The Arab world has been radically transformed by the Arab Spring and it is now clear that many of the changes that have taken place will not advance U.S. interests and could in fact be detrimental to the United States. Ambassador John Bolton, Congressman Peter Hoekstra, and Clifford May and Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies offered LIGNET their views on what lessons can be learned from the Arab Spring, which began 15 months ago in the small north African country of Tunisia.
Last year, many experts believed shifting political winds in the region were being driven by disgruntled youth and would result in a set of new democracies. Today, the reality is showing through. Islamist governments have emerged in important nations like Egypt, changing the status quo in the region and placing new demands on U.S. diplomacy.
For decades, the Arab world was dominated by long-serving autocrats in both large and small nations. Their rule, such as in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya or Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, was characterized by prosperity for a small ruling elite and favored institutions such as Egypt’s military and general poverty and deprivation among the masses.
The situation on the ground changed in a most unlikely way. In January 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor, set himself on fire to protest harassment by the government. Millions of Tunisians took to the streets in protest, toppling the government and signaling the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon thereafter, Egypt’s populace took to the streets as well, ending Mubarak’s thirty-year reign while political tumult ensued in Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. Smaller protests took place in most other Arab states.