Ten years on: what remains of the Arab Spring?

On 17 December 2010, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire out of frustration with his living situation. The images of his self-immolation spread rapidly on social media, triggering spontaneous protests against despotism and oppression in Tunisia and culminating in a series of uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. Ten years later, Europe's media take stock of the Arabellion.

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Politiken (DK) /

Change takes time

The fight for democracy in the Arab world has not been lost yet, says Politiken:

“Then, as now, it is hard to be optimistic. Autocrats from President al-Sisi in Egypt to Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia have crushed all protests and appear to be sitting securely in the saddle. The Arab Spring has not become the Middle East's answer to Eastern Europe's 1989, as many had hoped. But perhaps the comparison with 1989 was not apt anyway, and the Arab Spring is more like the revolutions in Europe in 1848, a surge that was soon stifled in most countries, but in the longer term ignited a spark and resulted in democracy within a generation. ... Change takes time, not least in the Middle East, where the population has been oppressed for centuries, and in some cases for millennia.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

The red carpet for Sisi

The West looks first and foremost to itself, comments Rzeczpospolita:

“The bloody war in Syria is not over yet, but it is clear that the dictator Assad, whom the West promised to isolate as the biggest criminal in the world today, has won. None of the Arab monarchies has fallen. In tiny Bahrain, the monarchy was on the verge of ending, but then it was saved by the intervention of strong neighbours. ... The West has resigned itself to counterrevolution while at the same time patting Tunisian democracy on the back. ... New and old autocrats are holding back a wave of immigration that could flood Europe. And as with the Europeans, it is in their interest to stop Islamic radicalism and terrorism. That's why red carpets are being rolled out for Egypt's President al-Sisi.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

A bitter legacy

Only one of these countries has moved closer to democracy, Phileleftheros comments:

“Today the legacy of the 2010 uprisings is bitter, because the only country that can be proud of its success is Tunisia, which despite its problems has found its way to democracy. The other countries have either become mired in civil war - for example Syria, Libya and Yemen - or they have rebuilt authoritarian regimes, as is the case in Egypt and Bahrain. In most cases, extremist Islamist and Salafist forces have prevailed and dashed all hopes of democratisation. The unfulfilled expectations of the Arab Spring now herald an Arab winter.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Too early to judge

A look at history gives cause for optimism, according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“The upheavals the Arab world is currently experiencing will last for decades. Of course, they could also fail in the end, but it's still too early to say at this stage. The upheavals are comparable to the revolutions of 1848/49 which fundamentally changed society, the economy and the systems of rule in Europe. Interestingly, contemporaries also considered these movements to have failed at the time. ... There are also glimmers of hope in North Africa and the Middle East today. The events of 2010/11 showed people that there were alternatives. Every second Arab is under 25 years old. This young generation expects more from those in power than their parents and grandparents did. They want to participate politically, socially and economically. ... Things are still simmering beneath the surface.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

The EU has made nothing but empty promises

The EU and the US are also to blame for the fact that most Arab states are in a profound economic and political crisis, Handelsblatt argues:

“After the uprisings in Tunis, Sanaa and Cairo, they made big promises. The reality, however, is shameful. The mini-Napoleon Emmanuel Macron recently awarded France's highest honour to the butcher of Cairo, Egyptian President al-Sisi. Europe neither opened up its markets for goods from North Africa, nor did it launch a large programme to actively encourage German or European companies to invest in these countries. ... As a result, more and more young Tunisians and Moroccans are now risking the dangerous boat crossing to the north.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Europe's security at stake

The fuse is still lit on the powder keg and Europe must respond, writes El Mundo:

“In many cases, the Arab Spring has turned into a harsh winter, for which radical Islamism is largely responsible. The international community reacted by once again opting for the devil it knows, or in other words propping up the status quo. But the Middle East will continue to be a powder keg as long as political changes are not made to provide decent living conditions for its citizens. And because of its geographical proximity, Europe's own security is at stake.”

Iefimerida (GR) /

The West should be ashamed

The West's interference in the uprisings backfired, comments Iefimerida:

“The West didn't realize that its own model of life is not the dream of the Arab peoples. Statistical studies have shown that only five to ten percent of Arabs like the Western way of life, which means the vast majority reject it. Their culture, social habits, customs, even the way they think and apply politics are different from those of the Western world. Why do Western leaders want to impose social models that those directly affected reject? The West and its leaders must at least be ashamed in view of the tragedies they have inflicted on the peoples of these countries with the 'Arab Spring'.”