How to Fix the Middle East After the Arab Spring: Look to Argentina


As the Arab Spring gradually fizzles out to an inconclusive end, and the future direction of the MENA region remains unclear, the bigger social question is how the scarred societies can reconcile the divisions the various civil conflicts brought and how they can coalesce back into unified body politics. Women might be the answer — and a precedent out of Argentina can describe how that can be done.

In the years of junta rule in Argentina over an estimated 30,000 left-wing sympathizers, activists and politicians were intentionally targeted and 'disappeared,' around the country's prisons and in some cases, stripped, drugged and thrown from aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean. The Dirty War (1976-1983) ended with the war with Britain over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, which finally brought an end to the military government in Buenos Aires and re-introduced a civilian government in 1983 under Raul Alfonsin. That, however, also marked a reconciliation and closure process in society, most powerfully symbolized by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, or Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group of women, whose children were 'disappeared' under the junta government. Their campaigning went on until 2006, and has since evolved to support other social justice issues, such as poverty and housing, and effectively spread through the rest of South America in the process to become an influential social process.

In the Middle East, much of the story is the same, but on a much larger scale. Particularly poignant is the story of Libya’s Stalingrad – Misrata. The fighting cost thousands of lives and the rivers of democracy, honey and milk promised Libya upon Qaddafi’s removal are now nothing, but a bitter fantasy. Issues related to post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological distress, and the woefully inadequate staff and resources to address them paint a bleak picture for the long-term future of the city, not to mention its dim economic prospects. Ironically, Ahmed, an alias for the student mentioned in the article, admits he had a job and a career path before the war, and questions the utility of going through the bloodbath when its aftermath is seemingly far from worth it. It is undoubtedly a silent admission for the feelings of the majority.

However, the past is gone and we can only look forward. Systemic fighting has made PTSD and other psychological burdens a societal phenomenon throughout MENA, and women's groups might just be the cure to mend the wounds over time and work towards long-term political stability. The conservative character of Muslim societies and the traditionally diminished societal role of women, however, do not prevent breaching the discretion, with which these societies are known to conduct their relations: after all, confidentiality and closure would be the code of conduct for addressing these problems. Giving women even limited room to permit the facilitation of such a process that they can lead would indeed go a very long way towards not only fixing the social wounds, but fostering stability and in the longer perspective, give women the political room they deserve to be full members of society.

Given a choice between the devils we knew and the devils we don’t, perhaps it was a better idea to stick with the former.