Weekend Roundup: The Bitter Fruits of the Arab Spring


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

The tragic outcome of the Arab Spring doesn’t get any less bitter with time. The repercussions of that pan-Arab rebellion five years ago are still traumatizing the region and the world.

As Amira Yahyaoui wrote from Tunis earlier this month, even in Tunisia a counterrevolutionary narrative of “it was better before” is taking hold as virulent protests against the lack of jobs have erupted. Egypt has gone from repressive autocracy to revolt to democratic elections back to repressive autocracy. The self-described Islamic State is establishing bases in the post-Gaddafi vacuum in Libya. Assad’s ruthless resistance to the revolt in Syria has devastated that country.

From Greece to Denmark, political reaction to the influx of refugees fleeing the carnage poses the most serious challenge yet to the decades-long advance toward an integrated Europe with open borders.

Writing from Cairo on the anniversary this week of the Egyptian uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak, Walid Akef says his country today is like “hell” after the “paradise” of the Arab Spring. “I had a dream like any other Egyptian,” he writes. “I lived through the unforgettable moment when Mubarak was obliged to cede the throne. I was waiting for a new Egypt, for a different future to come. Now, we are living through the worst moments Egypt has ever lived. Yet even in this complex reality, we still have hope.” In an interview, Egyptian historian Khaled Fahmy recalls the excitement of the Tahrir Square protests and his support of, and then disillusionment with, the Muslim Brotherhood. His great regret, like so many others, is that “we didn’t transform this energy into something more durable.” World Social Media Editor Rowaida Abdelaziz talks to the Egyptian artist Ganzeer, whose street art murals and political posters exploded in popularity during the rebellion, about how the events changed him and his country. We also profile the ongoing theater activism of Sondos Shabayek, known for her “Tahrir Monologues,” as she stages performances confronting sex, violence and the daily lives of women in Egypt today. Additionally, we look at the stories of 12 activists and journalists who have been silenced by the Sisi regime.

Iyad El-Baghdadi, a prominent Arab Spring activist, senses insecurity on the part of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during this week’s anniversary. Sisi’s “state is franticly trying to suppress a movement it claims to have already suppressed,” he writes. “Even as Egypt’s central security chief declared they ‘will not allow another revolution,’ the hashtag ‘the people demand the downfall of the regime’ quietly became the top trending topic in the Arab Twittersphere.” Menna Elnaka wonders now whether Egypt is really ready for democracy.

Former U.N. arms inspector Scott Ritter scores the illusions of both the Bush and Obama administrations, which based their misplaced hopes for Western-oriented regime change on the digital prowess and narrow social base of rebellious youth while underestimating the power of the centuries-old practice of Friday sermons at the mosques. In the end it was the holy book of Islam, not Facebook, that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in democratic elections before they in turn were overthrown in a military coup. Writing from Al-Zarqa, Jordan, Duha Sa’fan welcomes the spirit of the Arab Spring, but laments the consequences. “Jordan has suffered a lot because of them, “ she says, referring to the revolutions and the mass of refugees who have fled to her country as a result. “Reforms are needed in all aspects of the country,” she continues, “but that doesn’t mean we need a revolution.”

World Reporter Charlotte Alfred tells us why Tunisians are protesting five years after the revolution. Tunisia’s former Deputy Finance Minister Boutheina Ben Yaghlane sees economic progress as the key to preserving his country’s fragile democracy. “One in six Tunisians currently lives below the poverty line and unemployment is nearly 29 percent among graduates of higher education,” he writes. “In a country where three-quarters of the unemployed are 15-30 years of age, upward mobility of a promising economy is pivotal to reducing our vulnerability.”

In an exclusive, WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones reports from Afghanistan this week where she interviews Reza Gul, a young woman who continues to speak out despite a horrific attack by her husband. “I am not afraid,” she tells Sophia before boarding her flight to Kabul.

Writing form Copenhagen, Rasmus Alenius Boserup traces the evolution of the Danish mood from the “cartoon crisis” of 2006 when worldwide protests erupted after the publication of satirized images of the Prophet Muhammad to the passage this week of legislation to seize the valuables of refugees to pay for the costs of hosting them. Reflecting on a recent visit to Denmark, András Simonyi says, “The ambiguous measure of confiscating the valuables of arriving refugees is not smart. Knowing the bad memories it brings back from the past, this law should have been suspended from the start. Not doing so only poured gasoline on the fire, which is being stoked by those who see caution and moderation as a flaw of liberal democracies.”

Elsewhere in the world, Brahma Chellaney writes from New Delhi that a resurgent Japan is necessary to balance China in Asia. From Moscow, Nikolai Petrov describes how falling oil prices are upending Russian politics.

WorldPost China Correspondent Matt Sheehan describes how acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhao Liang “walk[s] the line between art house cinema and didactic documentary, between the visually lush and the politically potent” in his new film “Behemoth.” He also traces the divergent paths of two Chinese brothers, one of whom went to university in the U.S., and the other who stayed in China.

Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden evaluate China’s “risky gamble” in the Middle East as President Xi visited Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia this week. Writing from Shanghai, Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz assesses China’s “new normal.” “‘Markets with Chinese characteristics,’ he says, “are as volatile and hard to control as markets with American characteristics. Markets invariably take on a life of their own; they cannot be easily ordered around. To the extent that markets can be controlled, it is through setting the rules of the game in a transparent way.” In an excerpt from his new book, “The Only Game in Town,” top global bond manager Mohamed El-Erian argues that the “‘new normal’ of low growth, rising inequality [and] political dysfunction” can no longer be addressed by central banks but must be taken on by political leaders. Both Robert Reich and Bill McKibben praise Bernie Sanders insurgent challenge to Hillary Clinton. As Reich puts it, “Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change.” Howard Fineman looks at the power of evangelical voters in the heartland state of Iowa in advance of the presidential caucus votes there next week.

As the World Health Organization warns that the Zika virus is “spreading explosively,” global health expert Laurie Garrett fears a “perfect storm” has unfolded where the spread of disease-bearing Asian and African mosquitoes meets the El Niño climate event and economic crisis in Brazil. In a reflection on the Islamic State’s recent destruction of the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo reminds us that civilization rests fundamentally on dialogue with the heritage of those who came before us. Olafur Eliasson explains why he believes art has the power to change the world.

This week’s “Forgotten Fact“ looks at some of the destruction in southeast Turkey — with photos that resemble war-torn Syria — where the government is fighting the Kurds. Another haunting photo essay shows the impact of climate change on Bangladesh.

In a tribute to Marvin Minksy, who died this week at 88, Robert Lawrence Kuhn offers the most fascinating quotes from his interviews with the artificial intelligence pioneer over the years. Fusion this week wonders if continually connected millennials will ever be able to retire. Lastly, our Singularity series ponders the exact whereabouts in our solar system of newly discovered Planet Nine.


EDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Senior Advisor to the Berggruen Institute on Governance and the long-time editor of NPQ and the Global Viewpoint Network of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Senior Editor of The WorldPost. Alex Gardels and Peter Mellgard are the Associate Editors of The WorldPost. Katie Nelson is the National Editor at the Huffington Post, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost’s editorial coverage. Eline Gordts is HuffPost’s Senior World Editor. Charlotte Alfred and Nick Robins-Early are World Reporters. Rowaida Abdelaziz is Social Media Editor.

CORRESPONDENTS: Sophia Jones in Istanbul; Matt Sheehan in Beijing.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Arianna Huffington, Eric Schmidt (Google Inc.), Pierre Omidyar (First Look Media) Juan Luis Cebrian (El Pais/PRISA), Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute/TIME-CNN), John Elkann (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa), Wadah Khanfar (Al Jazeera), Dileep Padgaonkar (Times of India) and Yoichi Funabashi (Asahi Shimbun).


CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

The Asia Society and its ChinaFile, edited by Orville Schell, is our primary partner on Asia coverage. Eric X. Li and the Chunqiu Institute/Fudan University in Shanghai and Guancha.cn also provide first person voices from China. We also draw on the content of China Digital Times. Seung-yoon Lee is The WorldPost link in South Korea.

Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the “whole mind” way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Members of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council and Council for the Future of Europe serve as the Advisory Council — as well as regular contributors — to the site. These include, Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juan Luis Cebrian, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei Kudrin, Pascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon Musk, Pierre Omidyar, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel Roubini, Nicolas Sarkozy, Eric Schmidt, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter Schwartz, Amartya Sen, Jeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry Summers, Wu Jianmin, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Ahmed Zewail, and Zheng Bijian.

From the Europe group, these include: Marek Belka, Tony Blair, Jacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar Issing, Mario Monti, Robert Mundell, Peter Sutherland and Guy Verhofstadt.


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