Five Years Into the Arab Spring: Achievements, Failures and Future Scenarios

3 January 2016

Five years ago, the Arab revolutions surprised politicians and analysts in the region and beyond. These events were sparked by groups of youth who rebelled against the region’s traditional political rules and institutions. Most of these groups emerged outside of the dominant ideological frameworks that had imposed deep political and social divisions. The initial revolutionary wave triggered millions of Arabs to demand freedom, social justice and human dignity promised by democracy.

Following this revolutionary wave, there came backlash from counter-revolutionary forces who moved beyond their initial shock and regrouped. These forces pursued several tactics. In some cases, they launched attacks which amounted to a coup against legitimate powers and restored the old regime, as in Egypt. In countries such as Yemen, counter-revolutionary forces tried to restore authority through insurgency and the dismantling of state institutions. In Syria, these forces continue to fight to stay in power and eliminate the revolution.

Looking at the current reality, it is clear it was not preordained that these revolutions would falter. Rather, the failures resulted from a number of erroneous decisions which wasted valuable opportunities. After the overthrow of a regime, revolutionaries often disagreed about their role, some believing it was better to maintain their power to protest, and others opting for entering the political landscape. Traditional political organisations have oscillated between making a deal with the former regime or wagering on the revolutionary option. Western powers have been reluctant to support revolutions which raise slogans of freedom and democracy, and fear that elected leaders in the region will not be in their interests. Counter-revolutionary forces took advantage of this situation, labelling revolutionary powers as internally separated and externally isolated, ultimately eliminating them.

The relative success in some Arab countries (even those that did not experience an Arab Spring) illustrates that the failures were deliberately planned. Despite challenges, Tunisians have managed to establish a democratic system and write a constitution which was mutually agreed upon by the various political and social actors, foiling attempts by counter-revolutionary forces to disrupt their transitional path. The Moroccans and Omanis succeeded in expanding the sphere of political participation by varying degrees. Other states have eased restrictions on freedom of expression and association, as in Mauritania.

After five years of struggles between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces, revolutionary powers continue to resist the coup in Egypt and revolutionary youth in Yemen continue fighting the counter-revolutionary alliance. Syrian opposition forces, both political and military, continue to resist both the regime and the Islamic State (IS), keeping the revolution alive. In Libya, revolutionary forces are still holding up in the face of the return of former regime fixtures. It is also worth noting that change movements have not been confined to the Arab Spring countries – for example, both in Lebanon and in Iraq, where sectarianism dominates the political climate, citizens have started inclusive movements to hold their governments accountable to their demands.

Five years into the Arab Spring, AlJazeera Centre for Studies will hold a series of seminars to identify Arab revolutions’ achievements and failures, as well as the role of local, regional and international actors, and to discuss future scenarios for transformation. These seminars will be held every Tuesday from 18:00 to 20:00 during the month of January 2016 in the AlJazeera Media Centre for Training and Development Auditorium. They will be broadcast live on AlJazeera Mubasher.

Seminar 1
5 January 2016
Five years since the start of the Arab Spring: Achievements and failures

In the beginning, the Arab revolutions were similar, but with time, they took different paths. Some have attained varying achievements, such as the Tunisian model, while others faltered and slipped into a civil war scenario, as in Yemen, Libya and Syria. Still others have degenerated into authoritarian regimes more repressive than the pre-revolutionary regimes, such as Egypt. This seminar will discuss the achievements and failures of the Arab revolutions in the fields of politics, security and economics. It will also address the cost of counter-revolution and the factors that disrupted the path to peaceful, democratic transition in the Arab world.

1  Adnan Mansar Director of the Presidential Cabinet and the former official spokesman for the Presidency of the Republic of Tunisia   
2 Dr. Abdel Wahab al-Afandi Professor of Political Science and Head of the Political Science and International Relations programme, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies  
3  Awad Al-Baraasi  Chairman of the Libyan Organization Of Policies and Strategies, former Libyan Deputy Prime Minister  
4  Neven Malak  Human rights activist, former member of the Supreme Authority of Al Wasat Egyptian Party  
5  Waseem al-Qurashi  Official spokesperson of the Organising Committee for the Youth of the Yemeni Revolution in 2011  

Seminar 2
12 January 2016
Five years since the start of the Arab Spring: Roles and responsibilities of local players

The second seminar’s panellists will discuss the role of key players during the transition period, including those in power, the opposition and civil society. The stage at which each Arab Spring revolution stands now is the natural result of the way it was administered. Parties to the conflict have played various roles with competing agendas, which in turn has determined the nature of the current situation and the course of change. Questions which will be addressed include: How do these parties interact with one another? What are the limits of their responsibilities for their particular experiences, such as the relapse in the Egyptian case? And what of those who continue to try to move from armed conflict to peaceful political change?

1  Ayman Nour  Leader of the Egyptian Ghad El-Thawra Party  
2  Nezha Elouafi Member of Parliament and head of the Moroccan Competencies Forum
3  Khalil al-Anani  Associate Professor of the Political Science and International Relations programme, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies  
4  Mohammed Hassan Al Amrani  Vice President of the National Information Centre for the Presidency of the Republic of Yemen  

Seminar 3
19 January 2016
Five years since the start of the Arab Spring: Roles and responsibilities of regional and international powers

The Arab Spring surprised regional and international parties alike. While some thought it was in their interest to support the revolutions and stand by their side, others thought it was a good opportunity to eliminate their opponents. They used their influence to support and expand their circle of allies. Early on, they sought to obstruct the revolution and work to abort it. While the impact of these forces was initially minor – by virtue of the surprise factor, the revolutions’ unclear nature and their limited influence – it has increased with time, and in some cases has turned into a determining factor rather than simply an influential factor. This seminar will look at the role of regional and international powers in the course of the Arab revolutions. In particular, it will examine how the Syrian arena has turned into a theatre of complicated conflicts in which the internal equation has become an afterthought.

1  Burhan Ghalioun  Professor of Political Sociology at Paris-Sorbonne University and former Chairman of the Syrian National Council (SNC)  
2  Ahmed al-Tuwaijri Saudi writer and thinker   
3  Mohammed al-Musfer  Professor of Political Science at the University of Qatar  
4  Saif Al-Din Abdel-Fattah  Professor of political science at Cairo University  
5  Rafik Abdessalem  Former Tunisian Foreign Minister  

Seminar 4
26 January 2016
Five years since the start of the Arab Spring: Prospects and future scenarios

The Arab revolutions have freed marginalised forces from the cycle of submission and removed authoritarian regimes built by hegemony, oppression and humiliation of human dignity. During the five years of conflict, the struggle between revolution and counter-revolution has produced a political scene that is not yet fully formulated. At any rate, whatever the outcome, the reality is that it will be different from the scene that has prevailed in the region during the past decades. This seminar will discuss events in the Arab Spring countries and anticipate the future of the change movement launched in late 2010. This last seminar in the series will address the following questions: Is the region heading towards political reform and the establishment of democratic systems that will achieve the Arab Spring’s objectives and basic demands? Or will it witness more conflict, increasing the cost of change, completely raving the unity of some countries and redrawing the existing regional map?

1 Fahmi Huwaidi Arab writer and thinker  
2 George Sabra Head of Syrian National Council  
3 Fahad al-Orabi al-Harthi Head of Asbar Center for Studies, Research and Communications in Saudi Arabia  
4 Muhammad al-Mukhtar al-Shanqiti Professor of Political Ethics at the Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics in Qatar  
5  Taoufik Bouachrine Editor of the Moroccan newspaper Akhbar al-Youm (Today’s News)  

 * Note: There will be simultaneous Arabic to English translation.
* For further information, contact Dr. Gamal Nassar at