An Arab-Style ‘Cambodian Spring’ Could be Disastrous

By Samir Pheng

Following the recent election results, a new concept is starting to bloom: the Cambodian Spring. Although filled with optimism, the idea of transposing the Arab Spring to Cambodia should be taken with a pinch of salt.

In December 2010, “flowers” blossomed in the harsh Mediter­ranean sun of Tunisia then Egypt followed by Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Syria and many Arab countries soon after. Arabs followed the mesmerizing songs of change and democracy trusting they would soon lead to a better life. As curious as Pandora opening a forbidden box bestowed by Zeus, the people expected democracy to become a panacea for all their troubles. In the heat of the moment Mohamed Bouazizi’s immolation kickstarted the revolution and everyone took to the street.

French political scientist Mi­chel Dobry speaks of desectorialization in Egypt meaning that workers of every sector converged their frustrations into a massive protest movement. Like a B-rated Hollywood movie, the bad guy (the long standing dictators) lost to the good guys played by Democracy. Hap­py endings and let’s grab a beer anyone? As much as I wished this story to be true, reality shows a much grimmer and more violent face.

Tunisia has failed to recover from former President Ben Ali’s fall and the political situation has been unstable since. Unemployment rates have risen as the fragile state has been unable to establish a solid economic structure. As a result, foreign investors are reluctant to set foot in a country with a weak legal and political framework. And Tunisia is probably the one country from the Arab uprisings with glimmers of hope.

Egypt initially placed its optimism in the figure of President Mohamed Morsi but he has failed to negotiate a peace agreement with the military. To his own detriment, one might say after the latter seized and imprisoned him. The inability to create a stable political climate has many economical consequences. Vice Minister of Finance Hary Kadri Dimian is still not able to broker a loan agreement with the International Mon­etary Fund. Wheat reserve is at its lowest point since importation has slowed considerably meaning Egypt could face another food riot. Evaporating investments, scared tourists: A once attractive country with its gold sands and mighty pyramids has become the scene of gruesome showdowns.

Libya and Syria? What can be said? One has become a haven for radical Islamists looking to restore Shariah law while the other sees President Bashar al-Assad sharpening his meat cleavers every day. He might fall one day but chances are the butchering will not stop there. Overzealous partisans of democracy like to put in the limelight the inevitable democratic transitions whenever they see a glimpse of change. But what follows is not always rainbows and butterflies.

The way we instill change can either mean: Establishing legitimate democratic institutions recognized not only by the West but also the people and its leaders. Or, destroying existing structures to establish newer, untested ones.

Every government has its flaws but it is through constant institutional confrontations, negotiations and eventual compromise that change should be brought about. The nature of change whether it is through peace or violence also dictates the nature of the outcome.

A Cambodian Spring—Arab style—could produce irreversible consequences. Our country should not make another dreadful copy of a Western song, especially one that sold so badly in Arab countries.

Samir Pheng is a graduate student at Sciences Po Bordeaux.

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