Chadia Mansour, of Tunisia, who taught Arabic at the College of William & Mary, recalled that on Jan. 13. 2011., at the peak of the revolution in her native Tunisia, she was among the crowd demonstrating in the capital city. The security forces suddenly retreated, and there was no shooting on the demonstrators. But in other parts of the country, people were killed in the streets.
Responding to the question about Tunisia's chances to progress to a democratic society, Mansour said: "I think, Tunisia's chances are high. The Tunisian society is based on young, educated people. Now that the wall of fear is down, the educated youth and the civil society got their hopes back and are active in helping Tunisia's democracy come true."
She was planning to return to Tunisia to participate in rebuilding the country. So were many other young people studying in the United States from countries were the Arab Spring was taking place. But recent events in Egypt put a big question mark on what the Arab Spring meant and its end results.
The Arab Spring produced a wave of demonstrations, protests and riots that swept Tunisia, Egypt, Libya Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. Other Arab countries have also experienced turmoil in various degrees. They all shared similar techniques involving strikes, civil disobedience, demonstrations and rallies, using the social media to communicate and organize.
As reported at that time by the news media, the demonstrations were often met with violent response from the authorities. Those attacks, in turn have been countered by violence from the demonstrators. In the end, the rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have been forced from power and the way to democratic reforms in those countries opened up.
According to observers of the Middle East political scene, the roots of the Arab Spring can be found in dissatisfaction with the rule of the governments, corruption, human rights violations, unemployment and a host of other issues affecting the lives of ordinary people. Thus, it was fashionable to draw comparisons between the Arab Spring uprising and the Revolutions of 1989 that swept through Eastern Europe. There was an expectation that the outcome of the Arab Spring would be a gradual transformation to democratic rule, just as it happened in Eastern Europe..
Alas, in the wake of the military takeover in Egypt, it appears that the Arab Spring's aftermath resembles more the Revolutions of 1848 than the Revolutions of 1989.
The European Revolutions of 1848 that began in France and spread to most of Europe, affecting over 50 countries, was motivated by dissatisfaction with political leadership, demands for participation in the democratic process, demands of the working classes and an upsurge of nationalism. But within a year, reactionary forces, consisting of the royalty, the aristocracy, the army and segments of peasantry, have regained control, and the revolution collapsed.
According to historical records, tens of thousands of people were killed all over Europe, and millions forced into exile. The only significant, lasting reforms were the abolition of serfdom in Austria and Hungary. The revolutions had some positive impact in France, Germany, Poland, Italy and the Austrian Empire, but didn't reach Russia, Great Britain, Spain, Sweden, Portugal or the Ottoman Empire.
After the suppression of the Revolutions of 1848, little structural change has occurred in Europe for the next 70 years. There was, however, considerable movement on the social and cultural fronts. Significantly, real change didn't occur until the end of World War I, when Europe's political map was redrawn.
Considering the turmoil in the Middle East, many political observers wonder whether, Karl Marx was right when he said: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.":
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.