For all the glorification ascribed to democracy; it should come as no surprise as to why most societies today aspire for a system with more civilian liberties based around egalitarian governance models. However, for many in the Middle East and Africa, the quest for democracy has not fared very well.
When the Arab Spring hit the Middle East in 2011, many in the world thought of it as the arrival of spring in the literal sense of the word. It took little time to reveal how brutish of a fall it actually was. A series of protests that started off as demonstrations against soaring bread prices escalated significantly into large-scale conflicts; turning the tables on regimes that had persisted for decades, only to bring horrific instability in the region instead of the desired egalitarian system.
The death of Mohammad Morsi, the first and only democratically elected leader of Egypt, recently during a hearing in a courtroom has brought to the fore, the callousness of the circumstances that resulted in the overthrowing of Morsi’s government and ultimately his untimely death.
While popular uprisings in many states across the world have helped achieve, at least partly the desired outcome, Middle Eastern and African countries have reaped little to none from uprisings. There is a long list of probable reasons for such failures, ranging from complexities in the social fabric of those countries to the involvement of external elements. However, there are a number of underlying aspects that factor into the equation. The death of Mohammad Morsi, the first and only democratically elected leader of Egypt, recently during a hearing in a courtroom has brought to the fore, the callousness of the circumstances that resulted in the overthrowing of Morsi’s government and ultimately his untimely death.
Morsi came to power after a civilian uprising in 2011, inspired by the revolt in Tunisia that toppled the regime of the dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The protests in Cairo resulted in the resignation of the Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak. The transition was one marred by violence as after Mubarak’s resignation; the Egyptian military took charge and cracked down on the protestors, killing hundreds in the process. Ultimately, Morsi was elected to power through popular verdict. He was then removed from power the year after having taken charge. A little less than two years after having assumed charge as Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan encountered a similar attempt.
The West has been critical of both Morsi and Erdogan for their right winged inclinations and authoritarian tendencies. Yet, the Egyptian military was successful in ousting Morsi; however Erdogan emerged from the attempt more powerful.
What hides in hindsight here is the role that the socio-economic state of the two countries played in the aforementioned sequence of events. Environmental factors are an irrefutable component of the prevalent socio-economic conditions. In comparison to Egypt, Turkey is a far more economically stable country, with an enhanced understanding and implementation of civilian liberties in addition to better law and order. The protests against Erdogan were carried out by civilians from a cosmopolitan area and the problems and issues they had with the government had little appeal to the masses. Despite the high handed approach of both towards their opponents, the revolt against Morsi’s newly formed government had been fueled from the disappointment of the masses in his mishandling of the economy and failure to deliver. It is important to remember, that the Egyptian revolution was sparked by the enormous increase in bread prices, a consequence of droughts in China and environmental catastrophes in the major wheat producing countries in the first place.
The reasons of conflict in Darfur lie in the desertification that played a vital role in fueling tensions between the local farmers and herders.
Climatic factors that have elevated the dissatisfaction among the masses, including the mishandling or rather the inability of governments to find solutions to the rising temperatures, lack of precipitation, depleting ground water levels and soaring prices of agricultural commodities deserve more attention than they are getting at the moment. Sudan is one more of all the glaring examples we are bound to see in abundance in the coming years.
The previous four decades have seen the Sahara Desert advance by more than a mile each year because precipitation levels have reduced by 30% in these 40 years, suggested a United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) post conflict assessment report. The reasons of conflict in Darfur lie in the desertification that played a vital role in fueling tensions between the local farmers and herders. As more and more pastures turned into sand dunes and ground water levels depleted, the distance between South Sudan and North Sudan increased. The Sudanese, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), are threatened by chronic food insecurity because of ‘prolonged conflict, environmental deterioration and disasters such as droughts and flood’. Food insecurity threatens not just lives but means of livelihood and social stability. In October 2017, the United States (US) ended sanctions on Sudan that the former authoritarian ruler of the country Omar al-Bashir has been blaming for the ever escalating poverty situation in his country.
Corruption, lack of foreign investment, and lack of an alternative plan for revenue generation within the country after the loss of oil reserves to South Sudan left Khartoum dealing with an economic crisis where prices of commodities would rise on hourly rates. Removing subsidies on wheat and fuel broke protests against the Bashir regime in December 2018 and lead to his removal in April, 2019. As the Transitional Military Council took control, the recollections of the Arab Spring only motivated the Sudanese protestors to stay put. The Janjaweed militia of Sudan cracked down on the protestors killing dozens, wounding hundreds and gruesomely dumping bodies in the river Nile.
Corruption, lack of foreign investment, and lack of an alternative plan for revenue generation within the country after the loss of oil reserves to South Sudan left Khartoum dealing with an economic crisis where prices of commodities would rise on hourly rates.
The example of Egypt and Turkey depicts that a government can be despised by foreign powers and survive. It can be autocratic in nature and thrive. It cannot however endure the outburst springing from economic decline that effect a basic human necessity; food. As climatic factors constantly undermine food security, more and more bells of instability ring for the world no matter what the nature of governance. We have little to challenge the notion that covert climatic causes are fast becoming ‘the mother of all security problems’.
Ayesha Ilyas has completed her M.Phil in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. She is currently working as an intern at the CSCR.