Writing to you from the Middle East, oh what a difference a year can make.
The last time I was here was at the start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia. While I would have never predicted the domino effect in the region, you could have sensed the clear frustration of the Arab people at the time – fed up with the lack of economic opportunity, rampant corruption, and growing inequality between the affluent haves and the increasingly educated have-nots.
One year later these same sentiments are alive and well, but now people are openly defiant. Everyone talks about the need for those who hold power to become accountable to the people. There is a sense that power is no longer allotted through ceremony and needs to be earned through accountable channels. For the first time in the Middle East, power-yielders fear the masses and are doing their utmost to quell them. Labour strikes are on the rise, as employees ask why their bosses earn large paychecks on their backs. The Arab 99% are asking the 1% for redistribution and accountability. This was simply unheard of in a region that some viewed as passive takers of strong man politics.
But after Libya and now Syria, there is fear that the Arab Spring may get uglier and more violent. The Assad regime realizes it faces a zero sum game and will fight to the death to maintain its power. The surrounding countries are seeing a massive influx of refugees. Their tales of repression, torture, and violence has made everyone acutely aware that the honeymoon phase of the Arab Spring is over.
Transition now will be incremental and negotiated in remaining countries. This should not be a license for Arab governments to return to business as usual, for the Arab masses are ready to take back to the streets. So we are at an impasse. The Arab governments and the masses remain wearily cautious of the other. The fear of both violence and overthrow will hopefully keep both sides committed to taking the Arab Spring as an opportunity for real change.