Since March 2019, a new phase of protests has progressively hit several countries across the MENA region, from Algeria to Sudan, from Lebanon to Iraq, leading some observers to envisage the second wave of the “Arab Springs”. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets, challenging security forces and blaming the ruling élite for corruption, poor governance, and social injustice. One year later, several governments found themselves in an increasingly precarious condition but the sudden spread of the COVID-19 pandemic forced protesters to stop, overshadowing the very reasons behind the popular demonstrations and offering exposed state authorities an unhoped opportunity to impose harsh social control measures and buy time. However, as soon as regional states began to ease lock-down regulations protests restarted, indicating that the very grievances that prompted social unrest in the first place have plainly re-emerged and are further compounded by the pandemic’s massive economic impact. As the social pact underpinning most of the region’s societies seems more untenable than ever, governments have now to choose between a serious commitment to socio-economic reforms or a new, and likely more violent, season of social unrest.
Matteo Colombo, Associate Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Program, ISPI
Ranj Alaaldin, Visiting Fellow, Brookings Doha Center, Qatar; Director, Proxy Wars Initiative, Carnegie Corporation of New York
Lina Khatib, Director, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House, UK