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The Arab Spring: Five Years On

February 6, 2016

Five years ago, many people from a variety of backgrounds came out to the streets in many Arab-majority countries demanding change. The protests came at a time when economic growth was too low to hire the thousands of young people joining the workforce every day. Moreover, the benefits of that economic growth went m­ostly to relatively few already well-off people. The revolutions were a result of many people in Arab-majority countries becoming increasingly disillusioned with a status quo that tolerated and allowed an epidemic of corruption and gross mismanagement of resources. Protesters demanded decentralization of power, higher accountability for officials, and an end to repressive governance. Though the demands were not met in many of these countries, the strong show of opposition was an achievement in and of itself.

Five years on, the picture might seem gloomy; Egyptians, for example, are suffering from election fatigue, as they have been asked to go to the polls for two Parliamentary elections, three constitutional referendums, and two Presidential elections since the start of the Arab Spring uprising. Tourism is suffering throughout the region, and youth unemployment is higher now, in many countries, than it was before the start of the Arab Spring. Civil wars wage on in Syria, Yemen, and Libya with no end in sight. Moreover, many countries have passed so-called ‘anti-terrorism’ laws with the intention of quelling any opposition at all.

Nonetheless. Monarchs in Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait, and Oman handed considerable powers to their countries’ elected legislatures. More seats in national legislatures throughout the region are held by women than ever before. Interior ministries, notorious for their police brutality, are under greater scrutiny. Islamist parties that would have been imprisoned before the uprising now hold seats in legislatures and hold cabinet positions just like many other center-right parties. Unions and worker rights’ activists have been successful in raising minimum wages and improving working conditions in several countries. 

The Arab Spring has also forced many countries to drastically expand welfare programs. As oil prices decline, however, oil-rich nations that used generous price subsidies to quell dissent will have to find other options.

There is no doubt, however, that there is much work to be done, Many Arab countries continue to top of the list of most corrupt nations. Many are also viewed unfavorably in the internationally, stymieing foreign business dealings. Although on the rise, female workforce participation is only around 25% in most Arab World countries. 

Five years later, much has changed but not always for the better. Nonetheless, like all revolutions, change does not occur overnight, and many long years with progressions and regressions are needed to establish the right trajectory.

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