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Reasons Why the Arab Spring Failed


The Arab Spring, a wave of pro-democracy rallies and revolutions, began in 2010 and 2011 throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Protests that overthrew the governments of Tunisia and Egypt set off a chain reaction that inspired people in other Arab nations to follow suit. Demonstrators’ political and economic complaints were regularly addressed with violent crackdowns by their governments’ security forces during the protest movement. Some of the reasons why the Arab spring failed will be discussed in this paper. This study will also conduct a literature review of the causes of this failure and its effects on the various countries involved.

Literature review

The unwillingness of leaders to leave office and give up power

It is known that in most middle eastern and north African countries, leaders tend to develop a long-lasting attachment to power; It has been seen throughout history, in the case of Yemen. On January 27, 2011, Yemenis from Yemen went down to the streets to protest against President Ali Saleh and his government. Saleh insisted on remaining as the president, and after negations and persuasion by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) led by Saudi Arabia and the United States, Saleh agreed to step down as the president and transfer power to his vice-president Abd Rabbu Mansur al-Hadi while given immunity for himself and his family. Hadi had been Saleh’s vice president and right hand for many years, yet, he was more appealing to Yemenis given his educational background, unlike Saleh and his persuasive speeches. It was later recognized that Saleh had not completely left his old position. Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali Saleh was still a commander of approximately 80,000 troops of the Republican Guard unit of the Yemeni Army. The Republican Gaurd unit has greater power than other units in the Army. In addition to that, other elites and a few sheiks (mayors) Saleh still had some loyal Shikhs and elites, which gave him more control even though, theoretically was not supposed to have any (Juneau). After being forced to leave office, Saleh still resented the elites and the right-wing party that supported the revolutionaries. To get back at them, Saleh allied with the Houthis, a group he had been fighting for two decades in Sadaa. Houthis are a group of heavily armed rebels; Saleh helped them enter the capital Sana’a and slowly take over the government, leading President Hadi to flee the country to Saudi and ask for support. Which ultimately caused the war between Houthis and Saudi Arabia.

Use of military force

Unlike many other countries that were part of the Arab Spring, Egypt did not lead a civil war or a fault line war. On January 25, 2011, Egyptians from different backgrounds, classes, and beliefs gathered in Tahrir Square to overthrow dictator Hosni Mubarak and his military government. On February 11, 2011, Vice president Amr Suliman announced that president Hosni Mubarak had decided to step and transfer all of his powers to the Armed Forces. After his resignation, the Egyptian people hoped to establish a liberal democratic state that was not limited to certain groups of individuals or religions.

In 2012 the presidential elections began, which were considered the first democratic elections in the history of Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi won, which was upsetting to many Egyptians, worrying that Moris’s personal religious views might affect his decision making and the creation constitution

President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, legalized the Muslim Brotherhood movement after the popular Arab Spring uprising in 2011-12. (Ajami, 2011). However, Egypt’s political crisis worsened in 2013, resulting in a military coup and the removal of the Morsi administration. The military government abolished the Muslim Brotherhood and declared its activities illegal. The military-led government declared that anyone who participated in Brotherhood activities or supported them orally, in writing, or financially might face a five-year jail sentence. The publishing of the Fellowship’s daily newspaper, Freedom and Justice, has been halted (Hill, 2013).

According to Khalil and Yousef (2015), Tunisia’s revolution started on December 17, 2010, with the start of the Arab Spring, a wave of protests and rallies throughout the Middle East and North Africa in 2010 and 2011. Civil conflicts erupted throughout the area as a result of the political unrest. The 2011 revolution in Tunisia, which resulted in the country’s leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, being removed from power, had a significant impact on the Arab Spring. Corruption in governments, poverty, high unemployment, and other issues, such as rapidly increasing food costs, played a role in this uprising. Protests against government corruption sparked the Arab Spring, which swept throughout the Middle East and North Africa (Khalil and Yousef 77). Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak stepped down from office in 2011 after a wave of nationwide demonstrations and rioting. In 2012, residents of Syria went to the streets in protest of President Bashar al-rule, Assad’s, resulting in an uprising. Millions of people have been killed, and millions more have fled Syria due to the civil war. After a year of anti-government rallies, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was removed from power in 2013. Two years later, he was condemned to death for inciting violence during the demonstrations. People like Hosni Mubarak, who have been in power for a long time, were threatened by these demonstrations; therefore, they refused to give them any authority.

Research by Khan (2020) shows that the Arab Spring was doomed because of a lack of resources to support what was happening in each country. During this time, Egypt’s economy was poor and lacked the funds to assist its citizens. Since 2011, when then-President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from office after large protests that lasted 18 days, Egypt has been in an economic crisis (Khan et al., 50). When Egypt’s economy began to decline, many individuals began to leave the country to pursue better possibilities elsewhere. Numerous Egyptians have fled their homes in the wake of this development. In addition, they were swamped with issues that they couldn’t address all at once. There was a lot of internal and foreign conflict going on at the same time for the country, following a study by Khalil and Yousef (2015). With limited funds, they could not afford to sustain all of them at once (Khalil and Yousef 77). At this time, there were not enough individuals who could even be mobilized since most people were unwilling to fight for what they believed in. Because there was not enough support from other people and other nations at the time, the Arab Spring failed to bring down corrupt administrations. As a result of conflicting ideas, there was strife among those attending these rallies; some sought to change, while others desired none (this created divisions among groups). It was a widely held belief that if one worked hard enough, one would be rewarded with a better job, but for others, this was an unrealistic expectation (some believed they would be better off staying where they were).

Factors That Led to the Failure of the Arab Spring

The following factors led to the failure of the Arab spring:

Oppressive Governments

The oppressive governments that ruled these nations gave little legitimacy or support to the harsh regimes that dominated them. Groups opposed to the government were weak and fragmented. Each country’s internal factions were supported or opposed by external parties such as the United States, Russia, Iran, and Turkey. More than merely a political uprising, the Arab Spring also had an economic influence. As a result of decreased tourism, decreased foreign investment, and decreased consumer expenditure, the economy of many nations suffered. As a result, many visitors stayed away from places where the disturbance occurred; others canceled their excursions when it became clear that violence was imminent. Many governments in the Middle East and North Africa saw significant transformations due to the Arab Spring, yet harsh regimes persist in some nations (such as Syria). Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from power in Tunisia after 23 years in office after weeks of demonstrations over corruption and unemployment; he fled to Saudi Arabia (Khondker and Habibul Haque). Mubarak was ousted from power in Egypt after more than two weeks of protests against his regime’s human rights violations and suppression of political opposition groups; Mubarak is currently serving a life sentence for ordering the killing of protesters during an uprising against him in the first week of January 2011. After 42 years in power, Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi was assassinated in 2011 after an uprising against him. On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation started the Arab Spring movement. When Bouazizi was selling fruit on the street, he was hounded by local police officers who took his goods. In this episode, he set himself alight to protest the government’s harsh practices against its inhabitants. Other nations in the area have followed suit with their protests against their governments’ repressive attitudes against their population after the episode was publicized worldwide.

Weak Political Institutions

The Arab world’s inadequate political institutions are the largest obstacle to democracy, not the region’s economic or social structure. Due to the collapse in oil prices and political turmoil in other parts of the region, several nations could not deal with economic pressures. Because of this, the state’s legitimacy was weakened, and the public’s desire for change grew. Political parties and independent judiciaries in many nations could not handle these challenges adequately. The use of violence by authoritarian leaders in the face of enormous demonstrations only exacerbated public dissatisfaction with them. The World Bank Group found a recent assessment of what made Arab spring nations successful and what made them fail. Protests by low-wage employees against their government’s economic austerity policies at Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia were the causes of the Arab Spring. The harsh repression of these demonstrations by the police sparked further rounds of demonstrations throughout Tunisia. Shortly after the demonstrations began on January 14, 2011, Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali departed the country and ended a 23-year reign in exile (Khondker and Habibul Haque). A wave of anti-government demonstrations swept throughout North Africa and the Middle East as Ben Ali’s regime disintegrated. Even though many people had believed that these uprisings would lead to democratic change in these nations, many countries still lack stable democracies some years later. Political institutions in the Arab world are weak. Strong political institutions, such as legislatures and courts, are necessary for democracy, but they are absent in most Arab nations. To make matters worse, most Arabs do not want democracy; instead, they prefer to be dominated by autocrats who assure order and security at all costs.

Divides Between Urban and Rural Populations

Arab Spring protests were first seen as a step toward a more democratic Middle East. Only Tunisia, it seems, has made any headway toward democracy almost five years later. Civil wars, political deadlock, and oppressive regimes have been left in their wake throughout the rest of the world. This failure may be attributed in part to the inability of urban elites to build bridges with rural masses. As a result, the rural masses are no longer interested in supporting the urban elites or their administrations. Retaliation from opposing groups might also be an issue for rural inhabitants that favored one party over another (Russia Khan et al. 45). After Hosni Mubarak’s downfall, Egypt could not recover from this schism. He raised rural subsidies for petrol and food after Mohammed Morsi became president in 2012, but only for those who supported him. This infuriated Egyptians who live in Cairo, where such privileges were not available. In Tunisia, however, the Arab Spring failed due to a widening gap between urban and rural inhabitants. They disagreed on numerous matters because of the divide between these two groups, e.g., how they should be governed and how their country should be managed. It was clear that the two groups had quite different political perspectives on democracy and free speech issues. It was impossible for rural and urban communities to agree on anything since their diverse opinions.

Lack of Support from International Communities

For a revolution to be successful, all parties involved must unite. Any party or country trying to topple a government or leader would find it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, without this kind of solidarity. To begin with, there must be unity in opposition to the current regime. The failure of the Arab Spring was due to a lack of international backing from countries like the United States and (Russia Khan et al. 45). Before they could support their friends in Egypt and Tunisia during their uprisings against Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the United States did not want to be involved. They were able to give these revolutions time to become stronger while also giving them time by not supporting them while they were still in their infancy. During the Arab Spring, Western countries were accused of not doing enough to promote democratic movements. They believed that less violence would have occurred after 2011 if Western governments had offered greater encouragement (when most dictatorships fell).

The lack of social cohesion between different groups in society

Any society’s prosperity depends on its ability to maintain a sense of unity among its members. The failure of the Arab Spring may be traced to a lack of social cohesiveness among society’s many factions. A society’s level of social cohesiveness may be measured by looking at how cohesive and cohesive its members are. It is built on a foundation of shared values and ideas fundamental to every society. Poverty, unemployment, and political tyranny may all be readily overcome by a unified populace with identical aims and ideals.

In contrast, a lack of social coherence may lead to country-wide splits. Different religious or ethnic groups and the affluent and poor may be at odds with each other in this regard. For instance, this might be an issue when one group perceives that the government or the legal system favors one group over another. The Arab Spring uprisings in 2011-2012 saw widespread civil unrest in several Arab countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, due to political repression by their governments toward their citizens. If a government does not acknowledge and attempt to address these issues, it could lead to social unrest or violence. Occupy Wall Street in the United States coincided with the Arab Spring uprisings. Both movements aimed to confront the corrupt institutions of global capitalism (Khalil and Yousef 77). Despite the similarities between the two movements, several variances eventually led to their demise. The two movements differed in their diversity. Many distinct groups were comprised in the Arab Spring, but they were all united in their desire for freedom from injustice.

In contrast, Occupy Wall Street lacked diversity due to its predominance of white individuals who shared the same values, such as economic equality and justice for all people. There was not enough variety in their group to provide successful communication between themselves and individuals outside of the group. One or a group of leaders could not combine the many groups under one banner. Without a clear objective or message, individuals could not unite.

Even though Arab society has a wide range of social groupings, there was little social coherence. Arab Spring proved this point when Islamists and secularists were the two major opposition groupings. In many cases, this separation was based on religious affiliation, with Sunni Muslims making up the majority of Islamists and Shia Muslims making up just 10% of Arabs. There were also conflicts between Christians and Jews and Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sunni-Alawite tensions erupted in Syria, with the latter accounting for 40% of the country’s population (Khalil and Yousef 77). Like those in Iran, some Zaidis follow a branch of Islam distinct from Shi’ism, while Shafites follow a branch of Islam distinct from most Arabs. There are variances between Zaidis and Shafites inside each country’s boundaries. With widespread sectarianism before the uprisings, the loss of social cohesion was already visible. Yemen is a standout example of this phenomenon when it comes to Sunni-Shia conflicts and the divide between those who follow traditional Sufi Islam and those who adhere to more hardline Salafi Islam. In Syria, Assad’s rule favored Alawites, Christians, and other minorities, while Sunnis were persecuted and imprisoned for criticizing his regime (Bilginsoy). Many Sunnis were radicalized against Assad’s administration and joined rebel organizations like ISIS (Bilginsoy). As a result, Sunnis, who had previously felt marginalized by the Iraqi and Syrian governments, welcomed Isis with open arms as it started to seize territory in Syria and Iraq. In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was able to dominate by terror and intimidation, including killing his enemies.

Fractured Opposition to Authoritarian Regimes

Even though there were several reasons for these uprisings, the fact that the resistance to authoritarian governments was fractured is a significant factor that is sometimes disregarded. Tunisia and Egypt are examples of countries where a powerful opposition party or organization could not organize these individuals into a single movement. There was no organized opposition in Tunisia before the Arab Spring, making it easier for demonstrators and rioters to seize power once they began their anti-Ben Ali protests and riots. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia and Egypt, for example, were split on whether or not to participate in elections or boycott them. During the rebellion, they disagreed on how to deal with government persecution.

Similarly, in Bahrain, al-Wefaq was split between those who sought an immediate change of government and those who preferred reform within an existing political framework (Juneau and Thomas 420). As a result, several opposition groups lacked the organizational infrastructure and protest mobilization expertise necessary to challenge the status quo. Many activists shared the same aims and principles, such as freedom and justice, but it was difficult to form powerful coalitions with other organizations, both locally and nationally. Repressive governments have used force against demonstrators or religion to denigrate their opponents as agents of foreign powers aiming to weaken Islamism to repress resistance. A wide range of civil society organizations was under the jurisdiction of these regimes. In addition, these regimes were able to enlist the support of some sections of society by providing them with financial incentives, such as job opportunities or housing subsidies.

Lack of Freedom of Speech

In the wake of the Arab Spring, many hoped to change the Middle East’s political landscape. However, this has not happened yet. To topple their regimes, these organizations staged these revolutions (Juneau and Thomas 420). The revolutions that occurred in the Middle East between 2010 and 2012 failed because they could not express themselves freely. Many people in the country could not speak out for fear of being punished or imprisoned by their government. In addition, these uprisings received little international assistance. More international assistance may have made it simpler for individuals to accomplish their ambitions. Poor organization and lack of leadership among the revolutionaries, and a lack of unity in each country’s populace were other reasons for the revolution’s failure.

Lack of Leadership

Another key reason for the Arab Spring uprisings’ failure was poor planning due to a lack of leadership. Having a strategy for bringing about change is critical for any organization or person seeking to do so. If you do not have a strategy or plan, no matter how much time and effort you put into your cause, it will not come out the way you want it to. This may be observed in the events of the Egyptian Revolution when there were no apparent leaders who understood what they wanted or how to get there. Due to their differing views on what should happen next, they were divided and eventually broke up (Brown and Nathan 50). Another factor for the revolutions’ failure was the lack of unity among those in charge. Rather than a democratic movement, the Arab Spring was a movement for wealth. To be like their European neighbors, the demonstrators demanded more money from their governments. They were ready to die to get their hands on this money (which they did). They did not want to earn their own money; they wanted it to be handed to them by the state. They did not want any responsibility; they wanted everything to be done for them without them having to raise a finger. Those who do not know what it takes to succeed tend to have this mindset.

Research Design

This study’s research design was qualitative. This design was used to examine whether the factors mentioned above led to the failure of the Arab spring. People involved in the Arab Spring movement and professionals in the field were interviewed as part of this study’s qualitative approach (Brown and Nathan 50). People in the Middle East longed for democracy and fairness, and the Arab Spring was their source of hope. The revolution was nonviolent, non-sectarian, and fought by both men and women; thus, it was a real revolution. Thousands of engaged citizens were slain, and tens of thousands were imprisoned in every major city.


In conclusion, there are many reasons why the Arab spring failed, but one main reason is that countries like Egypt had no real democracy before, so when they did get democracy, it was not really what people wanted. It was just another form of dictatorship that people did not like but had no choice but to accept because they feared for their lives if they spoke out against it. The Arab spring is a social movement that started in Tunisia, a country on Africa’s northern border. Its success attracted much attention, and it has inspired other political movements around the globe in hopes of creating change. However, not all countries have been as successful as Tunisia and Egypt. Some of these movements were repressed dramatically, while others were completely unsuccessful. Regardless of what led to the failure of the Arab Spring, there are important lessons to be learned. The first and most obvious is the limit to how many social media and online activities spread political messages. It is a piece of technology that can help organize and mobilize people and groups, but it cannot do the job alone. Actual world events need real-world action to truly succeed against regimes as powerful as those in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

Works Cited

Brown, Nathan J. “Tracking the” Arab Spring”: Egypt’s failed transition.” Journal of Democracy 24.4 (2013): 45-58.

Juneau, Thomas. “Yemen and the Arab spring: Elite struggles, state collapse, and regional security.” Orbis 57.3 (2013): 408-423.

Khalil, Yousef. “Neoliberalism and the failure of the Arab Spring.” New Politics 15.3 (2015): 77.

Khan, Raid, Amna Mahmood, and Asif Salim. “Arab Spring failure: A case study of Egypt and Syria.” Liberal Arts and Social Sciences International Journal (LASSIJ) 4.1 (2020): 44-53.

Khondker, Habibul Haque. “The impact of the Arab Spring on democracy and development in the MENA region.” Sociology Compass 13.9 (2019): e12726.


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