FP Expert Survey: The Arab Spring

One year later, how has the Arab world changed?


One year ago today, thousands of Egyptian protesters, following in the footsteps of Tunisians before them, thronged to Tahrir Square in an act of defiance that would ripple across the Arab world. But with dictators from Damascus to Manama clinging to power and newly formed governments already stumbling, the legacy of the “Arab Spring” is far from certain. How has the region fared in the past 12 months, and what can be done—or should have been done—to make these revolutions a success? Foreign Policy asked 34 top Middle East experts to weigh in.

1. One year after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt is:

Better off: 19

About the same: 6

Worse off: 5

I don’t know: 3

“Politically better, economically worse.”

2. One year after the fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia is:

Better off: 31

About the same: 2

3. Which Arab uprising are you most optimistic about? Rank the following from least (6) to most (1) optimistic:

Average ranking:

Tunisia: 1.13

Egypt: 2.73

Libya: 3.07

Bahrain: 4.59

Yemen: 4.69

Syria: 4.72

Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images

4. The biggest mistake the Obama administration has made during the Arab uprisings is…

A slow or inadequate response to the revolutions: 11

“They’ve often been several steps behind the curve, which has unfortunately made them look more opportunistic than principled.”

Inconsistent policies across different countries: 6

“Arab populations don’t understand why intervention in Libya was warranted but not in Syria, why support for the revolution was warranted in Egypt but not in Bahrain, etc.”

Its policy toward Bahrain: 3

“Standing behind the Bahrain regime’s brutality.”

Failing to recognize the Palestine-Arab Spring connection: 3

“Continuing to keep Palestinian freedom separate from their correct emphasis on Arab freedom.”

The Libya intervention: 3

“Failure to conduct real post-war planning for Libya after the revolution.”

What mistakes? 2

“It has made few mistakes under the circumstances.”

Other: 5

“Overestimating its influence.”

Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images

5. The next Arab dictator to fall will be…

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad: 22

“Assad, unless you believe Saleh hasn’t fallen yet.”

Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh: 8

“He will continue to fall again and again and again — yet somehow stay in power.”

Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki: 1

Egypt’s Mohamed Hussein Tantawi: 1

6. The Arab country we should be paying more attention to is…

Syria: 6

Algeria: 4

Egypt: 4

Jordan: 4

Bahrain: 3

Iraq: 3

“It is going to hell in a hand basket — but there is a national consensus to pay less attention to it.”

Other: 9

“All of them.”


7. What is the greatest threat to Arab democracy?

Political fragmentation and immaturity: 9

“Lack of strong institutions.”

Arab dictators: 7

Islamism/religious fundamentalism: 6

Economic challenges: 3

The Gulf “counterrevolution”: 2

The United States: 1

Social issues (education, women’s rights): 1

A combination of threats: 4


8. True or false: The Arab world needs a “Marshall Plan.”

False: 20

“In fact, what the U.S. needs is an exit strategy from the Middle East.”

True: 12

“But for God’s sake don’t call it that!”

Some of the Arab world does: 1

“The oil- and gas-drenched Gulf countries obviously don’t need a Marshall Plan. Nor does oil-rich Libya. Tunisia is managing fine on its own. I would prefer a U.S. aid package that incentivizes Egypt toward tolerance and democracy, rather than a Saudi aid package that incentivizes Egypt toward intolerance and Islamism.”

9. The Arab uprisings are more about:

Political freedoms: 13

Economic issues: 9

Mixed bag: 12

“For some protestors it’s either; for some it’s both. I went for political freedom. The family in the tent across from mine, for economic reasons.”

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

10. The most important thing we didn’t understand about the Arab world was…

The people’s discontent — and eagerness for change: 16

“How quickly apathy could turn to energy and mass mobilization.”

“That there was a limit to the state’s ability to sell an alternative, distorted reality to its people.”

“That the dictators the West had supported and defended for decades had no legitimacy at all, while those the West demonized and ignored had huge popularity. Arabs were not an exception in their eagerness for democracy and freedom.”

“Basic human dignity can be asserted organically, bottom-up, and without obvious leaders.”

“A status quo that seemed to deliver our interests in the short term, while ignoring the interests of the people, was never sustainable.”

“How easily the barrier of fear could be broken and how fragile the regimes that relied on it to rule truly were. How ready and willing people were to sacrifice for freedom.”

The power of political Islam: 5

“The popularity of the Salafist movement.”

“Contemporary history has shown that power vacuums in the Middle East aren’t filled by secular youth; they’re filled by middle-aged Islamists.”

The challenge of post-revolution rebuilding: 3

“That many of the revolutions will have many phases and last for years.”

Other: 8


“Mostly nothing. We understood the most important things — that the authoritarian status quo was untenable and that Islamists were the most powerful forces in their society. The problem was we didn’t have the political will to act on that knowledge.”

Participants (34): Akbar Ahmed, Christopher Alexander, Jon Alterman, Issandr El Amrani, Anna Badkhen, Isobel Coleman, Mohamed El Dahshan, Robert Danin, F. Gregory Gause, Stephen Grand, Jonathan Guyer, Shadi Hamid, Michael Wahid Hanna, Ed Husain, Efraim Karsh, Zalmay Khalilzad, Amil Khan, Wadah Khanfar, Tom Kutsch, Andrew Lebovich, Marc Lynch, Hisham Melhem, Aaron David Miller, Dalia Mogahed, Marwan Muasher, David Pollock, Bruce Rutherford, Karim Sadjadpour, Robert Satloff, Jonathan Schanzer, David Schenker, Ibrahim Sharqieh, Robert Springborg, Dirk Vandewalle

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images