- - Thursday, April 19, 2012

BERLIN — What happened to the Arab Spring?

The uprisings that swept dictators and autocratic regimes from power last year were supposed to have ushered in a new season of democracy.

From Tunisia to Yemen, however, things have gone wrong.

Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest police confiscating his goods in December 2010, inspiring revolts across the Arab world. Over the next 14 months, despots fell in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt.

Today, demonstrators continue to take to the streets of Tunis to protest a worsening economic situation.

Transitional governments in Libya and Yemen are struggling, as armed militia and terrorist groups attempt to seize control.

Egypt held elections that brought the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood to power, along with extremist Islamic violence against the Christian minority.

‘Bitter inheritance’

The old secular authoritarian rulers, such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, manipulated “sectarian and tribal tensions to consolidate power,” said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.

“They leave behind a bitter inheritance which will take tremendous effort on the part of the transition governments to begin the process of institution building, dealing with abject poverty that exists and creating a competitive private sector that doesn’t.”

Tunisia held its first free elections in October 2011, which resulted in a coalition government led by the conservative Islamist Ennahdha party that is now charged with drawing up a new constitution and tackling urgent social and economic concerns of the Tunisian population.

“You have 50 percent of young Tunisians unemployed, and there are hardly any institutions,” said Mr. Gerges.

On April 9, police beat up demonstrators and fired tear gas as they tried to flee, during protests in the capital city of Tunis in honor of Martyr’s Day, which marks a 1938 incident when French colonial rulers opened fire on demonstrators calling for a constitution.

Still, analysts say Tunisia is way ahead of other Arab Spring countries.

“They’ve already made great strides in elections and forming a coalition government,” said Paul Salem, director and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

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