Rule of Law

After 5 years, we’re still telling the wrong story about the Arab Spring

Institutional weakness isn’t as exciting a topic as evil dictators or heroic protesters — but it’s far more important, writes former human rights lawyer Amanda Taub for Vox Media.

The Arab Spring uprising was predestined to fail. In this analysis of what went so wrong, former human rights lawyer Amanda Taub says: “No matter how many times you topple the dictator, no matter how pure and good your protesters are, it won’t be enough. That’s the real lesson of the Arab Spring — and it’s important precisely because it’s not as exciting or emotionally satisfying as the good-versus-evil story we prefer to tell.” The dangers of brittle dictatorships and weak state institutions is the real story of the Arab Spring, she says. Dictators often ensure well in advance that a hollowed-out civil society and ineffective democratic institutions undermine successive governments after a revolution. The primary question, says Taub, “is why and how we allowed those dictatorships, over the decades before the 2011 revolutions came, to hollow out their states so completely that the Arab Spring was all but assured to bring chaos regardless of the world’s response.”

 

By Amanda Taub for Vox Media, January 27, 2016

By the time it became clear to the world that Egypt’s Arab Spring had gone terribly wrong, that the seemingly Hollywood-like drama of good-guy protesters triumphing over bad-guy dictator had turned out to be something much more disappointing, the other revolutions across the Middle East had soured as well.

Today, Egypt is under a new military dictatorship; Libya, Yemen, and Syria have all collapsed into civil wars.

In the years since everything went so wrong, it has become fashionable to blame the naiveté of the revolutionaries or the petty incompetence of transitional leaders. We are still trying to make this a story about the personal accomplishments or failures of individual heroes or villains, but that narrative is just as silly as it was when we first tried to apply in 2011.

The truth is that this was never a story primarily about individual heroes or villains. Rather, it was about something much bigger and more abstract: the catastrophic failure of institutions. It’s not a story that is particularly dramatic, and it’s not easy to profile for a magazine cover. But when you look at what has happened from the Arab Spring, from its 2011 beginning through today, you see institutional failure everywhere.

That story isn’t as emotionally compelling as the one we told ourselves in 2011. But it’s a crucially important one, if we want to understand how this went so wrong and the lessons for the world.

Continue reading at the publisher’s website here

Amanda Taub is a former human rights lawyer, now covering foreign policy and human rights.

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