring’, the phenomenon as such has also had certain and lasting geopolitical consequences. And all that has happened for a reason. On the one hand, this is an extremely important region from an economic point of view, for it is home to the world’s biggest known oil reserves and the world economic growth depends on the fluency of extraction and transportation of the commodity to other global economic centres. On the other hand, the Arab region is home to the longest, most volatile and sustained conflict opposing Israel to Palestinians, which stood at the origin of large-scale shifts in the balance of power at an international scale and equally the witness to a state’s attempt (Iran) to illegally develop the nuclear weapon and, by that, compromise the feeble existing regional equilibrium. Or this domestic transformational movement taking place in the various Arab states has unveiled – and also propelled – new political forces whose geopolitical affinities are either uncertain or inconsistent with regard to the ways in which peace should be stabilised in the region.
But where do we stand now that the calendar spring is over? Are we perhaps witnessing the extension of the political spring as a phenomenon with already quite important consequences or, on the contrary, should we expect to see a slow-down or even a suspension of the process?
The international mass-media have already questioned the evolution, with features expressing the conviction that the process of transformation will continue. A trend of stagnation has become manifest in countries like Syria, where the wave of protest in conjunction with international sanctions has not been enough to move the Assad regime that has proceeded to a frantic reprisals (1,400 death toll). The Ghaddafi regime in Libya also seems to resist rebels’ attacks, NATO bombings and international community pressure. In Yemen, the authoritarian leadership going back well over three decades stays put despite the fact that the leader suffered grave injuries. In Tunisia, a country where an election is set to be held in October, things have happened which will weaken and politically divide the country, such as the action of the conservative Islamists. This trend of stagnation – says one recent analysis – could become more robust in August, when the Ramadan begins and when the daily fasting of believers probably attenuates the revolutionary momentum and the message of reconciliation may come through under better conditions. However, as several protesters and observers of events say, the summer will see a continuation of riots and the wave of transformations is not going to step down in intensity. The difference is that the phenomenon is not going to be confined to the actual ‘Arab spring’ space, but will spread to the global world, to the entire systemic context, especially given the geopolitical impact and spectacular transformations occurring in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA). From that particular stand point, the situation in Libya is quite revealing, as the issue of keeping Ghaddafi in power in one way or another creates a dispute with global repercussions. It is interesting to watch the ‘ballet dance’ of the various third parties coming to act as mediators for the salvation of the Libyan dictator, ranging from a Russian chess player to an Austrian far-right extremist, plus a few other more notable figures. At the end of last week, the US recognised the rebels’ organisation as the only legitimate representative of Libya, ‘as the legitimate governing authority’, which only means that the most powerful state on planet has taken an open stance on a matter which is also of direct concern to NATO. In a different part of the world, yet in close connection with developments in the Arab space, a powerful internal dispute has emerged in Germany over the government’s decision to sell to Saudi Arabia 200 modern ‘Leopard’ tanks, the opposition claiming that equals an unbecoming involvement of Germany with the geopolitical games in the region.
The wave of changes in MENA is obviously far from having being exhausted once the calendar summer came. Revolutions do not consider calendars, no matter what symbolic syntagmas may be underlying them.