Papandreou's embattled, but Berlusconi's king of no confidence

We're only hours away from knowing whether Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, caught between fuming European creditors and enraged Greek citizens, will survive a confidence vote (or "no confidence" vote, if you're a glass-half-empty type). So far this year, the parliamentary motion, which enables legislatures to express whether they still have confidence in the appointed government, has felled the administrations of Canada's Stephen Harper, Slovakia's Iveta Radicova, and Slovenia's Borut Pahor (The first ever victim? British Prime Minister Lord North in 1782.)

How these motions work varies from place to place (they're particularly potent in multiparty systems), but the prospects facing Papandreou are pretty typical for countries that employ the measure. The Greek leader needs an absolute majority of 151 votes of confidence in Greece's 300-seat parliament to survive, and his socialist party, Pasok, currently holds 152 seats (in other words, barring a revolt within his own party, which is possible, he might very well scrape through tonight's vote). If Papandreou loses the vote, he will resign (the government "has to resign" if it doesn't enjoy parliament's confidence, according to the Greek parliament's website). He'll then either call for a general election or permit the major parties in the existing parliament to establish a coalition government or a technocrat-run transitional government. If Papandreou wins the vote, he may remain in power and possibly try to form a unity government with the largest opposition party, New Democracy.

Or, after all this buildup, Papandreou may resign even if he wins the confidence vote because of the heat he's facing domestically and internationally (Papandreou's grandfather resigned as prime minister in 1963 after surviving a confidence vote because he didn't want to govern with pro-Communist politicians). Papandreou's family has a "very strong exit culture, a code of how to leave without being discredited," Greek journalist Ilias Siakantaris told the BBC this morning.

Papandreou, who called earlier this week for a controversial referendum on Europe's new bailout deal for Greece, only to later retract the plan, has already survived two confidence votes: one upon assuming power in 2009, as the constitution requires, and one in June after reshuffling his cabinet.

Still, even if Papandreou manages to squeak by again this evening, we shouldn't forget that he isn't the world's wiliest confidence vote survivor. No, that title goes to Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, who's facing a confidence vote on Tuesday in connection with the debt-saddled country's budget reform program. Since assuming power for a third time in 2008, Berlusconi has remarkably survived over 50 confidence votes (in Italy you need a simple majority rather than an absolute majority to win parliament's confidence). How has he managed to do it? "His center-right coalition faces no serious challenge from the disjointed center-left," the Globe and Mail explains. "But the endless scandals and criticism of his economic stewardship as the debt crisis intensifies have cost him many allies within his coalition."

There is "no one else capable" of leading Italy, Berlusconi declared this week, according to the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Yes, nobody presides over dysfunction quite like Silvio Berlusconi.

Andreas Solaro and Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images


Who first used the term Arab Spring?

My attention was struck yesterday by a blog post published by the U.N.'s Alliance of Civilizations, which states that the now ubiquitous term Arab Spring, was "first used by Foreign Policy Magazine and then adopted by journalists and activists in the US as a way to brand the revolution that has been transforming the MENA region for almost a year now."

I didn't recall FP coining the term, and was curious about whether that was true. The answer turns out to be, kinda, sorta, maybe.

It's not well remembered at this point, but the term "Arab Spring" was originally used, primarily by U.S. conservative commentators, to refer to a short-lived flowering of Middle Eastern democracy movements in 2005.

On Jan. 6 of this year -- only two days after the death of Tunisian fruit-vendor Mohamed Bouazizi -- FP's Marc Lynch wrote a post titled "Obama's 'Arab Spring,'" in which he remarked on the emerging "clashes through a diverse array of Arab states -- Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt":

Are we seeing the beginnings of the Obama administration equivalent of the 2005 "Arab Spring", when the protests in Beirut captured popular attention and driven in part by newly powerful satellite television images inspired popular mobilization across the region that some hoped might finally break through the stagnation of Arab autocracy? Will social media play the role of al-Jazeera this time? Will the outcome be any different? 

It's the earliest reference to "Arab Spring" on the FP site and the earliest one I can find from 2011, though I invite readers to submit earlier links.

According to Lexis-Nexis, the earliest use without reference to the 2005 events was a Jan. 14 editorial in the Christian Science Monitor, following the ouster of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. 

Arab spring? Or Arab winter?

That choice is now before the autocratic rulers in the Middle East and North Africa as they nervously watch a popular uprising oust a repressive leader in one of the smallest – but most stable – countries of the region, Tunisia.

The next reference is a Jan. 25 interview with  Egyptian opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei in Der Spiegel:

Perhaps we are currently experiencing the first signs of an "Arab Spring" (e.g. similar to the so-called Prague Spring of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia in 1968). Our neighbors are watching Egypt, which has always played a pioneering role. I hope that my country will be one of the first in which freedom and democracy blossom. We Egyptians should also be able to achieve what the Tunisians have done.

The following day, French political scientist Dominique Moisi used it as the title of a syndicated column. 

By mid-March the term had entered wide use in the media including this site, ironically at the moment where it appeared to be running out of steam. 

Despite its wide use, many Arab intellectuals and activists have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the term. This shouldn't be surprising since it refers back to the "Prague Spring," a brief moment of democratic freedom that was eventually crushed by Soviet tanks. 

But for better or worse, and whoever first coined it, the term has stuck. 

When did you first hear or read "Arab Spring?" Let us know in the comments. 

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