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  • Writer's pictureThe Red Line

Episode 109. A Second Arab Spring: Imminent or Impossible?

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As unrest simmers throughout the Middle East, echoes of the initial Arab Spring resonate amid similar economic triggers, fueling speculation about a potential second wave. With these signs becoming louder and louder, many analysis are beginning to ask: Is a second Arab Spring on the horizon? Where is the spark likely to come from, and have the governments in the region fortified their strategies to quell such popular uprisings? We put these questions and more to our panel of experts:




PART I: Armed and Dangerous: - (03:07)

with David Schenker

- Director of the Tony Rubin Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute

- Fmr Ass. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs

- Middle East Advisor to the Secretary of State

  1. Long-term Outcomes: Despite some initial successes in overthrowing governments, the long-term outcomes of the Arab Spring have been largely negative, with little improvement in governance, democracy, or economies, and ongoing civil wars in some countries.

  2. Foreign Policy Challenges: The U.S. government faced challenges in influencing domestic politics in the Middle East, with limited ability to impact the trajectory of the Arab Spring.

  3. Rise of Islamist Parties: Post-Arab Spring, Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Ennahda party in Tunisia rose to power, filling political vacuums despite not necessarily representing the majority's political preferences.

  4. Power Vacuums and Islamist Mobilization: Islamist groups were often the only well-organized parties capable of quickly mobilizing and filling power vacuums in the post-revolution period.

  5. Economic Deterioration: Many countries that underwent the Arab Spring, including Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Tunisia, ended up economically worse off, whereas Bahrain, which suppressed its protests, fared better economically.

  6. Potential for Future Uprisings: Factors like youth unemployment and poor living standards could potentially lead to future uprisings, with Jordan identified as a country of concern.

PART II: A Toxic "X": - (22:00)

with Michael Sexton

- Snr Policy Advisor on AI and Cyber at Third Way National Security

- Fmr Dirctor of the Cybersecurity Initiative at the Middle-East Institute

- Snr Associate Directior of the Qatar-America Institute

  1. Arab Spring and Social Media: The Arab Spring served as a significant test for how social media platforms handle the implications of their existence, leading to substantial changes in content moderation and policies. Governments in the Middle East are now more aware of the risks of political uprisings and have increased securitization to mitigate these risks.

  2. Use of Surveillance Technologies: Countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Egypt use advanced technologies such as spyware (e.g., Pegasus) to surveil protests, threats, or dissidents.

  3. Internet Shutdowns: Governments in the region have the capability to shut down the internet during protests, hindering organization and communication among activists and controlling the flow of information.

  4. Geolocation and Telecom Cooperation: Authoritarian governments often have the cooperation of telecommunications companies, enabling them to access sensitive data like user geolocation.

  5. Influence and Control Over Telecoms: Control over telecommunications infrastructure is vital for maintaining order, as seen in countries like Saudi Arabia, where the government controls major telecom companies.

  6. Investments in Social Media Platforms: Governments and entities from the Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have invested heavily in social media companies like Twitter, gaining significant influence and potentially affecting content moderation.

  7. Role of AI-Enhanced Bot Armies: AI-enhanced bot armies, often provided by companies in Israel and other countries, are used by governments to influence public opinion online, especially in conflict zones like Yemen.

  8. Challenges to Future Uprisings: The advancements in surveillance technologies, increased government awareness, and control over social media and telecommunications make it more challenging for movements similar to the Arab Spring to emerge and succeed.

PART III: Development or Democracy?: - (42:22)

with Rich Outzen

- Snr Fellow at the Atlantic Council

- Frm US Defence Attache in Kabul

- Frm Special Representitive for Syria

  1. Arab Spring Reassessment: The Arab Spring is viewed retrospectively as disastrous, with initial hopes for democratization through external intervention or homegrown movements largely failing. Attempts to democratize Middle Eastern countries, such as Iraq and Libya, did not yield the expected outcomes, and the Arab Spring added to this trend of unsuccessful external democratization efforts.

  2. Regressions Post-Arab Spring: Even in Tunisia, considered a success story of the Arab Spring, there has been regression. Egypt, after a brief period under Morsi, saw dissatisfaction with his rule and the eventual rise of the Sisi regime.

  3. Syria as a Cautionary Example: The Syrian conflict, intensified by external encouragement for regime change, resulted in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, highlighting the dangers of external influence in such uprisings.

  4. Comparison with Color Revolutions: The color revolutions in countries like Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine are contrasted with the Arab Spring, showing that democratization is not a one-size-fits-all process and is influenced by local conditions and political culture.

  5. Role of External Factors and Interventions: The changing approaches of the U.S. and other Western powers, from direct intervention to supporting homegrown movements, have shown varied results and often unintended consequences.

  6. Increased Regional Intervention Willingness: The normative barriers to intervening in neighboring countries have diminished, as seen in cases like Bahrain and Kazakhstan, suggesting a trend towards regional powers playing more active roles in neighboring conflicts or political crises.

  7. Technological Advancements in Repression: Authoritarian regimes have become more adept at using technology for repression, including information control, surveillance, and deploying emerging weapons technology.

  8. Jordan's Fragile Stability: Jordan is highlighted as a country of particular concern due to its sensitive location, demographic makeup, and political challenges, making it vulnerable to potential upheaval.

  9. Complexity of Predicting Uprisings: Despite various metrics available, predicting where and when an uprising might occur remains challenging due to the complex interplay of political, economic, and social factors, alongside human elements that are difficult to quantify.

A Second Arab Spring: Imminent or Impossible?

(Released 27th November 2023)



I: Tweets from Tahir

- By Alex Nunns

II: Age of the Counter-Revolution

- By Jaime Allinson

III: The Arab Spring

- By Mark L. Haas


For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:


This episode is dedicated to our Patreon members: Jason, Lorenzo, David Henderson, and Timberwolf



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