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Effect of the 2011 Arab Spring on Democracy & Terrorism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Relations
Wordcount: 5279 words Published: 25th Mar 2019

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In the year 2011, the world was shocked by events that sparked a series of major uprisings throughout the Middle East, a region known for its instability, fiercely dictatorial governments, exotic imagery, violence, and oil.  The 2011 Arab spring was a start from a series of protests in countries of repressive and autocratic form of governments, which have been affected with great unemployment, rising living costs, low education and low human rights. The 2011 Arab Springs had extensive implications in the Middle East where countries went into a process of change. From peaceful protests, into violence and armed insurgency and full scale civil war and eventually the breakdown of civil society giving the rise of terrorist elements of the armed insurgency, who actively opposed the governments and who were prepared to use violence i.e. terrorist means. The countries which will discussed, in the context of the 2011 Arab spring, will include the following: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Some of the key features will include evidence of the process of democracy. Institutions established to bring about change. Evidence of change from protest and concessions made to the people. However there are also other arguments to consider relating to the 2011 Arab springs which include the foreign intervention during the 2011 Arab spring, the rise and support of terrorist activities in the 2011 Arab spring.

The 2011 Arab Spring began in Tunisia, also known as the Jasmine Revolution there was major civil unrest across the country with street by street battles and mass demonstrations taking place in Tunisia, ‘On January 14 a state of emergency was declared, and Tunisian state media reported that the government had been dissolved and that legislative elections would be held in the next six months. That announcement also failed to quell unrest, and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down as president’, leaving the country in January 2011. Turkey thereafter had free and democratic elections. They saw the victory of a coalition of the Islamist Ennahda Party with this was one example of a country where free and democratic elections meant a government elected from its people. Also all political prisoners were released and the ban on political parties lifted. 

In Tunisia even though its revolution was considered a success it is notable that the country has the most fighters of Isil and other various ‘rebel groups in Syria and Iraq taking part in terrorism to uproot the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’ (THE SOUFAN GROUP, 2017).

In Syria protests calling for the resignation of President. Bashar al-Assad broke out in southern Syria in mid-March 2011 and spread through the country. The Assad regime responded with a brutal crackdown against protesters, drawing condemnation from international leaders and human rights groups. A leadership council for the Syrian opposition formed in Istanbul in August called the Free Syrian Army. However in Syria  the little hope for democracy and concessions made my President Basher Al-Assad has turned into a full scale Civil war leading to the deaths of more than half a million people in Syria with numerous proxy wars and more recently have led to the rise of the Salifi movement ISIS. At the beginning of 2012 two prominent Salafi armed groups emerged: ‘Jabhat al-Nusra and Kata’ib Ahrar al-Sham (the Freemen of Syria Battalions) both of which embraced the language of jihad and called for an Islamic state based on Salafi principles’ (International Crisis Group, 2012).


In Libya from 1 September 1969 the ‘Libyan Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) headed by Gaddafi abolished the monarchy and the old constitution and proclaimed the new Libyan Arab Republic, with the motto: freedom, socialism, and unity’ (Michigan State University, 1994 – 2016). The Leader Muammar Gaddafi would rule Libya for 42 years. Under Gaddafi, law number seventy-one of 1972 banned all political parties and opposition groups. Dissent was punishable by death, and in fact political opponents were assassinated both domestically and abroad.

Libya had the highest Human Development Index, the lowest infant mortality and the highest life expectancy in all of Africa. Even though, Libya was considered as a “brutal dictatorship” by the west, it is clear that Libya was a prosperous nation with free education and health care and laws that protect discrimination and violence against woman as defined in the sources by the (Us Department of State, 2017). Before the 2011 Arab spring al Qaeda and militant terrorism did not exist in the country. Libya was a peaceful nation which did not threat to use Weapons of Mass destruction nor other means to destabilise Europe by terrorist means.

The events in Libya turned from protests into a full scale civil war between the National Transition council and loyal forces of the Libyan armed forces.

The Foreign intervention in the 2011 Arab Spring

Foreign intervention in the 2011 Arab spring was a pivotal moment during the Libyan Civil war. The United Nation Security Council on the 11th March 2011 passed on a resolution to implement a no fly zone. The resolution implemented by NATO was to prevent the harming of civilians in Libya and to implement and democratic resolution in Libya (United Nations Security council, 2011). However during the Libyan Civil war there wasn’t any consideration of whom NATO was going to help militarily.  The parliamentary Foreign affairs committee stated in the recent report that ‘the possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from. The rebellion should not have been the preserve of hindsight. Libyan connections with transnational militant extremist groups were known before 2011, because many Libyans had participated in the Iraq insurgency and in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda’. (The Foreign Affairs Committee, 2016).

Movement towards Democracy

In Many opposition participants called for a return to the constitution and a transition to multi-party democracy most notably in Tunisia and Libya however with the use of violent means which the effect could count as the use of terrorism to the government in charge. As violence increased security forced ordered to shoot with impunity defected. The Arab uprisings were less a cry for democracy than a demand for better governance and improved economic performance. Few citizens across the region directly attributed to democracy itself the changes, good or bad, that the uprisings brought. By this measure at least, the uprisings and the events that followed did little to dampen the overall demand for democracy in the region as a whole. Citizens have continued to believe, as they did before the protests, that democracy is the best form of government and that the regimes in their countries have a long way to go to become fully democratic. Tunisia, the place where the Arab uprisings began and the site of the greatest progress toward democracy since then, represents an exception to this broader trend in public opinion. Since the Jasmine Revolution of 2011, Tunisians have grown increasingly concerned about the effects of democracy and have become less likely to say that this system is suitable for their country. Despite these trends, however, the vast majority of Tunisians continue to say that democracy, whatever its problems, is the best system of government for their country. As the Tunisian case suggests, Arab publics are responding mainly to developments at home rather than to wider regional factors. Thus Egyptians, unlike Tunisians, have been disinclined to hold democracy responsible for their country’s rocky political course, and instead have blamed the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam. This decision about where to place blame in turn reflects factors specific to the political situation as it has unfolded in Egypt since dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign in February 2011.

In Tunisia, there is clear promise in the areas of freedom of association and freedom of expression, and media freedom in particular. A fairly open field for the exercise of these rights has emerged, in stark contrast to the deeply repressive environment for news media and civic groups under the Ben Ali regime. Civil society and trade unions since January 14, 2011, have operated with a degree of openness and independence that was unimaginable before that date. In addition, spirited political jockeying took place ahead of October’s constituent assembly elections and the elections themselves proved to be open, competitive, and pluralistic. But these gains do not mean that Tunisia has already cemented institutional reforms in the media, civil society, or electoral politics. Instead, they represent a promising early advance toward a culture of transparency and pluralism that must be safeguarded with concrete legal and regulatory changes. If citizens, political leaders, and other influential figures make the right choices, they can fortify Tunisia’s nascent democracy against the challenges it will inevitably face.

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In Egypt, the months since Mubarak’s ouster have revealed a much darker outlook for reform. As of the end of October, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had resorted to familiar methods of repression, including severe curbs on the activities of civil society and independent media, and foment of sectarian tensions for political gain. The SCAF’s extension and expansion in September 2011 of the country’s oppressive emergency law, a hallmark of the Mubarak era, sent a chilling signal to those working toward democratic governance. The scope of the law—nominally restricted in 2010 to narcotics and terrorism offenses—was widened to include labor strikes, traffic disruptions, and the spread of false information.

Egypt could achieve almost immediate progress by opening and defending the space for civil society and the news media, while ensuring fair, open, and transparent elections in November 2011. But if these first-tier reforms in the areas of free expression and association are not enacted and are prevented from growing roots, then the more difficult overhauls of the judiciary, security services, and other state institutions are far less likely to follow or succeed.

Tunisians favoured giving religious leaders a say over government decisions in 2011, this percentage held steady during the transition. In 2013, the share of Tunisians agreeing with this statement was 24 percent, suggesting that support for political Islam may even have gone up a bit. Meanwhile, trust in Ennahda, the main Islamist party, also stayed fairly stable, dipping only five points to 35 percent. Taken together, these results imply that the attitudes of Tunisians toward the relationship between religion and politics and the country’s main Islam-based movement changed little following the transition. Differences between the Tunisian and Egyptian transitions likely explain the contrasting effects on public opinion. In Tunisia, Ennahda won only a plurality of National Constituent Assembly seats and formed a weak “troika” government with two secular parties. Although feeble and unsteady, this arrangement fostered an environment of democratic compromise and relative inclusiveness. Rather than blame Ennahda or its ideology for transition-era travails, Tunisians updated their beliefs about the costs and benefits of a democratic system. In Egypt, Islamists won a commanding majority in parliamentary elections and narrowly won the presidency. In November 2012, President Mohamed Morsi decreed that he would be above the law pending the ratification of a new constitution. Soon thereafter, the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly finalized a draft constitution with no support from secular or minority voices. The Arab uprisings not only sparked major transformations in some countries, such as Egypt and Tunisia, but also spurred limited reforms in others, among them Algeria, Jordan, and Morocco. Despite all these changes, however, publics across the region in 2013 tended to rate their regimes as no more or less democratic than had been the case in 2011. Tunisians, for example, had experienced free and fair elections but were still no more likely to say that their regime was democratic (BBC, 2017). EU announced its support for the democratic progress in Tunisia and Egypt, which was followed by further unrest in several other Arab states, potentially leading to radical changes of Middle East polity. An affirmative wording became part of official EU documents, as it for instance could be seen when in 2011 the EU launched its renewed European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), stating that the “EU needs to rise to the historical challenges in our neighborhood.” This new version of the ENP was characterized by two significant elements. First of all, the new policy allowed for an increased differentiation regarding the links between each ENP-partner and the EU as to cater to the needs and aspirations of the specific Mediterranean state. The principle of ‘more for more’ was the second central pillar of the reformulated ENP, together with the opposite, a principle of ‘less for less’. The latter signaled that the EU intended to downgrade its relations with regimes, which violated human rights, including making use of targeted sanctions.

The Algerian government removed its incongruous 19-year state of emergency. Oman’s elected legislature got the authority to pass laws. Sudan’s war criminal president promised not to seek reselection. All the oil-rich states committed to wealth redistribution or the extension of welfare services. But real-world politics is not just what happens offline. A classically trained social scientist trying to explain the Arab Spring would point to statistics on the youth bulge, declining economic productivity, rising wealth concentration, high unemployment, and low quality of life. These explanatory factors are often part of the story of social change. It does not diminish their important causal contribution to the Arab Spring to also say that digital media shaped events and outcomes: digital media were singularly powerful in getting out protest messages, in driving the coverage by mainstream broadcasters, in connecting frustrated citizens, and in helping them realize that they shared grievances and could act together to do something about their situation.

Evidence of NATO Support of Terrorism during the 2011 Arab Spring

There is significant evidence to suggest that the Arab Spring in Libya, Syria and Tunisia were one of the main reasons to the rise of terrorist activities thorough the Middle East with criminal gang’s acquiring large scale military grade equipment from NATO and who were benefiting from the large scale breakdown of law and order and also the collapse of the criminal justice system. Some of the criminal and terrorist activities included: “people trafficking, arbitrary detention, torture, unlawful killing, indiscriminately attack, abduction, bombings and rape” (The Foreign Affairs Committee, 2016).

‘The U.S. supported opposition which overthrew Libya’s Gadaffi was largely comprised of Al Qaeda terrorists’. (Brad Hoff, 2017).

According to a 2007 report by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Centre, ‘the Libyan city of Benghazi was one of Al Qaeda’s main headquarters and bases for sending Al Qaeda and fighters of the Salafi-Jihadist movement’ into Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen during and before the start of the 2011 Arab Spring who wanted to destabilise and overthrow the governments in those countries (The Combating Terrorism centre, 2017).

The Hindustan Times reported in March 2011: ‘There is no question that Al Qaeda’s Libyan franchise, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is a part of the opposition,’ Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer and a leading expert on terrorism, told Hindustan Times (Yashwant Raj, 2017). It has always been Gaddafi’s greatest enemy and its main stronghold is Benghazi. It is also reported that Al Qaeda flags were flown in the Benghazi courthouse once Gaddafi was toppled.

Incidentally, Gaddafi was on the verge of invading Benghazi in 2011, 4 years after the West Point report cited Benghazi as a hotbed of Al Qaeda and Salafi terrorists. Gaddafi claimed – rightly it turns out – that Benghazi was an Al Qaeda stronghold and a main source of the Libyan rebellion.  But NATO planes stopped him, and protected Benghazi. ‘The White House and senior Congressional members,’ the group wrote in an interim report released Tuesday, ‘deliberately and knowingly pursued a policy that provided material support to terrorist organizations in order to topple a ruler Muammar Gaddafi who had been working closely with the West actively to suppress al-Qaeda (BBC, 2017). “Some look at it as treason,” said Wayne Simmons, a former CIA officer who participated in the commission’s research.

The Aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring

As of 2017, it seems that only in its birthplace, Tunisia, has the Arab Spring been successful in the establishment of something which vaguely resembles a Western style democratic system. Egypt saw its first-ever democratically-elected president, the pro-Islamist Mohammed Morsi, overthrown in a military coup in 2013 led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Libya has descended into a civil war of its own, with four factions vying for supremacy: the democratically elected Council of Deputies, Libya Dawn (an Islamist organisation backed by Qatar, Sudan and Turkey), the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (again an Islamist organisation) and Islamic State. Syria meanwhile presents a most complicated picture: Assad and the Free Syrian Army are still fighting against one another; both are fighting against Islamic State; an American-Arab League air force is bombing ISIS bases in eastern Syria; and the Kurds are busy establishing an independent state in the north. The Syrian civil war has become something of a proxy war, with behind the scenes Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran all manoeuvring for advantage.

The rise of Isis was in direct response to the funding and arming of rebel groups such as the Free Syrian (BBC, 2017). American troops from Iraq in December 2011. In April 2013 Islamic State was created by a fusion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra (although not all members of Jabhat al-Nusra support this. The Arab Spring protests were partly caused by the rise on food prices across the region: one of the first actions by Islamic State in any new territory it takes control of is to lower the price of bread. As is often the case, people will submit to any kind of regime if their personal safety is assured.

free speech and civil society and arrested those calling for political change. According to some analysts, Al Qaeda has some regional interests, which include the ousting of the Shiite-aligned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while supporting Islamists in the Middle East to attain power; or some of the goals already achieved through recent Arab Spring uprisings, which have politically destabilized the region already (Williams 2013). We are conscious of the current turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, while various components of Al-Qaeda hope to be able to consolidate amid the lawlessness and power vacuums that have emerged in some regions following successful revolutions and in areas experiencing on-going conflict. Equally aware, however, of Al-Qaeda’s increasing marginalization, the group’s media publications continue to strive to present jihadism as the most appropriate way to protect collective interests, eliminate adversaries, eradicate vice and establish a zealously pious social order. (Holbrook 2012). However, the biggest problem has been how the Arab Spring took a lot of pressure off Islamic radical groups and allowed these fanatics to more easily recruit, raise money, and organize more violence. The revived Islamic terror groups promptly began attacking their former allies (the secular and democratic reformers) as well as Westerners. The leaders of the Arab Spring movements were initially sympathetic to Islamic radical groups, seeing them as fellow victims of the old dictatorship. Now most of the Arab Spring leaders see the Islamic radicals as more interested in imposing another dictatorship.

 In 2011, the authorities carried out a major campaign of repression in the wake of the Arab uprisings by censoring public discussion of the movement for Arab democratization, prosecuting or arbitrarily detaining scores of social-media commentators and human rights lawyers, and strengthening the online censorship of domestic social-networking services. However to the contrary violence continued unabated in 2011, with high-profile political assassinations and high civilian casualty rates in Libya, Syria and Egypt.

As 2011 drew to a close, officials in Egypt made headlines by conducting a series of raids on NGOs that monitor human rights and promote democracy. Most of the targeted organizations were Egyptian; a few were international groups (Freedom House was one of the latter). The authorities were insistent that the raids, which included the seizure of files and computers, were legal and technical in nature. Government officials emphasized and reemphasized that they believed human rights organizations had a role to play in a democratic Egypt. Their actions indicated otherwise. In fact, the behaviour of the Egyptian authorities, now and under Mubarak, reflects a deep-seated hostility to NGOs that support democracy and human rights

There were many heroes, many casualties, and many martyrs to freedom’s cause in 2011. There were also many extraordinary achievements. Authoritarians who aspired to rule in perpetuity were toppled in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and autocratic heads of state in Yemen and Syria however who would know what would replace the authoritarian structures of law and order, society and education

Foreign countries especially the West including Britain, USA and France were the first countries to take advantage of the deteriorating situation in the Middle East whilst not condemning the violence, used this as a pretext to intervene in Sovereign nations for the benefit of them self and not for the ordinary civilians  (Greenwald, 2017). 

The USA had early discomfort with democracy as a foreign policy during the 2011 Arab Spring. ‘Despite the unfortunate characterization that it was leading from behind, America’s firmness in assisting NATO’s Libyan campaign was an important step. After initial hesitation, the administration has also cautiously supported the process of building democratic systems in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya’. It is a strong contradiction where the NATO bombings were a pretext of getting rid of Muammar Gaddafi and there was no plan on how the establish democracy after arming terrorist groups according to the (Atlantic, 2017).

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In conclusion it is clear that the 2011 Arab Spring was a factor that caused the rise of terrorist activities throughout the Middle East and the wider region. Evidence of large scale protests harboured terrorist organisation such as Al-Qeada who wanted to see revolutions take place throughout the Middle East and the cause of the rise of ISIS who have pledged to reign terror around the world. However other factors are responsible such as the British and US arming rebel groups in Syria and Libya. NATO bombing campaigns in Libya. Democracies were successful in Tunisia and Egypt, also in Libya but it is very difficult to comprehend whether living conditions and freedoms have improved since the 2011 Arab Spring.

The 2011 Arab the rise of Democracy or Terrorism?

(The Combating Terrorism centre, 2017)


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Key words and definition:

Democracy: a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

Terrorism: the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

ISIS: Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham


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