The Arab Spring: A Walk in the Park (All Things Considered)?

As the 2011-2012 Syrian Uprising begins to get into full swing, we at Mediolana were perusing Al Jazeera English’s excellent Syria Live Blog earlier today to try and get handle of the latest developments on the streets of Damascus and Aleppo when something stopped our scrolling in its tracks: the grim news that the government of neighbouring Iraq has ‘urged all Iraqis living in Syria to escape being wounded or killed‘.

On one level, this may represent something of a nadir for the entire Arab Spring process: a minority which is significantly constituted of the human fallout from Operation Iraqi Freedom being advised to hot foot it back to their violence-defined homeland; amongst other things, it implies that the state of affairs in Syria is truly dire. But it also set us thinking: while the present wave of change in the Middle East and North Africa has claimed far too many victims – a sobering c.50,000 souls are estimated to have perished across the region since the beginning of the tumult – is this really surprising given the context of the transformation?

1. High Stakes. The immense efforts being invested by both the status quo and the various oppositional forces give a clue as to what is at stake: the destiny of arguably the most strategically significant region in the world. To take Syria as an example, for both world and regional powers alike there are huge real and symbolic consequences concomitant with the fate of the troubled al-Assad regime. There is more than a hint of self-reflection in the desire of Russia, China and Iran for maximal stability in Syria, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s wish to effect change also correlates with the variegated goals of these increasingly ambitious states.

2. Selective Memory. Eastern Europe’s democratisation process of the late 1980s and 1990s – a trajectory taken for granted today – was not without its bloodier moments. The wars in the former Yugoslavia – a one-party socialist state which has been supplanted by no less than seven much smaller republics – claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, with Bosnia and Herzegovina being scarred by concentration camps, mass rape and virulent ethnic cleansing from which that country has still not recovered. The Arab Spring begins to look benign by comparison.

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