What happened after the Arab Spring?

The Arab Spring uprisings that began in Tunisia in late 2010 certainly captured the world's attention. This week's violence in Libya has some asking what happened to all that promise. Here's a list of the six biggest uprisings and where things stand.

Is the violence in Libya and the repression in Egypt all that can be hoped for?

Tunisians rally in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, Dec. 17, 2013, to mark the third anniversary of the uprising. (Anis Mili/Reuters)

The violence in Libya, which seemed to reach a new level this week, has some cynics talking about an "Arab Winter."

Middle East watchers, though, say it's still too soon to say what the long-term impact will be from the populist uprisings across the Arab world that began in Tunisia in late 2010.

Not all of the Arab Spring revolts overthrew despotic regimes, and those that did have yet to fully achieve what their activists wanted.

Here's a look at the six biggest uprisings and what's happened since those first months of democratic promise.

Our chief guide for this is Rami Khouri, who lives in Beirut where he directs the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. He also writes columns for the Beirut Daily Star newspaper, and is a senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs.

Khouri, by the way, rejects the seasonal analogies. "They're not springs or winters," he says, but "a historical process that most Western democracies have gone through — most of them took a long time — and we're still in the early stages of it. It's very messy and it's often violent."


(Richard Grasley/CBC)

Dec. 18, 2010: uprising begins.

Jan. 14, 2011: Government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali overthrown.

In the 2011 elections, the Ennahda Islamist party won the most seats but not a majority. Protests in 2013 forced the Ennahda coalition government to hand over power to independent technocrats, a new constitution was passed in January and new parliamentary and presidential elections have been set for Oct. 26 and Nov. 23.

Of the six countries, Tunisia has moved the furthest towards a peaceful transition to a constitutional democratic system, Khouri says. "They took practical steps that showed their commitment towards pluralism, because they saw the consequences of not doing that in a place like Syria or Egypt or Libya."

Adds Malise Ruthven, author of Encounters with Islam"The Tunisian process has been impressive in its effort to be inclusive."

The new constitution reflects a broad consensus of views, Ruthven  notes, adding that even "Tunisia's electoral law makes it difficult for any one party to gain an absolute majority."


(Richard Grasley/CBC)

Jan. 25, 2011: uprising begins.

Feb. 11, 2011: President Hosni Mubarak resigns.

Islamist parties, led by the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, won parliamentary elections in January 2012, and in June, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, narrowly won the presidency.

Before the end of the year, however, he faced popular protests, which became stronger after an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly proposed a draft constitution.

With huge protests underway, Morsi was overthrown in a military coup in July 2013. Deadly clashes followed and the military declared a state of emergency.

"There has not been the ability, as in Tunisia, to create a mechanism for transition that is based on consensus, that is inclusive of everybody. We are at the stage now where the army essentially rules again," Khouri says.

He hopes that a centrist group emerges so there's a consensus representing all Egyptian views. "The possibility of that happening is still there, and you just have to give it more time, it's very hard to predict."

Under new president, and former general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, "Egypt finds itself in a world it knows all too well — faith in the deliverance offered by one man," writes Samuel Tadros, Egyptian scholar and Hudson Institute fellow.

"It would take a leap of faith, and luck beyond what history offers," he says, "to believe that this faith in a redeemer will yield a better harvest than the one before it."


(Richard Grasley/CBC)

Jan. 27, 2011: uprising begins

Nov. 23, 2011 President Ali Abdullah Saleh agrees to hand power to his long-serving vice president,  Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Elections took place in February 2012 with Hadi the sole candidate.

While Yemen faced Islamist insurgents — and the U.S. carried out drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets there — the country conducted an inclusive national dialogue that led to agreement on a decentralized system of government.

Khouri says that's the only way government "will work in a country like Yemen, where national identity is not strong but regional and tribal identities are."

Add in poverty and a dysfunctional economy — there were big protests on Wednesday after fuel prices doubled — and "Yemen has done surprisingly well, given the many structural hindrances that it has had to face," says Khouri.


(Richard Grasley/CBC)

Feb. 14, 2011: uprising begins

March 14, 2011: troops from Saudi Arabia arrive to suppress protests; King Hamad declares martial law the next day.

Bahrain's protesters had not been demanding the overthrow of its monarchy, but constitutional change and human rights. Tiny Bahrain has a Shia majority but a Sunni government.

After initially winning promises of concessions from the government, however, the number of protesters continued to grow, until there was a violent crackdown, supported by the Saudi government next door. 

Khouri says the protests were "unsuccessful because the Saudis freaked out, sent in the troops and laid down the law and made Bahrain, effectively, an official province."

"It's almost impossible to see the Bahrainis going back to any kind of political transition based on consensus and consultation," he adds.

Earlier this year the government suspended reconciliation talks with the Shia opposition.


(Richard Grasley/CBC)

Feb. 17, 2011: uprising begins

Aug. 23, 2011: Moammar Gadhafi overthrown and later killed by an armed revolt backed by NATO military intervention.

Khouri says the transition process started off well and was inclusive, but that Libya, a country with strong tribal and regional identities, was "transitioning to democracy without having achieved clear consensus on what it means to be a Libyan and what is Libya."

Elections for a national congress took place in July 2012, but militias formed during the revolt, including Islamist factions, continued to operate and the government accomplished little.

In new elections last month, voters handed a huge defeat to the Islamists.

But the violence escalated after the elections, Mohamed Eljarh told CBC's The Current from Tobruk, Libya.

A fellow with the Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East, Eljarh says the Islamist militias are trying through force "to make up for a loss at the ballot box."

"Groups on both sides of the political spectrum have used militias as a political weapon in Libya, and now these militias have grown too powerful for these groups to control," he says.

Meanwhile, Canada and a few other Western countries have closed their embassies in Libya because of the violence.

The new parliament begins sitting on Aug.4, and Eljarh says, "this new parliament is possibly the last hope for Libya."


(Richard Grasley/CBC)

March 15, 2011: uprising begins

After making some initial conciliatory gestures, the regime of Bashar al-Assad sent out the tanks to help quell the protests. By July, Assad opponents had formed the Free Syrian Army and the uprising gradually morphed into civil war.

The opposition was making gains, but by last summer the military situation seemed to have turned in Assad's favour.

From early on, the civil war was also a big proxy war, Khouri argues. Assad has the support of Russia and Iran and its allies; the moderate opposition has the support of  the U.S. and the West, while some Gulf monarchies have backed Islamist factions.

Khouri sees Syria as four sovereign regions today, with areas controlled by the government, the Islamist opposition, the non-Islamist opposition and the Kurds.

"That may be resolved over the next couple of years and you might have the reconstitution of a unified state or you might not, it's very early to tell."

Summing up 

Rami Khouri, a Middle East expert at the American University of Beirut, says the uprisings mark 'the creation of a public political sphere' in the Arab world. (Agence Global)

One achievement of the Arab Spring uprisings, Khouri says, was that they brought about "the birth of the Arab citizen," by ending "the period of mass docility among Arab nationals."

He also argues that, for the Arab world, these rebellions marked "the creation of a public political sphere, where people in public talk about politics and debate their future and try and achieve a democratic transition, while some people also do that by fighting it out."

For Marwan Muasher, author of the new book, The Second Arab Awakening: And the Battle for Pluralism, "toppling despotic rulers alone is no guarantee of a healthy political development.

"A constructive vision for future polities must be hammered out and must be founded on an unshakable commitment to pluralism."