Middle East

Viewpoints: Five writers reflect on Syria and the Arab Spring

With Syria dominating the headlines, the BBC World Service programme Newsday invited five writers from Arab countries affected by revolution to reflect on what has happened in their homelands - and what the future might hold.

These are edited extracts - click on the audio for the full versions

Syria - Samar Yazbek

I don't think about who I am these days.

We are not the people we were heading towards becoming.

We are still on our way there, with no choice but to be pulled off course by humankind's brutality.

All of a sudden, I found myself beneath the guillotine wherever I turned.

Having for so many years thought myself capable of claiming my freedom as a woman - despite facing various forms of oppression - I was being stripped of my sense of self, falling repeatedly from the sky down into the devil's abyss.

The extent of the barbarity that exists in this world is beyond anyone's imagination.

What I have seen I cannot describe. Reality is more gruesome than anything the mind can conjure.

I saw the dismembered hands of children visible among the rubble. As plain as that - the hand of a four-year-old girl appearing from beneath the debris of a house that Assad's aircrafts had pelted with explosives.

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Media caption"Can I take much more?": Hear Samar Yazbek's audio essay in full

I watched the girl's grief-stricken father, his body coated in dust from head-to-toe, as he sat on the pavement close to the horrific wreckage that was once his house - now a pile of stones.

He watched the rescue team as they searched for his daughter's body, smoking a cigarette in silence.

The man lifted a hand to his forehead as tears streamed from his eyes. In that same moment I placed my palm to my chest, my heart nearly stopped. I felt as though my fingers were piercing straight through my body and exiting my ribcage.

I was nothing!

Libya - Ghazi Gheblawi

In a short story I wrote long before the uprising, I imagined a man riding beside a reckless and erratic driver in a very old car.

Driving for an eternity on a long baking-hot road, the man kept asking the driver only one question, "Where are we going?"

That scene and that question depicted the general sense of despair and helplessness in Gaddafi's Libya.

Libya today is a country suffering from serious problems.

There is a weak central government that struggles to maintain basic services and law and order, armed groups violently compete to maintain their gains, and a new political clique is working on isolating its rivals.

Society is fragmented and distrusts government, but still relies on it heavily.

But despite all these serious problems, Libyans maintain a modest level of hope and optimism, mixed with bitterness and disappointment that the country's course isn't living up to the sacrifices and expectations.

We might be allowed to be angry, upset or frustrated, but we are not allowed in our loathsome disappointment to lose hope.

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Media caption"A generational turning point": Ghazi Gheblawi on BBC World Service

Without hope, we wouldn't be able to lift ourselves from our legacy of despotism, social stagnation and the carcasses of lost opportunities.

At the end of the short story of the long car ride, the passenger was kicked out of the car and left alone on the dark, baking tarmac - the blurred sight of the old car driving away in the distant horizon.

As he languished under the blazing sun, he kept asking "Where are we going?"

After many years being left alone in the middle of nowhere, I can imagine him being offered a ride by possibly the same old car, glad he is back on the road, accepting the fact that this will be a bumpy, arduous ride, but moving towards somewhere that might - in the end - be worth it.

Egypt - Sara Khorshid

During the revolution's early glorious days, I had not imagined that we would end up with - not only the same regime holding on to power - but Egyptians getting killed by the hundreds.

Fear, distrust and hatred have filled the hearts of many.

Those who originally revolted to oust Mubarak's regime are now divided.

Divisions among revolutionaries are only a microcosm of the deep divisions that have torn the Egyptian people apart.

And between two polarised camps, the revolution is lost.

But have I lost hope?


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Media captionHear the full version of Egyptian author Sara Khorshid's audio essay

The revolution that erupted from the mists of 2010's darkness and suppression can certainly be revived.

This time it will be against all forms of authoritarianism - military and religious.

The mission of those still loyal to the revolution must be to stand up against the army's brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood members - a crackdown that goes against everything the revolution called for.

Tunisia - Samar Samir Mezghanni

When my country woke up on 15 January 2011, we believed we had made a revolution.

We thought that change was made, that the best is yet to come, that dictatorship is over.

We failed to see that revolution is our new dictator.

When the revolution becomes this national event that is celebrated - the holy concept that is idealised, the source of national pride, the history that is glorified - it becomes beyond our critical thinking and imprisons us all.

I am a supporter of the Tunisian revolution, but two years ago, we failed to see its dark side and we did not question it, challenge it or criticise it. We just embraced it and expected that everything will be ok.

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Media caption"The revolution is not yet over": Tunisia author Samar Samir Mezghanni

Everything is not ok.

We need leadership, a vision and a popular consensus over the priorities of our country and the actions we all need to take.

We found out that the people we recognised as leaders are not offering us a vision, are not uniting us and are not taking the lead about the future of our country.

Few things have in fact changed. Dictatorship is still residing in our country, with different faces.

Yemen - Farea al-Muslimi

In early 2011, the world started paying attention to the powerful uprising in my home country of Yemen.

But opposition to then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh dates back long before 2011.

In 2007, a peaceful movement took shape in the south Yemen, protesting against the region's marginalisation at the hands of the central government and - later -demanding the separation from the north and a return to their pre-1990 independence.

In the north, a series of six wars between the government and Houthi rebels had settled into a delicate ceasefire.

Two years later, the picture feels far less clean. Saleh may technically be out of power but he remains influential, as impossible to dislodge as a thorn caught in one's throat.

A conference of National Dialogue is ongoing. But despite hopes that it will ultimately draft a new constitution, the conference remains mired in deadlock.

The economy remains deadlocked, barely touched by any nascent reforms.

However, there have been some military reforms, and Yemenis are increasingly engaged in politics.

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Media captionYemeni author Farea Al-muslimi on BBC World Service

Saleh's son, long groomed to be his successor, is not president.

All of this notwithstanding, things continue much as they always have in rural Yemen. For farmers in remote areas, life has always been a struggle: water is scarce and rain is far from guaranteed.

"Al-Harka barka", a popular phrase goes, pointing to the sky, "Movement is a blessing."

Directing my gaze at the stirrings of political power players, rather than cloud activity, I tend to view Yemen's future in much the same way.

The authors above featured on the BBC World Service programme, Newsday. You can also listen to them in the documentary Rewriting the Revolution on BBC iPlayer Radio.