In meteorology, 'Spring' is one of the four temperate seasons: the transition period between winter and summer. Phenologically, 'Spring' relates to indicators such as the blossoming of a range of plant species, the activities of animals, or the special smell of soil that has reached the temperature for micro flora to flourish. Therefore, 'Spring' represents rebirth, renewal, and regrowth.
The idea of 'Spring' can be traced back to Syrian culture. Specifically, we can trace it to the spring festival "Akitu" in ancient Mesopotamia, which symbolized the "cutting of barley" in the Sumerian (Akiti-šekinku) tradition and the "sowing of barley" in Babylonian life (Akiti-šununum). Since then, 'Spring' in the Fertile Crescent and in much of the Arab world begins in Nisan (April) in line with the beginning of "Akitu" in the month of Nisannu (Aries).
As a political connotation, the term "Springtime" comes from the Babylonian religion. It represented the god Marduk's victory over Tiamat, the Dragoness of Chaos and Primeval Mother of All. Politically, it has become fashionable to speak of 'Spring' as the breaking point between one era and another, a breaking point often precipitated by social and political upheaval. In Western tradition, the concept is often traced back to the French Revolution or to the European revolutions of 1848, which became known in some countries as the 'Spring of Nations,' the 'Springtime of the Peoples,' or the 'Year of Revolution.' However, upon closer examination, the European revolutions of 1848 hardly qualify for the mantle of "Springtime." Although they marked the first (and only) Europe-wide collapse of traditional authority, the reactionary forces won out within a year and the revolutions collapsed. No coordination or cooperation existed among the revolutionaries in different countries. Five factors were involved the revolutions: (1) the widespread dissatisfaction with the political leadership; (2) the demand for more participation and democracy; (3) the demands of the working classes; (4) the upsurge of nationalism; and, finally, (5) the regrouping of the reactionary forces based in the royalty, the aristocracy, the army, and the peasants. Shaky ad-hoc coalitions of reformers, middle class citizens, and lower class workers led the uprisings but they did not hold together for long. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of people were killed and many more were forced into exile. The only significant reform was the abolition of serfdom in Austria and Hungary. These revolutions were most significant in France, Germany, Italy, and Austria, and they did not reach Russia, Great Britain, or the United States.
The 'Arab Spring'
A wave of social and political upheaval is currently sweeping the Arab world. Political regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya have collapsed and both the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the Sunni-dominated regime in Bahrain are under threat. In the extant literature, the upheaval has been widely labeled as the ‘Arab Spring’ in view of its scope and speed.
Critics, however, are not persuaded that this wave of upheaval represents 'Spring' as defined above. These critics point to several profound anomalies about the upheaval. Primarily, they express concern about the trajectory of the different ‘revolutions’ and question their capacity to produce genuine change. After all, not all revolutions succeed and not every successful revolution leads to the right changes. History is replete with revolutionary events that strayed from their original objectives or that were overcome by stronger counter-revolutionary forces.
From a Social Nationalist perspective, the 'revolutionary' events in the Arab world do not qualify for the magnanimous label of ‘Arab Spring’ for six reasons. First, the popular uprisings have been driven mainly by frustration with the existing order of things and by amorphous demands for change. The uprisings present no clear agenda or new worldview for the future. In most cases, the demonstrations have taken place in response to online group networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Frustrated individuals lead and dominate the demonstrations by playing on popular anxieties and local despondencies. These individuals share a common front against the despotic regimes in the region and yearn for a life of democracy, freedom, and progress. They also seek to elicit popular support for their cause and have succeeded in doing this. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, we should commend these individuals for their actions and boldness. However, they have set out without a clear platform of objectives for the post-revolution stage. They have no unity of purpose in their endeavors other than to bring down the despots at any cost. This is partial revolution, not a 'Spring'. A 'Spring' is total, embracing all aspects of society and human life. It includes the institutional structure of the state, its ideological foundation, and the beliefs and myths that stem from this foundation. 'Spring' should not be confused with ad hoc solutions undertaken within a deformed political framework. It is much broader and far more extensive than that.
Second, with the exception of Tunisia, the other Arab uprisings have involved direct or indirect foreign help. For example, military strikes in the case of Libya and logistic and propaganda support in the cases of Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria. Without the foreign help, these uprisings might have dragged on for a long time or collapsed in the face of a greater power. Therefore, these Arab uprisings have not always stemmed from within, as often depicted in the media. Foreign fingers were hard at work (mostly behind closed doors) seeking to protect and to promote their interests. Once the Arab uprisings turned outward and combined their forces and energies with the forces and energies of the foreign states, they lost their Arab credibility and their claim to the mantle of ‘Arab Spring.’
Third, we can begin to speak of an ‘Arab Spring’ when the uprisings precipitate fundamental changes in popular attitudes and beliefs. This has not happened so far. At best, we have witnessed a clear slide in a backward direction and a resurrection of antiquated beliefs and dogmas. Instead of strengthening the cause of democracy and civil society, the uprisings have created new conditions that stand more favorable to old-fashioned ways than to the ways of the modern era. This is not surprising given that the popular protests have occurred in an ideological vacuum and within the context of wide ideological disparities.
Fourth, these Arab uprisings cannot claim the mantle of ‘Arab Spring’ because they have occurred within the context of the territorial and political framework imposed on the Arab world after World War I rather than in opposition to it. 'Spring' does not come when regimes are toppled. It comes when the underlying factors that caused the regimes to come to power in the first place are challenged and defeated. It does not come when one set of power-holders are forced out of office and replaced by another. It comes when the causes of despotism are addressed and eradicated. 'Spring' comes, as well, when the status quo is challenged at its roots and the populace rises up against Western-concocted artificial boundaries and breaks down the barriers that have prevented them from attaining true unity and realizing their dreams.
Fifth, the Arab uprisings have only led to the downfall of one group of despotic regimes. Despotism remains rife in countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, and Morocco. The despots in these countries have escaped the wrath of public anger. Despite signs of discontent, they have weathered the storm and retained total control over their affairs. It is not until the Arab uprisings spread and bring down the regimes in these countries that we can begin to speak of an ‘Arab Spring.’
Finally, even if the current uprisings succeed in toppling every regime in the Arab world, they would still not bring a political 'Spring' without generating a solution to the Palestine cause. A political ‘Spring’ cannot be an ‘Arab Spring’ if it does not embrace the struggle against Zionism and create new conditions of solidarity with the Palestinian people. What use is it if the entire political framework in the Arab World is changed and nothing is done about Palestine? So far, the popular uprisings have avoided the Palestinian problem and have generated regimes that are just (if not more) accommodating of 'Israel' as the old regimes. This is not a good sign.
Many people around the world have pinned their hopes on the ‘Arab Spring’. They believe the uprisings have freed the Arab people from the shackles of despotism and have set the Arab world on the path of freedom and progress. Such an over-optimistic and hasty assessment of the current Arab situation cannot be taken seriously. Approximately fifty years ago, the same despotic regimes toppled in recent months came to power in a glory of light and color. Many people hailed these regimes as the long-awaited ‘Arab Spring’ and the harbingers of great things to come. However, nothing happened. In fact, the Arab world stagnated under these regimes and it has suffered the full brunt of their empty promises.
Today, no guarantees exist that the uprisings that have been called the current ‘Arab Spring’ will be different. Without a clear outlook, ‘Spring’ might be a long way off. We may still end up with an Arab world that is similar to the one we had before, or even worse.
If anything, the present so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has pushed the Arab people into a vicious cycle of uncertainty and soul-searching. Because the uprisings have offered no clear ideological outlook or a new projection for the future, they will likely lead to a protracted period of internal conflict and power squabbling. Many factors will now come into play and this period of uncertainty and upheaval may drag on for a very long time. In all likelihood, this period of conflict will end up with a compromise between the competing groups and will reproduce most of the objectionable features challenged by the uprisings in the first place.
The gravest shortcoming of the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 is that, instead of challenging the supremacy of the West, it has acquiesced further to it. The disjointed uprisings have allowed the Western states to ride the wave of protest and to benefit from them as if their previous support of the deposed regimes counted for nothing. In addition, the ‘Arab Spring’ has demonstrated, once again, how advanced the West is over the Arab world and how quickly Western countries can adjust to new conditions and unforeseen developments.
The 'Arab Spring' of 2011
Some Preliminary Observations