1 A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE “ARAB SPRING” MOVEMENT IN EGYPT, LIBYA AND SYRIA: ANALYZING INITIAL CAUSES, GOVERNMENT RESPONSES AND CURRENT REALITIES
November 28, 2013
TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction; Research statement and Research Question............................................................................................1 Part I: Background and Historical Context leading to Revolt......................................................................................2 Part II: The Changing Season: Protests in the Region, and government processes to retain power ............................3 Part III: Current domestic realities and how conditions have worsened for millions.....................................................4 Endnotes and Sources...............................................................................................................................................6 Appendix A & B……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..6
This research paper examines three of the governments affected by the Arab Spring that have fought with everything in their arsenal to retain power, responding in a very brutal fashion to cling to whatever measure of control they still possess. On the surface, a casual observer of events in the middleeast and North Africa, over the last three years might view the Arab Spring as the time when democracy finally arrived in a region that has only known dictatorship and war. Others may view the revolutionary movement as a “well-organized and cohesive group of youth who took to the streets with one voice, freedom” (Angrist, 2011), and whether chanted, texted, tweeted, or screamed, it was loud enough to defeat military force sent to crush them. This “Facebook” and “Twitter” call to action was answered by millions, who, fed up with a lack of jobs and the vast gap between the well-to-do and those that could not afford to buy food, rose up at almost the same instant to demand change. And it appeared that the youth movement could scream loud enough that governments, run by a much older generation, started to crumble before their very eyes. While this somewhat romantic notion of a democratic uprising and revolution shows great resolve and courage of these citizens, these governments did not fade away but instead brutally attacked and killed thousands (in Syria, hundreds of thousands) of their own civilians, and some have dissolved into civil war 1. Why have these three regimes responded with a “knee jerk” reaction of extreme violence to the outcry of (mostly) reasonable demands, from their own citizens
about gross human rights violations, and instead perpetuated these abuses on a massive scale causing their countries to splinter and plunge into the brink of civil war and beyond? PART I: BACKGROUND While it is certainly true that Libya, Syria and Egypt have all faced a growing youth population that was discontent and felt out of touch with its government, each country had some unique or varying elements that caused these populations to revolt. Each of these three had long standing authoritarian regimes that tolerated very little dissent, and both Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad (and prior to Bashar, his father Hafez al-Assad) kept their countries under a state of permanent emergency law to keep opposition forces at bay, and crush any internal dissent. Libya’s colonel Muammar Gaddafi played an active role in international terrorism 2 to pursue his foreign and domestic policy goals, with the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland (1988) and the Bombing of a Berlin Disco (1986) killing hundreds of American civilians. (Abrams E. , 2011). The Libyan economy looked good on paper, as an oil-rich state and member of OPEC, it has the largest proven oil reserves on the entire African continent. Although Libya faced crippling United Nations sanctions that were imposed following the discovery of its involvement in the attack on Pan-Am 103. These sanctions were lifted in 2003 following Libya’s decision to normalize its relations with the west, and surrender its weapons of mass destruction program (see Appendix A), however its “centrally planned economy” (Stewart, 2013) failed to diversify, so it was highly dependent on revenues from its petroleum sector. This income accounts for over sixty percent of paid wages in the public sector, and employs threequarters of Libya’s workforce. In 2011, Libya’s unemployment figures were over twenty percent, and of that unemployed population over fifty percent were twenty years old or under, highlighting a major dissatisfaction among Libya’s youth, a huge imbalance in educated youth and high-skill jobs. 3 As Egypt witnessed the unfolding of the “Jasmine Movement” in Tunisia, the youth saw how a “sustained and broad-based popular mobilization” (Shebata, 2011) could lead to actual political change, and other factors had long been brewing in Egyptian politics and society that were pulling it towards revolution. The downfall of President Hosni Mubarak was the direct result of three factors plainly visible to the public: an increase in government corruption, a public feeling of economic exclusion, and the liberation of Egyptian youth to what they viewed as a domineering government. The 2010 elections and a growing division among the ruling elite over the question of who would succeed Mubarak as president also played a major role. The Mubarak regime’s tactics in the 2010 elections had much higher ambitions in mind; to ensure a smooth transfer of power from Hosni to his son Gamal Mubarak in the upcoming 2011 Presidential election4. Not only was the Egyptian opposition movement strongly opposed to the
succession plan, but also “important factions within the state bureaucracy and military were also highly skeptical of the plan”. (Shebata, 2011) Despite many parallels in economic conditions, unemployment figures, and authoritarian rule, it seemed unlikely to some that the “fortress” of the Assad regime in Syria would ever go silently away into the night. Syria’s grave economic picture and its Alawi minority rule had been built up for five decades with repressive measures, to prevent any opposition from gaining traction, and insulating it from regime change. Just prior to the Arab Spring, Syria had achieved an annual growth rate of four percent, but still suffered from harsh increases in unemployment, costs of living, stagnating wages and widespread poverty. “The accumulation of excessive wealth in the hands of an oligarchic political elite has been more an exception than a rule” (Broning, 2011) in Syria and “political isolation and domestic authoritarianism have severely restricted the development of a politically conscious and economically empowered elite” (Broning, 2011) Arab Spring protestors in Egypt and Libya have perceived their poverty to be relative to the current regime, whereas in Syria the impoverished view their circumstances as absolute and not relevant to the Assad regime itself 5. Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, posted fellow Alawites in all key government posts after assuming power, and today the Alawi tribe and Assad are so deeply entrenched in the system of power that it has become difficult to unravel the intricate web of military brass, ruling elite, and the Mukhabarat 1. PART II: THE CHANGING SEASON The broader Arab Spring protests began in each individual country for both some general, and some specific reasons. In Libya, for example, a protest on February 15, 2011 in front of the Benghazi Police HQ broke out following the arrest of a human rights attorney representing the families of over 1,000 prisoners massacred in 1996 in a Tripoli Prison. The peaceful demonstration was met with military force, and a “Day of Rage” was organized for Feb. 17 by the National Council for the Libyan Opposition. When mass protests began on February 17th, the Libyan Military and Security Forces fired live rounds into the crowd, sparking what soon became a civil war, as Gaddafi went on National Television demanding that ”all those who love Gadhafi, who represents glory…to come out of your houses and attack” (Abrams E. , 2011) the demonstrators. Mass protests began in Egypt on January 25, 2011, with millions chanting peacefully for “the fall of the regime”, and Mubarak’s initial response was ordering soldiers to open fire. This only caused the numbers of people to surge in following days, overwhelming Egypt’s vast security apparatus, with millions flocking to Tahir Square. Once the Mubarak regime realized that the revolt was too big to be 1
crushed by force they next tried propaganda and scare tactics to bring the protesters back into the protective embrace of the state. Once that too failed, they finally resorted to making concessions with the protestors, however their deals were too weak, and the body count too high to sway public sentiment. Unlike events in Syria and Libya, the Egyptian military finally decided to cut its ties with Mubarak, realizing that as the most stable national institution within Egypt, it would be better to preserve their own political capital for the future, than to remain on Mubarak’s quickly sinking political ship. The military forced Mubarak to resign after thirty years in power. In Syria, fifteen school boys spray painted a slogan that they had heard repeatedly on Al-Jazeera’s coverage of uprisings in other countries, Freedom, Freedom, and Freedom on their schoolhouse wall on March 6, 2011. Within an hour the boys were detained by the Mukhabarat, Syrian Secret Police. As parents of the children went to plead with the police commander in the town of Deda, outside Damascus, for their children’s release they were told “to forget about these children, go home and make new ones”. The commander added that “if their husbands were not man enough to produce more children, they should bring their wives to the police and they would impregnate their wives for them” (Documentary, The Battle for Syria, Season 30 - Episode 18, 2011). The population of Deda came out in protest demanding the return of their children and the government opened fire with snipers and machine guns, demarcating a significant shift in the sentiment of the Syrian people. The moment the first bullet from the first government weapon was fired at a civilian, sparked and gave fuel to the internal rebellion in Syria causing civil war. Bashar al-Assad’s initial threats of violence against the rising opposition were much more ominous than those of Gaddafi or Mubarak because the Syrian regime already had an extremely violent record of quashing internal rebellion with deadly efficiency. In 1982, Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad ordered a prolonged an extremely violent domestic attack against the Muslim Brotherhood resistance in the city of Hama, Syria (see Appendix B). President Bashar’s mother, the wife of former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, initially told her son that the 2011 uprisings reminded her very much of the Muslim Brotherhood’s actions during the 1970’s and 1980’s. She was a primary advocate to her son for using tactics from the regime’s playbook for dealing with domestic unrest by the “Hama Rules” 6, eliminating any potential opposition with overwhelming force through the military and secret police. President Assad has employed every military tool in his possession in dealing with the Arab Spring protester, and now the Free Syrian Army and other rebel factions. PART III: CURRENT REALITIES
During research of the current on-the-ground realities of Libya, Syria and Egypt, I believe anyone
would have a difficult time demonstrating that conditions have markedly improved for the youth, or any other segment of the protest movement in these countries. The situation in both Libya and Egypt is similar to the post-Saddam era in Iraq, with their iron-fisted rulers deposed or dead a huge power vacuum has emerged with many armed factions fighting each other for control. Syria has witnessed a huge influx of foreign jihadist’s starting new opposition fronts battling both the Syrian military forces and the domestic rebel groups from within Syria, with over 100,000 people dead (mostly civilians). All of these countries are fracturing along sectarian fault lines, and secular versus extremist ideologies. Today, over two years after the death of Libyan leader Gaddafi, the country is yet again on the brink of civil war, with fighting once again centered in the eastern city of Benghazi. In the capital city of Tripoli the new Prime Minister Ali Zaiden was kidnapped in October 2013 by a rebel militia, and the government had to hire another militia to secure his rescue. Also in October, the commander of Libya’s military police was assassinated as he was leaving a Mosque following Friday prayers, and several prominent militia commanders have been killed in possible retaliation. Federalist’s in Cyrenaica, home to most of Libya’s oil, have opened their own independent Parliament in Benghazi last month, a step that could signal a regional desire to sever ties with the nation at large. In a recent attempt to capture Ahmed Abu Khattala, indicted by the United States for killing US Ambassador Chris Stevens, regular army units were forced to retreat upon meeting powerful militia units. A trigger for this new outbreak of violence was an arrest made in early October by Delta Force commandoes of an Al-Qaeda suspect from his home in Tripoli, bringing more Libyan scrutiny over US/NATO plans to train a new professional Libyan Army at a base in England. In March 2013 the population of Egypt chose their first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, of the Freedom and Justice Party, who was elected in a contest which many saw as a choice between a continuation of the decade’s old Mubarak regime, and the new Islamists who promised change. However, shortly before the election Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the Islamist dominated parliament, the first such democratically elected body in over 50 years. This action combined with the adoption of a weak interim Constitution effectively placed much of Egypt’s governing power firmly in the hands of the military. The military stepped in on July 3 rd of this year and deposed Mr. Morsi in a coup that was largely cheered on by the public, but a violent police and military crackdown on remaining Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo, which included both women and children, left up to 464 civilians dead and thousands wounded by machine guns and snipers. This brutality by the military displays that the demands of the 2011 protestors, chiefly the termination of laws enforcing a permanent
police state, have been lost on those now in control of Egypt. Sadly, a new cycle of retaliatory violence, is springing up all across Egypt up and down the Nile River, and pushing it too, to the brink of civil war.
1 PBS FRONTLINE DOCUMENTARY – Season 30, Episode 3 2 Abrams, Elliot, 2011 3 Stewart, Donna, 2013 4 Shebata, Dina, 2011 5 Broning, M., 2011 6 PBS FRONTLINE DOCUMENTARY – Season 30, Episode 18
Abrams, E. (2011, February 25). Our Bargain With The New Gadhafi. Wall Street Journal, pp. 1-2. Abrams, E. (2011, February 25 ). Our Bargain With The New Gadhafi. Wall Streat Journal, p. 11. Angrist, M. P. (2011). Morning in Tunisia - The Frustrations of the Arab World Boil Over. ForeignAffairs.com. Briefing Egypt's crisis. (2013, August 17). The storm before the storm. The Economist, pp. 19-22. Broning, M. (2011). The Sturdy House That Assad Built - Why Damascus Is Not Cairo. Retrieved from ForeignAffairs.comm. Documentary, P. F. (2011). Syria Undercover, Season 30 - Episode 3. Public Broadcasting System. Documentary, P. F. (2011). The Battle for Syria, Season 30 - Episode 18. Public Broadcasting System. Hughes, K. L. (2013, October 20). Assanition pushes Libya towards civil war two years after Gaddafi death. The Observer World News - England, p. 34. The Council on Foreign Relation (2011). Demographics of Arab Protests. Minneapolis. Shebata, D. (2011). The Fall Of The Pharoah - How Hosni Mubarak's Reign Came to an End. Foreign Affairs, 137141. Stewart, D. J. (2013). Emergence And Evolution Of The Region. In D. J. Stewart, The Middle East Today; Second Edition (pp. 160-162). New York: Routledge. Wehrey, F. (2011). Libya's Terra Inconita: Who and What will Follow Qaddafi. Foriegn Affairs.com. •
Appendix A: In 2003, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi approached both the British Intelligence Service MI6 and the United States CIA in an attempt to “come in from the cold” (Abrams E. , 2011) and sever his ties with international terrorist groups. Gaddafi agreed to give up the names of those involved in the terrorist bombings that Libya helped to sponsor, and also surrender his stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and missile delivery systems in return for the lifting of sanctions by the US and the United Nations. Interestingly, Gaddafi kept his end of the bargain by not engaging in terrorism. His surrendered weapons currently reside at an unnamed military base within the United States. Appendix B: In 1982, Hafez al-Assad launched a domestic military offensive to suppress a series of Muslim Brotherhood sponsored revolts centered in the city of Hama, Syria. The Syrian military launched a sustained attack with army tanks and heavy artillery on civilian homes, offices and apartment buildings with death toll estimates ranging from 10,000 to over 40,000
killed, mainly civilians. The Hama massacre is still recognized as one of the worst human rights violations throughout the entire Middle-East, and demonstrated how the Assad regime would deal with uprising in the future. This page in the regime’s playbook became known as “Hama Rules” – when dealing with domestic uprising or revolt the regime would utterly destroy it, following no rules in the process.