Arab Spring 2.0? – Roundtable discussion on the recent waves of protests in the Arab region

Arab Spring 2.0? – Roundtable discussion on the recent waves of protests in the Arab region
2019-12-05 KKI
On December 2, 2019, the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade held a roundtable discussion entitled “Arab Spring 2.0?” with the participation of László Csicsmann (Associate Professor at Corvinus University of Budapest and Associate Research Fellow of IFAT), Elias Dahrouge (Doctoral Candidate at Corvinus University of Budapest), Erzsébet N. Rózsa (Professor at the National University of Public Service and Associate Research Fellow of IFAT) and Omar Sayfo (Associate Research Fellow of IFAT). The event was moderated by Máté Szalai (Senior Research Fellow of IFAT and Assistant Lecturer at Corvinus University of Budapest).

After the welcoming remarks, Máté Szalai highlighted that the discussion’s title is provocative, raising the question whether we can talk about a second wave of Arab Spring protests or not. László Csicsmann started his lecture with quoting Samuel P. Huntington’s theory on democratization waves. In this context, we can observe not only an increase in the number of democracies but—at certain times—so-called reverse waves, during which countries that previously went through the process of democratization turn “illiberal”. Reflecting on the question of the moderator, László Csicsmann argued that the Arab Spring is yet to be concluded. He underlined that the recent anti-government protests in Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq or Sudan were motivated by questioning the former social contract which put pressure on the legitimacy of existing political structures. He considered the ongoing demonstration as a part of a series of global movements that are connected through social media and constant exchange of information.

Erzsébet N. Rózsa agreed that the term “Arab Spring 2.0” is disputable, as demonstrators took further steps compared to the events of 2011, which is also manifested in the alteration of aims. She pointed out that current regimes react differently to the protests compared to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya or Bashar al-Assad in Syria. She highlighted three non-Arab regional actors who monitor events based on their individual geopolitical interests. Israel conducts a wait and see approach, as it did in 2011, while the attention of both Turkey and Iran is primarily focused on the events in Iraq. Meanwhile developments taking place in Kurdish areas constitute the priority of Ankara, whereas Tehran wants to avoid Iranian influence to become a target of demands of the protestors.

As the third lecturer of the discussion, Omar Sayfo stressed that one of the main reasons of the demonstrations is that social contracts lost their validity. He added that the decision makers of the contemporary Arab political systems do not cater to the needs of the poor while the different social groups live in isolation from each other. Among the other causes of the protests, he mentioned population growth, climate change and the identity crisis of the youth. In conclusion, he argued that pessimism is adequate regarding the prediction of the future, as the initial optimism towards the demonstrations of 2011 has proved to be misplaced as events took a sharp unfavorable turn.

Elias Dahrouge summarized the economic reasons of mass demonstrations in his presentation. Among other factors, he highlighted the rentier economic system, the high level of corruption, the oil price crisis of 2014, rising social inequality and the high level of youth unemployment.

In the Q&A session various topics have been discussed including  the role and substance of national identities, the role of foreign actors, the question of weak statehood, the Hungarian and European interests, the situation of Christian communities, the prospects of democratization and the effect of the protests on global stability.