The Hopeful Arab Spring Turns Into A Roiling Arab Summer

Jul 3, 2013
Originally published on July 4, 2013 3:42 pm

Two years ago, the Arab Spring was a fountain of hope. Autocratic leaders whose rule was measured in decades were suddenly ousted, raising the possibility of political, economic and social change in a region that was lagging.

But with a coup in Egypt on Wednesday and Syria's civil war raging, the widespread optimism in the spring of 2011 has turned into fears of chaos during the summer of 2013.

None of the Arab Spring countries has yet established stable, democratic institutions, and several are sliding toward greater instability. Here's a quick look at where those countries stand today:

Egypt: Egypt's military staged a coup as the chief of the army, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, announced Wednesday night that President Mohammed Morsi was being ousted and the constitution suspended.

The general said the chief justice of the constitutional court will serve temporarily as the country's leader until new elections are held.

Morsi became Egypt's first democratically elected president just a year ago. But his popularity has plummeted with his failure to revive a sinking economy, restore law and order, or mend the vast divide between his Islamist supporters and the secular opposition.

His ouster raises the prospect of a bitter power struggle between his Islamist supporters and secular groups. This will play out in a poor country suffering from high food prices, gasoline shortages and electricity blackouts.

"The anger of the millions of protesters is understandable. But emotions are not a strategy for government. If Morsi is toppled, who replaces him?" Ed Husain, of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in The New York Times. "There is no credible alternative political leader."

Syria: President Bashar Assad's army has been on the offensive the past few months, and the Obama administration announced in June that it would begin sending weapons to the rebels.

The administration has not provided details on the type or quantity of weapons, and this has raised questions about whether the assistance will make a significant difference in a war that appears likely to grind on.

Meanwhile, the death toll is approaching 100,000, and millions of Syrians have been displaced, straining the resources in neighboring states. The U.S. is trying to arrange peace talks, but they keep getting pushback.

Libya: The country's interim government, the military and other institutions are being built from scratch after Moammar Gadhafi was ousted after more than 40 years of rule.

Militia groups that fought against Gadhafi are the one sector that remains strong.

"The militias so heavily armed in the effort to defeat [Gadhafi] have not disbanded," writes Bob Rae of the National Democratic Institute in Libya. "They have moved into organized crime and extortion, 'protection services' and fighting for turf like so many gangland desperadoes."

Libya's oil industry has returned to pre-war production levels of about 1.6 million barrels a day. But protests and strikes keep threatening to disrupt supplies of oil that account for 95 percent of the state's revenues.

Yemen: The poorest country in the Arab world, Yemen is still struggling to find stability under President Abdrabu Mansour Hadi, who replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled the country for 33 years.

Hadi is trying to build a consensus among the many fractious groups, but has been unable to do so.

"Yemen can no longer withstand more crises, and there are many challenges," Hadi said last month as he convened talks among various political factions.

Meanwhile, restive tribesmen have repeatedly attacked oil pipelines, the source of most government revenue.

Tunisia: In the country that has fared the best in the Arab Spring, the political transition has been halting and the economy is still struggling. But in moving cautiously, the country has managed to avoid any major upheavals.

The parliament began debating a proposed constitution on Monday. In a country where a moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, won elections in 2011, differences between Islamists and secular liberals have been a recurring source of friction, including street clashes. But the political process has generally been moving forward.

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