Disappointment over the lack of democratic progress in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya is understandable, but the so-called Arab Spring of 2011 will take time to mature, analysts say, warning that the process will be chaotic
“We have to stop using seasonal metaphors. We are in a revolutionary process that will take at least a decade,” says Karim Emile Bitar, an expert on Arab affairs at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations.
“And ‘revolutionary process’ means revolution, counter-revolution, efforts to fix the revolution, and that’s exactly what is happening,” he added.
In Egypt, the army ousted democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood; Tunisia has seen sometimes violent demonstrations against the Islamist Ennahda government; while in Libya thousands of protesters rose up Saturday against political parties and Islamists blamed for the country’s instability.
“There are many apparent similarities among these three countries,” said Denis Bauchard, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations.
He spoke of a “clash between modernist and Islamic conservatives but also a resurgence of nostalgia for the old regimes” in Cairo, Tunis and Tripoli.
But “in all three cases you have an evolving process in very different contexts,” Bauchard said.
Jean-Yves Moisseron of the Institute of Research and Development and editor-in-chief of the magazine Maghreb-Machrek agrees.
“Tunisia is a small country with a strong middle class with deeply rooted democratic aspirations, a civil society that is especially active and fairly clear ideological references regarding the secular, egalitarian state,” he said.
On the other hand, Egypt “is structured with two political forces, the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, which sometimes work together and sometimes oppose each other, making political order and disorder at the same time,” Moisseron said.
“The progressives did not seize the historic opportunity they had in 2011 to structure themselves in an autonomous way, (and as a result) the historic conditions for a democratic transition in Egypt are far from materialising.”
Bauchard said that while in Egypt “everything remains to be done, or redone,” Tunisia has “the best assets in the Arab world for becoming a democratic state” despite its “radical, Salafist elements who are doing everything to undermine the process”.
Paradoxally, according to Moisseron, “what is happening in Egypt may help stabilise Tunisia because it is pressuring Ennahda to fully accept the rules of the democratic game.”
Libya is a special case, the experts say, because it is dominated by a tribal organisation and the government’s only source of power against militias is its oil revenues.
Antoine Basbous, director of the Paris-based Observatory of Arab Countries, says however that despite the current chaos in Libya, “the demonstrations currently taking place express exasperation (with) Islamists who have formed militias who are undoing what elected officials decide.”
After what he called the “Arab tsunami” of 2011, “the aftershocks that we are seeing will not be the last, driven by the same young people who will come back with the same vectors — the Internet, Facebook, Twitter et cetera — with the support of a fringe of opinion who are hostile to the Islamists.”
Bitar, for his part, said: “The people have something to say today. Even if the revolution grabbed some things, there is still a spirit of freedom that broke free.”
In any case, the three countries entered a new era in 2011, he said. “The old order collapsed. It will not be reborn from its ashes.”