The Arab Spring one year after - Challenges, prospects and strategies for change

29 March 2012

“The Arab Spring is the most exciting thing that has happened in the 21st Century so far. But is the warmth of spring turning into the cold of winter?” pondered Danish Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen.

He described the Arab Spring as a “whole new political climate” that would lead to long-term change throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

“Some of its surprises are positive, like the high voter turnout in Yemen, whereas others will horrify, like the events in Syria, but the change is permanent,” said Wammen, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

“People expect their governments to serve their needs. They won’t accept any reversal of change, and will hold their governments accountable like never before,” he predicted.

“People want dignity, respect, job creation and social welfare. They’re demanding change and will no longer be denied by corrupt officials,” Wammen said.

“We haven’t seen the last of the scenes on Tahrir Square,” he predicted.

“The EU must communicate that it will support the region in the long term, and stand by its commitments,” he said.

“A year on from the start of the revolution in Tunisia, the winds of change are still blowing in the Arab world,” said François de Kerchove, director of foreign affairs policy for Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders.

“People throughout the region stood up to demand equality, freedom and human rights, breaking down barriers of fear that had been erected by autocratic regimes for years,” de Kerchove said.

“There’s no way back, despite varied outcomes across the region. But unemployment and young people’s lack of options for their future are potential obstacles,” he warned.

“The Tunisian people didn’t transition to democracy by accident. We’ve been demanding it for a long time. But young people have now learned not to ‘fear the fear’,” said Moncef Cheikh-Rouhou, a member of the Tunisian Constitutional Assembly.

“People aren’t demanding from the government instant prosperity, but they want jobs and the opportunity to build better lives themselves,” explained Cheikh-Rouhou, a member of the opposition.

“Europe shouldn’t fear Islam. In Tunisia, we’re signing historic, cross-party agreements. We’re in opposition but we’re not enemies. We’re all from the same country and we’re all pursuing similar goals,” he said.

“Islamic movements are a matter of identity. They’re not necessarily linked to religion or used as a means of distinguishing between parties,” he claimed.

Maha Abdel Nasser, a political activist from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said “in Egypt, we’re aspiring to the same cohesion that they have in Tunisia. We need political Islam. But our starting point is worse. Many people are uneducated and aren’t sure of the right choices. They need help and education”.

“I’m sitting here on behalf of the Libyan women who sacrificed their children to make events like this possible,” said Iman Bugaighis, a former spokeswoman for the Libyan National Transitional Council.

“Now we have civil society and trade unions. [Dictator Muammar] Gaddafi didn’t allow us those,” said Bugaighis, who helped with the transition after the fall of Benghazi.

“Libyans are capable of building a modern, prosperous, democratic nation,” she insisted, but first they must deal with Gaddafi’s legacy – “he left behind a country without institutions or even any sense of citizenship”.

“We need to build up all these capacities,” she said, explaining that the progress made by Tunisia was a source of inspiration.