Nurettin Taşar: Exploring the Causes of Authoritarianism in the Middle East after the Arab Uprising

Posted: 2018-02-06
Written by: EU Network
Category: Battle of ideas
Tagged: tunisia politics nurettin taşar middle east idea geopolitics egypt arab uprising africa


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a region that has been characterized by crises for many years because of its geopolitical position. The Egypt and Tunisia are important actors in this region. They have been at the center of the discussions throughout the history of the Middle East. Both countries have faced many significant crises in their histories. One of them is Arab Spring.

Arab Spring is the name which has given to the revolutions in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. The reason for calling it as Arab Uprising is the revolutionary rebellions of the region’s peoples against dictatorial regimes. The main reasons behind the riots are oppression of authoritarian regimes alongside unemployment, the high cost of living, political corruption, the absence of freedom of expression and unpleasant living conditions.

The first riot started in Tunisia. Mohammed Bouazizi, who a Tunisian hawker, set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, in front of the governor. The intention was to protest against the municipal police who confiscated Bouazizi's fruit. Bouazizi was humiliated by municipal police in that case. Therefore, the fire that Bouazizi had started in his own body in a short span of time, grew and expanded a massive movement which would cover the country and afterward the entire Arab world. The riot initiated by the unemployed Muhammad Bouazizi continued to grow. As a result of this uprising, President Zeynel Abidin Ben Ali, who was the president of Tunisian, retired from politics on January 14th who has been ruled for 23 years in Tunisia. The first name of revolution in Tunisia was not Arab Spring. The name of "Jasmine Revolution" was given to the people who started the process of self-burning after the intervention of Muhammad Bouazizi. For this reason, The Tunisian revolution was called the "Jasmine Revolution."

The prominent success of the uprising in Tunisia has been a source of inspiration for similar movements in other countries in MENA region. In the weeks following the uprising in Tunisia, significant mass demonstrations were held which demanded political change in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya. The Tunisian Al-Nahda received 7 of the votes, and similarly, Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party received 7.5 in the election 2011. Both of them link with Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to that, they have several similarities. Therefore, I mainly examine the issues of reinforcement of authoritarian regime and the civil war with example of Tunisia and Egypt.

The study seeks to explain trajectories of after Arab Spring in term of factors which are the reason for some variant civil war and reinforcement of authoritarian regimes. In this study, I will examine the approach of some scholars regarding the reason of Arab Spring and the subsequent authoritarianism in these countries. This study basically answers two questions: what is the influence of Arab spring on MENA region countries, considering the historical background with the character of their economic and military and social condition to why extent after the uprising takes place authoritarianism in MEAN region and it focuses on the two Islamic parties in Tunisia and Egypt.



The reason of Arab Spring


In the Middle Eastern people do not benefit from people's social and cultural freedoms. Moreover, Middle Eastern states have not solved increase unemployment with rapid population growth, and food inflation, unemployment and poverty, poor living conditions. The reasons are that, Middle Eastern states have a repressive government. In addition to that, people want to desire of human beings to live humanly, to enjoy human rights and fundamental rights and freedoms. All of them are the reasons for the Arab Uprisings. However, the most important one is repression of the economy. The Arab States are the inability of the ruling administrations to solve the economic problems in the country after the revolution. For instance, unemployment and poverty have increased in Egypt. The reason for the increasing poverty and unemployment are the effecting of privatization program in the economic reform which has caused shrinking of public initiatives, financial resources. Hence, Egypt is increasingly dependent on international aid to finance a substantial part of its social spending because of the economic reform. Moreover, declining role of the state in providing social welfare services have contributed to the growing marginalization of the Egyptian population. Therefore, social tensions are on the increase there and people's economic problems have caused social upheaval.

The Arab Spring did not cause the same results in every country. For example, after the Arab Spring, Egypt became a major authority, while Tunisia was the opposite. The formation of this emergence was a major factor in the character of the parties which come to power. Although the Islamist party came to power after the Arab spring in both countries however, different results emerged. In this part of my work I will examine the characteristics of these two parties.


Tunisian Al-Nahda


The group, also known as the "Islamic Movement", was secretly established in 1972 by Rashid Ghannouchi and Abdülfettah Muru. In 1981 he declared his public presence as "Islamic Tendency Movement". The movement advocates a fairer distribution of economic resources, the establishment of multi-party democracies, and to seek non-violent ways to achieve these goals. It took the name 'Nahda' During the 22 years of authoritarian rule of Zeynel Abidin, the movement continued to be illegal. The party was also banned from participating in the 1989 elections. However, independent candidates won 13 percent of the vote at the election. Two years later, Tunisian President Ben Ali declared an open war against Nahda and afterward imprisoned Nahda's 25,000 supporters. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the movement was subjected to intense repression.

Al-Nahda is main discussion issues are the role of the Al-Nahda would play in the Tunisian democratic transition and moderation. Some scholars claim that Al-Nahda has not chance to win the election after the Arab Spring. The party apparently has a willingness to accept consensual solution, rather than Islamic ideological belief. In 2014 the progress of new constitution, Al-Nahda has given up its core of Islamic principles and accepted the liberal democracy rule. Al-Nahda accepted the notion of civil state and constitution. Moreover, it did not insist on women’s right with reference Sharia. According to the founder of Al-Nahda, who is Ghannunchi, the reference of Sharia in the constitution does not determine the degree of Islamism in the party. Islamist party should care of the justice and liberty because they are main issues in Islam by this time. Tunisian scholar Malek Bennabi claims that more democracy and pluralism are much more necessary that Sharia Law. This kind of thinker shaped the character of Al-Nahda. Thus, Al-Nahda demonstrates the religions reference effect positively for democracy with Islam and sufficient ideological flexibility to adapt to the changed political circumstances. Lastly, Tunisian experience is likely to be the only case of successful transition to democracy afterward of Arab Uprising.

It is not mean that Islamic political project is not as a failure because Islamic party change in ideological and interpretation of Sharia. We can call that it is just an ideological revision to able to integrate itself into institutional system. Therefore, Tunisia is a success story of the Arab Spring because of the country’s long history of secularism. In other words, Tunisian people had a history of dialogue before the revolution.



Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party


Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party is a part of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood is an organization built on the basis of political Islam in various parts of the world. For instance, the Brotherhood expands quickly throughout Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia Palestine, Lebanon, and North Africa. One of the main reasons of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to come into prominence, especially in the 1930s and afterward, Hasan el-Benna is the founder of Muslim Brother who plays a major role in the formation of the ideological background of the organization. However, after Hasan el-Benna, a number of violence-based actions have begun to be adopted by Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood have come to the forefront in many issues. One of them is Arab Uprising in Egypt. In the Arab Spring, Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party, which was established by Muslim Brotherhood, became the most powerful authority. However, it could not sustain his government for a long time. In Egypt, the Islamic party did not respect different views. For example, the constitution did not act democratically in the construction process. There are many similar reasons in this regard10

When we compare Tunisia and Egypt, we can see some similarities and differences. Tunisia is the country in which the women in the Arab world are the freest. Moreover, Freedom of religion and respect for different beliefs are highly developed compared to Egypt. And most importantly, the level of education is quite high compared to Egypt.


Tunisia has an army which is not infected with politics. Even when the dictator Ben Ali was demolished, the military did not act against the popular uprising and remained neutral. It has earned the respect of every part of the army community. However, the army is the most important political actor since the 1950s in Egypt. It is active in all aspects of life, from politics to economy and civil society.

Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party, which was first in Egypt's first democratic elected party, was not very open to reconciliation with the secular opposition in the parliament. It tried to make his constitution. The En-Nahda movement, first in Tunisia, gave priority to dialogue and reconciliation with all or part of the majority of the secular parties.

Tunisia's ability to reconcile the state with those who want to rule Islam on a regular basis and those who wish to exclude the state from religion has brought it to a different position. The Tunisian army is out of politics and the economy. The civil service is the most respected business in the country. Strong civil liberties and workers' organizations can also be effective in the media, within the country. Therefore, Al-Nahda to suppress the holders in the party and to keep the radicals out of the party. In this context, the Arab Spring can be considered as partially successful in Tunisia and as a failure in Egypt. What made the big difference from Egypt was that Tunisia has larger middle class, greater mass literacy and most importantly small unpoliticized army. The limited role of the military in public life and the exceptional role of the union movement in Tunisia made different than Egypt and other countries.  The Islamist Tunisian AL-Nahda party and Egyptian Freedom and Justice party won the first post-uprising election but, unlike the Egyptian Brotherhood, Al-Nahda shared power with two secular parties, and a secularist politician became president alongside an Islamic prime minister. Expectations of positive outcomes did not actualize. Lastly, in particular, the reason for the failure of the uprising means that democratic model transition failure.


In Egypt, Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party suffered a short-lived civil war when it lost its power with a coup d'état. Afterwards, coup movement created a dictatorial administration. In Tunisia, Tunisia's educational level, the military structure of the country, and its political culture did not lead to a civil war similar to Egypt, and other countries. However, after the revolution in two countries, he could not solve the economic problems, which is the biggest problem of the both of countries’ people.

The Tunisian people are rebelling today because of economic problems. Despite the same economic problem in Egypt, the people of Egypt cannot rebel against the government. Especially in Egypt, the most important reason behind the emergence of authoritarian governments after the Arab Spring is to prevent the people from protesting the government in the streets and square again. Egyptian people have economic problems similar to Tunisia. However, the people in Egypt cannot go out because of Sisi’s authoritarian rule. Lastly, we can say that the reason for the dictatorial rule aim after the Arab Uprisings, as seen in the example of Egypt, is to prevent the people from revolution again. Therefore, the dominant outcome of Arab Uprising is authoritarian restoration, especially in Egypt.

Nurettin Taşar is a master student studying Middle Eastern Studies at the Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University in Turkey


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