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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchThe Arab Spring at 10: Kings or People?

The Arab Spring at 10: Kings or People?

Author: Tarek Masoud

Affiliation: Harvard University Kennedy School of Government

Organization /Publisher: Journal of Democracy, Johns Hopkins University Press

Date/Place: January 2021  

Type of Literature: Article 

Number of Pages: 17


Keywords: Autocrats, Enlightenment, Arabs, Democracy 


The article discusses that as an outcome of the Arab Spring, Arabs have divided into two visions: one seeks to replace the regimes that dominate the region; the other seeks to replace the people who inhabit it. Professor of public policy Tarek Masoud writes that the first vision started from Tunisia in 2011 when the people embodied a democratic venture and stood against the brutality, venality and neglect of their leaders. The other vision is “enlightened absolutism” through which the successors of the old autocrats have transformed themselves from stolid defenders of an unpleasant status quo to agents of much needed change. The advocates of this new vision of Arab enlightenment are men such as Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince and the deputy supreme commander of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) armed forces. They spend millions and take advisements from Western consultants, and organize conferences at which they showcase plans for shimmering new cities, new infrastructure projects, new educational systems, and even new understandings of Islam.  The author also agrees with comparative-politics scholar Calvert Jones who says that with the modernization projects of Arab countries, they desire to produce “a new kind of citizen” who is “modern,” “globalization-ready,” and “better prepared for a post-petroleum era”. These criteria are on display in many of the various “national vision” documents that Arab governments have propagated, i.e. UAE’s “Vision 2021,” and Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030”.  The governments of Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Oman have also published vision statements of their own. The author concludes that the new United States administration might put pressure on these autocrats to respect human rights and even to allow political competition. But if democracy is to come to the Arab world, it will not be because autocrats were hectored into granting it. It will be because democracy won the argument. 

By: Razia Wadood, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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