Tuesday, May 24, 2011
This is not to deny that there have been important developments in the 20 Muslim-majority political entities in the Middle East. Yet is this as much of an earthquake as many seem to think? Is this so clearly a transition to democracy?
And by the way, where did the term “Arab Spring” come from?
The term “springtime of nations” was applied to the revolutionary upheavals in Europe in 1848. In France, the revolution against the monarchy led to free elections. Unfortunately the free elections were won by Louis Napoleon who made himself dictator, ruled for about two decades, and led his country into a disastrous war that was followed by bloody massacres. France did become a functioning democratic republic but it took almost a quarter-century.
More recently, the term was applied to the Prague Spring of 1968, crushed by Soviet tanks. The country finally became a truly independent democracy, 32 years later.
But in Middle Eastern usage it comes from the “Beirut Spring” in which hundreds of thousands of Lebanese demonstrated against the Syrian military presence and domination of the country.
In the short term the Lebanese protesters won. But because of a lack of U.S. and Western help along with the ruthlessness of Syria, Iran, and their local allies (notably Hizballah), the Beirut Spring has been defeated. Syria is back in control to a large degree and while the Syrian-backed government (including Hizballah) has been kept at bay for months by bureaucratic maneuvers, presumably it will get into power at some point.
So the term “Arab Spring” is appropriate if we remember that the Beirut Spring, a good example of what’s being faced now, turned into the Beirut Winter.