The Arab Spring, one year later

One year after the Arab Spring, the reverberations are still being felt around the world, say our Fellows.

Amitava Gupta, from the Class of 2011, notes how last year started with the upheavals in the Middle East and closed with various Occupy movements across the globe. However, the reasons behind the protests were different in each country. “Egypt had a very different set of problems than Libya or China,” points out Gupta, who is chief sub-editor for Calcutta’s Anandabazar Patrika . “That’s the essence of globalization. The sprit was global, but the elements were very local.”

Guna Raj Luitel (Class of 2010) observes the new media has empowered people around the world like never before. The executive editor of Nepal’s Annapurna Post believes these upheavals were interlinked and that they have inspired one another. “The test of freedom in one place surely attracts other places too,” he says. “In other words, it is contagious.”

In India, the impact was felt through the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement, notes Gupta. “The youth were desperate to have their own Tahrir Square,” he says. Meanwhile, across the border in Pakistan, Rizwana Naqvi from Dawn Newspaper says that people were attracted to these momentous events and started talking about a possible revolution inspired by the Arab Spring.

Like some of the Arab states, Pakistan is politically unstable and has had a history of dictatorial rule, she adds. “These movements show that people living under suppressive regimes are becoming aware of their rights and want a change,” the 2011 Fellow says.

The Arab Spring has provided a spark that inspires people to take their future into their own hands, says Chee Yoke Heong from Malaysia, where the Bersih protests for cleaner elections made headlines in 2011. Chee (Class of 2010) says it is interesting that many of the protesters were young people.

“It is a reflection of the merger between consciousness, awareness and the will to take action,” says the researcher from Third World Network. However, she notes that governments may respond negatively to the new mood. The Occupy movement protests may provoke governments to enact new rules on public assembly.

Looking forward, one of the big questions for 2012 is whether Myanmar will take big strides towards democratisation. Nwet Kay Khine (Class of 2010) says that the authorities there censored news about the Arab Spring, concerned that the message of revolution would spread to the Southeast Asian country.

“With much underlying discontent, many outsiders thought this motivation will infect the Burmese easily,” said Nwet, who is currently studying at the Erasmus Mundus journalism programme. However, she believes that people of Myanmar are adopting a wait-and-see approach. They hope that the current government will relax its controls, including on the media.

Another country where the authorities were concerned about contagion from the Arab Spring was, of course, China. Fan Ming, who is chief editor of “Insight” at CCTV, says the authorities will have to adapt to new media. “The Internet will play a more important role in Chinese society, so we should follow this trend,” says the 2010 Fellow.

What is undeniable is that ordinary people will matter more in shaping the future. As Gupta notes, “It is good to know that it is not only the people in power who make news, but it is the mass that matters.”

Article by Zakaria Zainal