The Arab uprisings ten years after: between Islamist threats and authoritarian setbacks

Updated: Apr 13

What future lies ahead for North Africa?

by Sara Senno and Davide Lauretta

The "erasure" of Morsi. (Source: The Economist) [1]

1. Introduction

Ten years after the Arab uprisings, the processes put in place to obtain democracy and rights are still far from being completed. In the beginning, the uprisings had succeeded in putting an end to the decades-long authoritarian era in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, paving the way for democratization in the region. Thanks to their robust opposition to previous regimes and to the support of the West, the newly formed moderate Islamist parties, which claimed to accept the principles of the democratic game, were successful in all three scenarios, but then proved to be largely unqualified to govern; this – given the current challenging context – resulted in their progressive exclusion from the North African political scene.

At the same time, the political vacuum that followed the overthrow of authoritarian rulers and the subsequent attempts to restructure the region left room for the proliferation of national and international violent extremist groups, which exploited the institutional weakness to take root in the North African socio-political milieu, sometimes replacing the state where it was lacking.

The subsequent erosion of the democratization process suggests uncertain future scenarios that could lead to an authoritarian setback or a further expansion of violent extremism in the countries in transition, leading to repercussions on regional security and, more broadly, on the entire Mediterranean basin.

This paper, after examining the causes behind the extreme fragility of the post-2011 North African context, aims at outlining the most likely future developments in the area.

2. The post-Arab uprisings in North Africa: premises

The 2011 uprisings arose from a state of widespread discontent resulting from decades of mass oppression inflicted by the authoritarian powers that difunctionally governed the North African region. In fact, a deep and widespread corruption persisted in the region which, together with the increase in social inequalities and a general worsening of living conditions, fed the population's dissatisfaction to the point of pushing citizens to overthrow these political systems and achieve democratization, an improvement in living conditions and greater respect for rights and liberties.[2]

When the riots began to show proof of success, next to those who fought for democracy, a prominent role was played by Islamist groups that despite they did not share the same revolutionary values, they strove to remove the governments that had up to then persecuted and relegated them to hiding.[3]