James Gelvin is a professor of modern Middle East history at UCLA. He is author of "The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know." This post appeared on The New York Times website Aug. 14 in the Room for Debate section, in which knowledgeable outside contributors discuss news events and other timely issues.
The bloody crackdown in Egypt does not mark the end of the Arab Spring simply because there was no Arab Spring. Although popular, the phrase is inappropriate for two reasons: First, it oversold what took place in the region to such an extent that events could not but fail to live up to the hype. Second, it makes it seem that the struggle for political freedom and economic justice in the region might be isolated within the span of a single season. It cannot.
The wave of uprisings we have been witnessing is not a discrete event; rather, it is the culmination of decades of struggle against autocracy and privilege. Any account of the current battle for human rights and democratic governance in the Arab world must go back at least as far as Algeria’s "Berber Spring" (1980), and must include the Bahraini intifada (1994-99), Syria’s "Damascus Spring" (2000), Lebanon’s "Cedar Revolution" (2005), and Kuwait’s "Blue" and "Orange" revolutions (2002-5, 2006), among other upheavals—not to mention the "Kifaya" (Enough!) movement in Egypt, which demanded the resignation of Hosni Mubarak seven years before the 2011 occupation of Tahrir Square. Likewise, any account of the current struggle for economic and social justice in the region must go back at least as far as the IMF riots in Egypt in 1977 and continue through the current wave of labor activism which has challenged Arab governments to hold to the commitments they had made before they succumbed to the neo-liberal agenda.
The first time historians used the Spring metaphor, it was in reference to the revolutions of 1848—the "Springtime of Peoples." While historical analogies are always deficient, perhaps 1848 holds the key to understanding the current wave of uprisings in the Arab world. Although none of the revolutions in that bleak year succeeded, their outbreak signaled in retrospect that the field of political contestation in Europe forever after would include alternatives to the autocratic order. Succeed or fail, the same lesson might be learned from the Arab uprisings of 2010-11.