What came to be known as the “Arab Spring” can be traced back to December 17, 2010. On that day, a young man living in Tunisia, named Mohamed Bouaziz, came to the conclusion that Tunisian politics were so corrupt, and his economic and other life prospects were so hopeless, that all he could do was go into the streets and protest the sheer bankruptcy of Tunisian living conditions. Being possessed of such total hopelessness and despair, he felt that his only option of protest was self-immolation. Yes, he set himself on fire and burned to death, so the world could see the absolute depths of despair that people living in much of the Arab world had to undergo on a daily basis. And the world did take notice.
Tunisia, as with almost all of the Arab nations in the Mid-East, had been ruled by a dictatorship for decades, which maintained power by paying off the military and other elites, in a corrupt relationship that benefited the few at the top, and caused the masses to live in squalor with no hope of a better life. Some dictators were more corrupt than others; some were more brutal and ruthless, while others were slightly more benign. However, the common thread running through all these Arab states was how horrible their economies were, and the vast extent of poverty and squalor that the masses of people had to live with, throughout their entire lives. But as I’ve said , the world finally did take notice, and the self-immolation of that one person started a wave of protests, demonstrations, revolutions, and civil wars that are on going to this day.
In Tunisia, people took to the streets by the thousands, and then tens and hundreds of thousands, protesting the despotic rule and brutal poverty that existed in their country. Finally the dictator that had ruled them for decades was forced to leave, and free elections were held in 2011, for the first time since 1956. This was soon followed by more mass demonstrations and new heads of states in Algeria, Lebanon, Oman, Yemen, Syria, Morocco and Jordan, as protests spread throughout the Mid-East. Most protests did lead to new, but not necessarily, improved governments. But, perhaps the largest upheavals occurred in Egypt and Libya. Egypt had been ruled for over 30 years by its President, Hosni Mubarak, who, as dictators go, was probably more on the benevolent side. But the dire poverty and lack of civil rights in Egypt was just as extensive as any other Arab nation. Massive protest began taking place in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and Mubarak, now in his 80s, and sick with cancer, was forced to resign in February 2011, with the military taking over the reins of power, and promising free elections. Today, Mubarak is still alive, but too sick to be tried for war crimes, as is the current government’s desire.
Libya had been ruled since the 1970s by one of the more brutal and ruthless tyrants, Muammar Gaddafi. As in the other countries, massive demonstrations took place in Tripoli and throughout Libya, but Gaddafi refused to leave. As a result, civil war broke out between the poorly armed rebels, and Gaddafi’s forces who were militarily superior. When it appeared that Gaddafi’s military would crush the rebels, President Obama vowed that such an outcome would shock the conscience of the world. The U.S. provided military support to the rebels, who were then able to turn the tide in their civil war and defeat the dictator’s army. Gaddafi, to the bitter end, refused to leave Libya, and was eventually killed by rebel army. Elections were held soon after, but today there is now a very weak central government in Tripoli. Most of the country is currently being controlled by rival tribal leaders, with Islamic extremists and terrorists gaining more and more influence and power. Sometimes, a revolution doesn’t turn out well, and can leave a country and its people in even worse shape.
Of course, a discussion of the Arab Spring cannot leave out Syria’s role. Syria has been ruled by a very despotic dictator, Bashar al-Assad for avery long time. His father had despotically governed Syria for decades, and when the old man died, Bashar took over the reins of power. As in Libya, peaceful protests were of no use, so those in rebellion took up arms. Bashar’s response to the rebellion was to start slaughtering unarmed civilians who he felt had colluded with the rebels. His favorite tactic was to drop bombs on apartment houses he believed these people lived in, killing hundreds at a time. Women, children, unarmed men, it really didn’t matter. If Assad believed that you were on the rebel”s side, you became fair game for murder. To date, it’s been estimated that between 60,000-100,000 thousand people have been slaughtered in Syria’s on going civil war. To make matters even worse, Assad’s government has stockpiles of chemical and biological warfare weapons, and threatens to use them on the civilian population. Instead of killing hundreds at a time, chemical or biological weapons can kill tens of thousands or more with one shot. Unlike Libya, however, President Obama has (unwisely in my estimation) refused to provide an form of military assistance to the rebels, so the deadlocked civil war and daily slaughter goes on, uninterrupted.
In the meantime, events have been unfolding in Egypt, but not in a good way. The people eventually forced the military to provide free elections, after Mubarak’s fall. But then, in what was considered a reasonably honest election process, the people chose as their president, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood; a man named Mohammed Morsi. Those of you unfamiliar with the Muslim Brotherhood should know that at best, it’s considered a highly Islamic fundamentalist organization, and at worst, an Islamic jihadist party. The candidate that Morsi defeated was of secular beliefs. It never ceases to amaze me that entire populations will, in effect, voluntarily enslave themselves by allowing religious fundamentalists to take control of their lives. Now, as Morsi seeks to extend his power and spread the Brotherhood’s fundamentalist Muslim beliefs throughout Egypt, massive protests have begun once again. It’s gotten so bad that the military chief has stated that Egypt is descending into chaos and anarchy; and their economy, which was barely functioning on life support, is now in a full-force crash. So the people, who voted for a man that promised to enslave them in religious fundamentalism, are deeply upset that he’s actually making good on that promise. Such are the foibles, dysfunctions and irrationalities, that comprise the human condition in this day and age.
Things aren’t so hot in Tunisia, either, where it all began. Massive protests are starting to take place because there’s been no real economic improvement. In Libya, while it was great getting rid of Gaddafi, the resultant government has been almost completely ineffectual. That lack of functioning partly led to the killing of our Ambassador and three of his aides last September, by murderous Islamic terrorists. The war also goes on without missing a beat, in Syria. In Mali, the French are fighting al-Quida terrorists that threaten to take over the country. So the Arab Spring, which started out with such promise, especially after old despotic tyrants were thrown out of office, is basically crumbling before our eyes, as new tyrants, or ineffectual governments take their place. The only country in the Mid-East that has a democratic, free society, with a first world economy is Israel. But outside of the United States, who doesn’t hate Israel?