Regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt, the demolition of Gadhafi's rule in Libya, and lingering conflicts in Yemen and Syria were the first results of the tide of mass protests that rose in the Arab world in 2011. While in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen the outpourings of popular discontent were prompted by evident socioeconomic ills, corruption, and lack of democracy, the developments in Syria and especially in Libya were mainly attributable to external influences…
Dissenting young people, in many cases unemployed holders of advanced degrees, who were angered by the decline of living standards, unchecked powers exercised by the administrations, and negative outlooks for their own future, were the muscle behind the Arab Spring. As protests widened, political parties and supporters of politicized Islam joined in, the latter eventually becoming the opposition's biggest strike force. Notably, the popular movements were led by cyber-activists and prolific bloggers who managed to draw thousands of opposition supporters into protest rallies with the help of social media. In Tunisia, the role was taken by Slim Amamou (born in 1977), who was in charge of Internet systems in Alixys, commanded an audience of some 20,000 web users, and later held, albeit briefly, the post of the country's minister for youth and sports. In Egypt, it was Google employee Wael Ghonim (born in 1981), the moderator of Facebook page titled "We are all Khaled Said". The page was created as a tribute to Khaled Said, a blogger with a Twitter following of over 100,000 who was beaten to death while in police custody. Mohamed Nabbous (1983-2011), an information technologist and an opposition activist who founded the Al Hurra TV and was killed in Benghazi in a clash with Gadhafi's loyalists, was a similar figure in Libya.
In Tunisia, the main challenges to Ben Ali's rule came from the semi-legal Congress for the Republic led by Moncef Marzouki, a human rights veteran who used to be deported from the country, and from the Democratic Progressive Party headed by Maya Jribi and Najib Chebbi. All of them were, nevertheless, outperformed by Rashid Al-Ghannushi's moderately Islamist Ennahda in the first free parliamentary elections held in Tunisia on October 23, 2011, after the fall of the regime of Ben Ali. Born in 1942, Al-Ghannushi is an ideologist of politicized Islam acclaimed as such both in and outside of Tunisia. Under Ben Ali, Ennahda faced coup attempt charges, due to which the party was banned and Al-Ghannushi was forced into over two decades of emigration (Al-Ghannushi lived in Great Britain most of the time). He returned to Tunisia on January 30, 2011 after the displacement of Ben Ali. Al-Ghannushi says that he has no intention to become Tunisia's Khomeini and that his party, which now has 90 seats in the parliament out of 217, is fully committed to the standards of democracy. Supporters of secular parties which lost the race to the parliament to Ennahda do express concerns over its potential agenda and occasionally charge it with ballot rigging. Moncef Marzouki, the leader of the left-democratic Congress for the Republic which gained only 30 seats in the parliament, on the other hand, expressed confidence in the democratic orientation of Ennahda and did not rule out entering a coalition with it.
In contrast to Tunisia, in Egypt the ouster of Mubarak was followed by the transfer of power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who disbanded the parliament by decree. In early March, Cairo saw another round of demonstrations, now with demands to abolish the political police and to discharge from the police forces the officers guilty of repressions against the opponents of Mubarak. Prime minister Ahmed Shafik, a retired general and former chief of Egypt's air forces, lost his post under the pressure. Former transportation minister and an active participant of the anti-Mubarak protests Essam Sharaf was appointed as Egypt's new premier. A March 19, 2011 national referendum approved constitution amendments abolishing the military court trials of civilians. Electoral legislation was also passed by which 28 November was set as the parliamentary elections date, the presidential elections became due after April, 2012, and all power must be transferred to a civilian administration thereafter. In the meantime, the situation in Egypt remained tense as the political forces discontent at the constitution amendments and the electoral legislation rallied in Cairo. Clashes with fatalities took place between Christian Copts on one side and Muslims and the police on the other in the fall of 2011 (Christians account for some 20% of the Egyptian population which numbers 84 million). In some instances, the clashes were linked to the Copts' demand to allow the construction of churches or by their unauthorized construction in several parts of Egypt. Premier Sharaf and the Copts' Patriarch condemned those who incited the hostilities and blamed the clashes on loyalists of the ousted Mubarak. New players – the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, "We are all Khaled Said", the April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, the National Association for Change – appear to be entering Egypt's political stage and staking the bids for representation in the parliament. The forces of politicized Islam, primarily the Muslim Brotherhood, along with its youth organization and The Freedom and Justice Party – are also hyperactive in Egypt. As a parallel process, the Salafist movement which came into being as a political entirety after the collapse of Mubarak's regime built its own network of parties comprising Al Nour (“Light”), Asala (“Fundamentals”), and Fadila (“Virtue”). It is probably a fair assessment that the Muslim Brotherhood is the best-organized and top-influential group in the post-Mubarak Egypt. Judging by the statements released by the Muslim Brotherhood, it has gone a long way towards integrating democratic values in its worldview, and at the moment the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood seems almost identical to the programs of the majority of democratic parties. The Muslim Brotherhood's new generation leaders are typically intellectuals with backgrounds in science or humanities. Notably, the group even chose to replace its previous logo featuring crossed swords with a one showing hands in a handshake and a green stem. The Egyptian society largely stays cautious about the Muslim Brotherhood, with a part of the country's population, especially the Christians, being concerned that the former fundamentalists' expression of allegiance to democracy are an electoral tactic disguising their essentially unchanged views. Still, it is also clear that the Muslim Brotherhood's reformed self-portrayal is perceived as credible by quite a few in Egypt.
To be continued