AT A CROSSROAD
In 2011, the voices of determined protesters forced Zein AL Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s dictator for 25 years, out from office. What followed was a warning that change was coming to a region in turmoil. Progress in the Middle-East has always been hindered by many complex socio-economic factors ranging from sectarian divisions and class rivalries, rising unemployment amid an explosive youths population, corruption and terrorism, to water shortage and draught caused by environmental challenges. But out of the Arab Spring experiment Tunisia came out as the only success story. In 2015, Freedom House, an American monitor of civil liberties, judged the Arab state as fully "free" and was hence moved up a record 32 places among countries vetted by the Vienna-based Democracy Ranking Association. Unfortunately, the positive outcome did not ripple across the remainder of the Middle-East. In the same year, there were peaceful demonstrations in six other Arab countries, demanding the stepping down of their unwanted leaders, but were quickly silenced. Some states have tightened their autocratic grip to prevent a repeat of the 2011 chaos, while others descended into an abyss. Hence, the result of the ongoing regional conflicts led to cities disintegrating to ruins. In return, this led to a rise in unprecedented poverty and destitution, and growing divisions between rival cantons.
Slowly, the hope raised by the Arab uprising of a political spectrum that is more inclusive, progressive, and encompassing of youths issues - for more jobs and better opportunities - has been crushed. Even the oil-rich Gulf states are feeling the pinch. The fall in oil prices have hit the remittance flows with which they subsidised their poorer neighbours, and made regional investments in agriculture and real-estate. It's a trend, however, to blame "foreign" hands for interference in regional politics and, therefore, the failure of the Middle-East to progress like the rest of the world. If it is not Iran, it is Russia, America or the United Kingdom. And partly to blame for the spread of this murky reality is local media, which is heavily regulated by local authorities. But such hindsight prevents from seeing the cracks in one of the world's most politically paranoid regions. This is not to clear the West of any menace in the toxic political environment, but to steer the dialogue back to its fundamental core; the weakness of Arab institutions aided by the lack of long-term vision and solid direction. It appears that more important than creating a generation that is less vague, less disconnected from its reality, is the show of muscles where regional powers contend through foreign proxies to rule with an iron fist. In the end, a society with a weak veneer is what leads to the destruction of its civilisation from within a decaying nucleus.