The Arab Spring's Second Bloom

Protests, economic fluctuations and political unpredictability continue. This is the Arab world's new normal.

When did the Arab Spring end? Some analysts place it in March 2011—the start of the “Arab Winter” or the week when “the empire struck back,” in the words of Marc Lynch. And it’s true that there came a point, when Saudi troops marched across the causeway into Bahrain and Muammar Qaddafi swore to hunt the dissidents in his country alley by alley, that it became impossible to maintain the heady optimism of the early weeks of the revolutions in the Middle East. The cynicism deepened as the NATO intervention in Libya dragged out through the summer into the fall and civil war erupted in Syria. The Arab Spring wasn’t the same after that week in March, but did it end—or just change?

In early 2011, Morocco looked poised to join the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Like Tunisia, there was a self-immolation and a series of demonstrations, signs of a protest movement more pronounced than in any other Arab monarchist country other than Bahrain. Then, King Mohammed VI tried a different tack than his more ill-fated peers: he introduced a series of constitutional reforms that would supposedly empower marginalized groups through an elected parliament. A referendum was held, protests abated and new elections ushered in an Islamist parliament. And, as far as the monarchy was concerned, that was supposed to be the end of Morocco’s revolution—an early precedent of the “Arab Winter.”

But a second spring is in season in the Arab world. Despite the constitutional reforms, a new protest movement has taken to the streets in Morocco, motivated increasingly by “quality-of-life questions,” according to Issandr El Amrani. This is not mutually exclusive with the motivations that spurred the political protests of early 2011, but the economic component of recent protests seems more and more evident. It is also happening in Algeria, where “high unemployment, inadequate housing, and a dearth of social services” have brought protesters (and state security forces) back into the streets. Jordan, which has mostly stayed aloof from the Arab Spring, has noted a marked increase in labor protests.

The new revolutionary states are not immune to the second spring. In Egypt, labor protests and strikes proliferated after Mubarak’s ouster, with workers blocking ports and railways and threatening to cut power lines from the Aswan Dam. The Egyptian parliament went so far as to enact an “anti-strike law”—which was met with further protests and strikes. These protests hardly exist in a political vacuum. Activists are once again calling for protests in response to the an Egyptian court decision announced last Thursday to dissolve Egypt’s democratically elected parliament. Just one day before the ruling, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces reasserted itself, reinstituting some of the legal controls associated with the dreaded emergency law, which was lifted this past May after three decades in force. How protesters respond to these new developments will build on fears that Hosni Mubarak will be acquitted on appeal and frustrations with what many consider a lesser-of-two-evils choice in the presidential election that filled Tahrir Square just earlier this month.

Egypt is hardly unique in this regard. The musical chairs being played with Yemen’s leadership is only half of a larger story there; there they call the trend of protests that has shut down everything from factories to the nation’s air force the “parallel revolution.” And in the economically depressed town of Sidi Bouzid, where the Arab Spring began, protests are still occurring as residents of Tunisia’s underdeveloped interior grow impatient for the reforms they overthrew the Ben Ali regime in hopes of achieving.