Arguably the Arab Spring ended a long time ago. It was, after all, Spring 2011, to be precise in terms of when the spring was. It had arguably started a bit earlier, in December 2010 when an informal street vendor in Tunisia set fire to himself and died as a result of unhappiness over corrupt authorities demanding bribes from him he could not pay. This led to massive demonstrations against the super corrupt and dictatorial regime of Tunisian President Ben Ali. This led soon after to him fleeing to Saudi Arabia where he died some years later. A more or less democratic regime came to power then there.
As I am sure pretty much all readers here know, the demonstrations in Tunisia were soon followed that spring by demonstrations in numerous other Arab nations, with some of those also leading to the overthrow of existing governments in several nations, most notably in Egypt and Yemen. Unfortunately, the succeeding regimes were not too long after replaced by newly anti-democratic and authoritarian regimes, with the case of Yemen especially sad given the ongoing civil war there that is being exacerbated by various outside powers and is associated with serious famine and some of the worst conditions for a population anywhere in the world.
In various other nations, demonstrations were successfully resisted by in-place authoritarian regimes that remained in power, although in some of them there were some minor reforms put in place in response. But most of the Arab world remained ruled by non-democratic rulers, with the arguable exception of Lebanon, a currently disastrous economic basket case, and, after the Arab Spring, the place it all started, Tunisia.
But now there seems to have been a coup in Tunisia that seems to have brought to an end its democratic system and put in place an apparently authoritarian new system. However, like Trump tried to get on January 6, this was an example of an “auto-coup” where an in-place leader effectively seized an autocratic power, upending standard rules and procedures.
The person doing this is current President Kais Saied. He has fired the in-place prime minister and also suspended the parliament. Furthermore, he had fairly recently blocked the appointment of judges to the nation’s constitutional court, leaving it not functioning. This body could have ruled his actions illegal, but is unable to do so. When the Speaker of the parliament, Rachid Ghannouchi, attempted to enter the parliament, he was blocked by armed forces figures obeying the orders of President Saied. This looks like the end of democracy in Tunisia, and the final end of the Arab Spring of a decade ago.
The legal basis for this action is that the president has the authority to do this if there is “in a state of the imminent danger threatening the integrity of the country and the country’s security and independence.” Unsurprisingly a WaPo story today quotes one figure as saying that Saied’s “interpretation of imminent threat is now being perceived as a little bit over-interpreted.” And indeed there seems to have been no clear or immediate threat from any source to the nation’s security or independence.
There have been lots of largely peaceful demonstrations in Tunisia, which is suffering from a depressed economy as well as a serious pandemic situation. It is a deep disappointment that the post-Ali regime while reducing corruption somewhat, has failed to get the economy growing noticeably. The upshot has been high unemployment, including of many highly educated people. There has been a long building of frustration and unhappiness with this stagnation.
As it is, while there are multiple political parties in Tunisia, the main split has been between Saied’s pro-secular party and a moderate Islamist party, the Ennadha, which has been in power for periods of time in the last decade without imposing strict Islamist rules as the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt when they came to power after the fall of the Mubarak regime. However, there has been fear of them, with especially unveiled urban women supporting Saied’s move. Mobs have apparently fought with each other in the streets of Tunis since Saied made his move. I might share the general view of these women, but it seems that there was neither a likelihood of Ennadha coming to power in the near future or if they were to do so they would impose strict Islamist rules, any more than there was any other “imminent threat.” As far as I am concerned this is a very sad outcome and situation.