Contribution to “Has the Arab Spring Lived Up to Expectations?” published by the Woodrow Wilson Center.
For those who expected a fast and smooth transition to liberal democratic norms, the Arab Spring has certainly failed to deliver. But for those who simply wanted to push their countries into taking one important and necessary step in the right direction by breaking the prevailing political stalemate in their societies, then, the Arab Spring has definitely lived up to expectations.
The fear barrier is now broken; the anciens regimes are gone; and pent-up political forces, with their good, their bad, and their downright ugly, have been released. The Islamists might have the upper hand at this stage on account of their stronger organizational capabilities, but the more secular elements are not giving up and have, in fact, made it clear that they, too, have strong grassroots connections and support—and not only among minority communities but within the larger Arab Sunni community as well.
No longer can any of the sides dismiss the other as irrelevant. The choices confronting all are now stark and clear: accommodation, civil war, or civil war eventually ending in accommodation. A return to the autocratic past with one side dominating the other and imposing its ways is not feasible. Each side of the divide has enough regional and international backers to ensure the near impossibility of such an outcome. The sooner the representatives of the different political forces realize this, the better for all. For only when accommodation is reached can democracy finally begin to take root in our region.