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It was last updated on 17 January 2013.
The term Arab Spring refers to the sequence of protest movements that started in Tunisia in December 2010. The protests there, and subsequently in other Arab countries, were intended to put an end to government oppression, corruption and incompetence. They have led to the overthrow of existing regimes and to the conduct of parliamentary elections in Tunisia, in Egypt and in Libya. The protest movement in Syria has developed into a civil war, and protest movements elsewhere in the Arab world have achieved little more than promises of minor reforms. Although Islamist organisations played little or no part in the popular protests, they tended to do well in the elections that followed - although to a varying extent. In Tunisia the elections resulted in the creation of a stable coalition government involving secularists and moderate Islamists. In Egypt the electoral advantage went to the moderately Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, but there have been massive popular challenges to the legitimacy of the resulting administration. In Libya the elections resulted in the formation of a broadly liberal administration with no Muslim Brotherhood representation. In the two years following the first uprisings, only minor progress has been made toward the establishment of effective representative government. Even in Tunisia, where the greatest advance has been achieved, the ability of the elected government to uphold human rights and political freedom has been hampered by the need to put an end to corruption and incompetence, especially in its security services. In Egypt there is widespread distrust of those in power. The Libyan government has yet to establish its supremacy over the various bands of armed militia that dominate several localities. Reform of their political, administrative, judicial and security institutions has a long way further to go before any of the Arab Spring countries can become fully democratic.
Background: the Arab condition
Before the uprisings, the political structures of nearly all of the countries involved had been categorised as authoritarian (with Syria, Libya and Saudi Arabia ranking among the 15 least democratic countries), and the governments of five of them have been categorised as exceptionally corrupt (Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Yemen appeared among the upper half in the ranking of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index) . Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Yemen allowed political parties to compete in elections. Tunisia excluded religiously-affiliated parties. Islamist parties were banned in Egypt, but the nominally illegal Muslim Brotherhood had fielded candidates as independents. Syria allowed only Ba'ath Party candidates Yemen allowed political parties but they were banned in Bahrain and Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Independent candidates were permitted in in Oman and the UAE. Saudi Arabia did not hold legislative elections
According to the staff of the International Monetary Fund many of the Arab economies were characterised by "stifling economic regulations, state involvement in production and employment, a private sector based on privilege rather than competitiveness, generalized price subsidies instead of targeted social protection, and an educational system that no longer delivers on the expectations of students or their potential employers". Unemployment rates were generally among the highest in the world and youth unemployment rates range from 21 percent in Lebanon to 30 percent in Tunisia. At least 19% of the population lived below the poverty line at the end of the 1990s according to an estimate based upon data from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen,..
Oil production had accounted for more than 20 percent of 2004 GDP in Libya (63), Oman and Saudi Arabia (42), Algeria (38), Yemen (32), Bahrain (28) and Syria (21). In Egypt the percentage was 12 and in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia it was less than 4. . The oil-producing countries of Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Libya had been among the world's more prosperous countries, but the prosperity of each of the others had been below, or well below the world average in terms of GDP per head, with Syria ranking 153rd out of a total of 228
Arab protest movements
(country links are to country-by-country accounts on the addendum subpage)
Following the successful uprising in Tunisia, there were mass protests of differing intensity in eleven other Arab countries. There were also wide differences in the responses to popular demands for change by the governments of those countries. The governments of Bahrain, Libya, Syria and Yemen responded with armed attacks on the demonstrators. The governments of Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Oman and Saudi Arabia offered changes of governance that have so far had little effect. The governments of Egypt and Tunisia yielded promptly to demands for regime change, and regime change was forced upon Libya by the military defeat of its incumbent regime. Democratic elections have been held in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, but it was only in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia that the elected assemblies were empowered to create new constitutions.
There was a modest move toward democracy during the first year of the Arab Spring (according to the Economist Intelligence Unit and Freedom House), with a major improvement in Tunisia, modest improvements in Libya and Egypt, setbacks in Syria and Bahrain, and little change elsewhere. Constitutional changes that are to be introduced in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt may result in further improvements. The establishment of democratic constitutions will depend upon the negotiation of compromises between the wishes of Islamists and secularists such as will gain the approval of voters in their respective countries. A central issue is likely to be the rôle of sharia in the countries' legal systems. Possibilities range from its use only for the purpose of voluntary mediation, to its adoption as an obligatory code of behaviour such as that imposed by the Taliban .
Reconstruction is considered to be a matter of some urgency because of the danger of further uprisings if conditions do not improve. According to a May 2011 report by the staff of the International Monetary Fund, a substantial increase in economic growth rates will be needed, to achieve which the oil-importing countries will need external finance of at least $160 billion. The report recommended international support in the form of market access, credit guarantees, debt relief, and concessional lending. Provision for such support by means of the Deauville Partnership has since been agreed by the Group of Eight major industrialised countries; and an Arab Financing Facility for Infrastructure (AFFI) has been created to supply the necessary external finance.
The IMF expects the Middle East and North Africa region to grow by 4.2 per cent in 2012 and 3.7 per cent in 2013.
The international response
The killing of civilians by Arab Spring governments drew strong protests by the United Nations and adverse reports by its agencies. The Security Council's authorisation of military intervention had a decisive influence on the civil war in Libya, but the United Nations had little influence on events elsewhere in the Arab world. Military intervention in Libya was undertaken by NATO with decisive participation by the United States, France and Britain. In what was termed a "new chapter in American diplomacy the United States undertook to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy. There was a similar undertaking by the European Union, although there were internal policy differences concerning military intervention in Libya. Opposition to military intervention was expressed by Russia and by China but both countries have given formal recognition to Libya's National Transitional Council. An undertaking to provide financial and technical support to Arab Spring transition programmes has been given by the governments of the Group of Eight major industrialised countries in the form of the Deauville Partnership.
- The Democracy Index 2010, Economist Intelligence Unit
- Corruption Perception :Index
- Economic Transformation in MENA: Delivering on the Promise of Shared Prosperity, - a report prepared for the G8 Summit of 26 May 2011 by Staff of the International Monetary Fund
- Ali Abdel Gadir Ali: Poverty in the Arab Region: A Selective Review, (Background paper prepared for the IFPRI / API Collaborative Research Project on: Public Policy and Poverty Reduction in the Arab Region.) page 26
- Majid Al-Moneef: The Contribution of the Oil Sector to Arab Economic Development, IMF 2006
- Toni Johnson and Lauren Vriens: Islam: Governing Under Sharia, Council of Foreign Relations, October 24, 2011
- Sharia, BBC Religions, 3 September 2009
- Joint Declaration of the International Financial Institutions, G8 Information Centre, September 10, 2011
- World Economic Outlook, IMF 2012