The Arab Spring One Year On – Can We Still Call It Nonviolent?

This week several major media outlets (NPR, BBC, CSM, Al Jazeera) are offering retrospectives of various kinds of the wave of protests that began roughly a year ago in the Middle East and North Africa. Coined as the ‘Arab Spring’ these protests were initially hailed as a wave of nonviolent social change, and proof that democracy and peaceful protest could take root in historically authoritarian regimes, challenging the more conflict based approaches of groups such as Hamas.

However, a year later, the initial wave of optimism seems to have crashed upon the harsh realities of transforming societies ill-prepared for democracy and the unexpected resistance several of the movements have faced from entrenched elites. A cursory check of the headlines gives us the following examples:

The recent arrest and detention of foreign aid and human rights workers in Egypt, as well as journalists.

Increasing disillusion with the prospects for real change in Libya.

The uncertain future of Yemen, where the old regime remains firmly entrenched despite today’s handover of executive power.

And the biggest example of all, Syria, where the government continues to bombard it’s own citizenry and reduce the city of Homs to rubble in a situation that seems increasingly headed towards civil war.

Given the trajectories of these protest movements can we still call them a victory for nonviolent protest, or do we need to reassess the way the Arab Spring has played out and the limits of nonviolence against determined militaristic regimes, and what citizens do in response to harsher crackdowns?

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