20 Oct 2011

After Gaddafi, where next for the Arab Spring?

As the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is confirmed, Channel 4 News looks at where this leaves Libya as well as the progress in the rest of the “Arab Spring” nations.

Where next for the Arab Spring? (Getty)

Nine months on from the moment when a vegetable seller in a Tunisian town set himself on fire and inspired a nation, the landscape of the Middle East has profoundly changed.

Revolution has swept the region, toppling dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, but leading to widespread and ongoing bloodshed in countries including Yemen and Syria. The ruling regimes in Morocco and Jordan were forced into hasty reform measures to prevent similar unrest engulfing their nations as the so-called Arab Spring took hold.

In Libya, Nato stepped in – officially to prevent civilian deaths – as the country’s leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi turned on his own people.

Now on the streets on Libya, they are celebrating his death, and many hope that for their country at least this marks the next chapter in its uprising.

The Arab Spring has turned into the Arab autumn. It is part of an ongoing process of change that affects most of the Middle East countries. Dr Frederic Volpi

Middle East expert Dr Frederic Volpi from St Andrews University told Channel 4 News that for Libya, it would now be easier to declare the end of the conflict and start the process of democratisation.

But the so-called Arab Spring is by no means over, he said.

“The Arab Spring has turned into the Arab autumn, and in a sense that is a good sign. What we saw at the beginning of the year was not just flash in the pan, it is part of an ongoing process of change that affects most of the Middle East countries.

“The pace of change is uneven because obviously all the countries are not facing the same situation,” he said.

Read more: Gaddafi - from pariah to ally and back again

And while the Libyans celebrate the dawn of a new era, for other countries swept up in the revolts, the pain of revolution is still ongoing.

Dr Volpi added: “For places like Syria, Yemen, Bahrain – there could be an Arab winter, a winter of discontent. But whether that turns into another spring for democratic government, that is not something we can tell now.

“It may be that the winter of discontent is the end of the road for several countries – but for now the popular movements are still going strong.”


The first nation to throw off the shackles of dictatorship is also the first to make real, concrete steps towards a democratic future. At the end of this week, Tunisian residents will vote in elections to appoint a temporary government and draw up a new constitution, before further elections bring in permanent leadership.

So far, international observers have greeted the polls with tentative approval.

Dr Volpi told Channel 4 News: “It’s the second stage in the revolution, not simply getting rid of dictators but putting in a more democratic system. There are some problems with some of the more violent Islamist movements in Tunisia but so far, considering their lack of experience in running free and fair elections, it seems to be going well.”

Read more: Around the Arab World in four uprisings

Analyst Larbi Sadiki, speaking to The Guardian newspaper, described the elections as a “trial run” for the rest of the region.

The appetite for change in Tunisia has not dimmed either – with posters of ousted leader President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali used in one party’s campaign to urge people to vote or face his return. This was a tactic only – the president has fled the country to Saudi Arabia and was sentenced in absentia to 35 years in jail earlier this year.

Mainstream Islamist party Ennahdha is the frontrunner, and Dr Volpi said a key question was whether it would be able to work with its secular rivals post-election, to draw up a constitution for a free, democratic Tunisia.


The situation is far more uncertain in Egypt, which ousted its leader, Hosni Mubarak, in February. They celebrated on the streets then, but the mood turned sour as many felt that the military council which took over was not much better than what it had replaced.

The world’s cameras returned when Mubarak’s trial began in summer, but the process is set to be lengthy and protracted – the same criticisms levelled at the wider reform of the country.

Violence has returned to the iconic Tahrir Square, and three died in an attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo in September. Ongoing problems between Christians and Muslims, particularly in the south, have also continued.

All eyes are now on the elections, scheduled for the end of November.

Pictures of embattled President Saleh in Yemen (Getty)


Violence continues in Yemen as embattled President Saleh clings to power. He returned to the country in September after spending three months in Saudi Arabia following an assassination attempt, but his grip on the country is weak.

The opposition continues to call for him to step down, but he continues to stall signing documents which would lead to a transfer of power. However, for all his weakness, Dr Volpi said the opposition is almost as weak.

“The regime is fragmented but the opposition is also fragmented, it’s far more chaotic than other countries. It’s not a case of dictatorship versus a democratic regime. It could easily slide into some kind of civil conflict or splitting up of the country into different factions. So the problem is finding an easy alternative to the regime of Saleh. If his power ends tomorrow, what’s next? That’s very unclear.”


The situation in Syria remains extremely violent, with clashes across the country and fears of civil war. Dr Volpi said the parallel with Libya is clear – but when Gaddafi turned on his own people, the west intervened. This has not happened in Syria.

Read more: Is Syria sliding into civil war? 

“The regime is really using the military very heavily to suppress any form of dissent. The real question is how long can the Syrian regime keep up this level of repression, and how long can the population keep up their protest?

“It really looks now like this confrontation is going to last for some time. No sides are showing any changes of changing strategy. There doesn’t seem to be a short-term solution.”


The repercussions of the Arab Spring in Bahrain are not over either. Uprisings earlier in the year were brutally repressed but there are still periodic protests.

In September, 20 doctors were jailed for stealing medicine and stockpiling weapons during the March uprisings. They denied the charges, saying they were treating the injured. One told Channel 4 News he had been tortured. Now the attorney general in Bahrain has ordered they should have a re-trial in civil, rather than military courts.

An international report into March’s violence, due out on Thursday, has been delayed as the commission says it needs more time to gather evidence of alleged abuses.

Saudi Arabia

A key player in the Middle East and globally because of its oil wealth, Saudi Arabia provided troops to Bahrain earlier this year to put down its uprising. However it has since denounced the violence in Syria.

[In Jordan and Morocco] It’s not as spectacular, but it is connected to the Arab Spring and it wouldn’t be happening without what happened in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. Dr Frederic Volpi

In Saudia Arabia itself, the leadership relied on its powerful security apparatus and wealth to provide financial incentives to its restive populace, preventing widespread unrest.

Jordan and Morocco

The Arab Spring has had a long reach across the region – not just in countries where the protests have descended into violence. The kingdoms of Morocco and Jordan have escaped that, but they have still seen a transformation.

Both monarchs have instigated programmes of reform in an attempt to pre-empt popular upheaval.

Dr Volpi told Channel 4 News: “They are trying to provide reform in such a way that the population does not feel it has to demonstrate violently against the regime in order to obtain what it wants. This is connected to the Arab Spring – it wouldn’t be happening without what happened in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya.

“In the short-term at least they are succeeding in avoiding overt popular protest. It’s not as spectacular, but it’s still very interesting for the future of the region.”