Middle East

Arab Spring myths: misconceptions about the uprisings

Image caption The Arab uprisings of 2011 have dominated the news, but are surrounded by misconceptions

Tunisia strikes out towards democracy, while Egypt's protesters take to the streets once more. Libya shakes off its ruler but finds national consensus elusive.

A power struggle rages in Yemen, even though its ruler has finally agreed to step down. A beleaguered Syrian regime clings to power - while Morocco holds parliamentary elections, the first since constitutional reforms.

Do all these developments - with their dramas of hope and disappointment - amount to an Arab Spring? Here are some of the myths surrounding the uprisings:

The Arab Spring is a single thing

Arabs may be united in anger and frustration, but they are still stubbornly divided by borders and by the accidents of history and geography.

Each uprising, each revolution-in-the-making, has a distinctly national character.

All the political actors - including the much-discussed Islamists - have had to come to terms with this.

This is the moment of the Facebook generation

The young wired-up activists who sparked the Arab Spring have learned, to their cost, that they have not been its main beneficiaries.

They won the hearts of the Western public but lack a grass-roots following, which in the end is more important.

Islamists are poised to take over the Arab Middle East

This, too, is a misreading.

Where the Islamists have done well, as in Tunisia, it is because they have learned from past mistakes.

They cannot afford to alienate the middle class - or the Western states they rely on for trade and tourism.

Palestine no longer matters

This myth was rudely shattered when Egyptian crowds attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo in September.

The Arab uprisings are not essentially about external issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian problem or Western policy in the region. But anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment has not disappeared. (Why should we expect it to?)

Freely-elected governments, as and when they emerge, will more accurately reflect the will of the people - on foreign as well as domestic issues.

The West can shape the destiny of the Arabs

This is the myth that should have died. Western countries cannot do this, even in Libya, the one country where they intervened.

A large part of the success of the Tunisians - whatever challenges lie ahead - is that they toppled their dictator by themselves.

It is an open question whether others can do the same.

Roger Hardy is a visiting fellow at LSE's Centre for International Studies and author of 'The Muslim Revolt: A Journey through Political Islam'.

More on this story