Arab Winter: will Islamists be the next dictators?

Nov 22, 2011

Hopes of a new era of democracy in the Middle East may have been dangerously naive

VIOLENT scenes in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and the growing confidence of Islamist movements in Tunisia and Libya have prompted commentators to fear the Arab Spring has simply opened the door to a new brand of oppression. But is it inevitable?
Everything has changed except the rulers
The scenes from Cairo in recent days have been met with alarm around the world, says an editorial in The Independent. Egypt was the second country in the region, after Tunisia, to remove its long-time ruler in a mostly peaceful show of people power, and as the largest country to have done so, “it became a beacon for others”.

But the hope that buoyed the protests in Tahrir Square in February now seems a long way away, adds the editorial. “These are dangerous times.”

In Egypt the central paradox remains, that everything has changed except the country’s rulers, says David Blair in The Daily Telegraph. “The dictator has gone, but the system that he built and the political allies whose careers he nurtured are still in place.”
In theory, the army is responsible for nothing more than guiding the transition to democracy, adds Blair. But to critics, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, now running the show, is “nothing more than a symbol of the continuation of Mubarak-ism, without Mubarak”.
Arab Spring turns to winter
Egypt is just one example of how the Arab Spring is rapidly turning into a winter of chaos and oppression, says John Bradley in the Daily Mail. As protests grip the Egyptian capital of Cairo, and Islamic fundamentalists gain in confidence there and elsewhere across the region, “the hopes of Western leaders for a new era of democracy across the Middle East have been exposed as hopelessly naïve”.

For far from paving the way for freedom and pluralism, says Bradley, “the uprisings have led only to more intolerance, authoritarianism and division”.

It was entirely predictable, says Moshe Arens in Haaretz. “The Islamists are going to inherit the mantle of the dictators.”

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya were corrupt dictators, but they suppressed the Islamic movements in their respective countries, “and were all thus on the side of the seculars in their own perverse way”. The same holds true for Syria's Bashar Assad.

The toppling of these Arab dictators was inevitable, adds Arens. Unfortunately what will follow is just as inevitable. “It looks like it is going to be long Arab Winter.”

Nothing inevitable
There was nothing inevitable about the Arab Spring, says Ben Macintyre in The Times. These tumultuous events tend to be seen as “the ineluctable flood of history flowing in one direction. But in reality, all mass movements are made up of countless individuals making private decisions based on morality, ideology, courage”, as well as fear and self interest.

Millions of people across the Arab world were inspired, not by Islamic fervour or charismatic leaders, adds Macintyre, but by one another. Nothing is inevitable about this process, “let alone its success”.

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