The Arab Spring is now long gone. The blossoms are off the trees, the buds and tender shoots of the desert spring were all stillborn. The landscape itself is all but lifeless, a desert sand, bereft of life-giving irrigation. All that remain are a few deep-rooted, little-valued weeds, holding on in Tahrir Square.
Six months after popular unrest, supported by Western intervention, began spreading across North Africa and into the Gulf, only two autocratic leaders have been toppled – both former allies of the West – in Egypt and Tunisia. Serious questions remain concerning who will wield power in both countries – and none of the likely suspects show signs of wanting an alliance with the West. In the meantime, uprisings in Syria and Bahrain have been brutally repressed – with no intervention by the West – and Nato military action in Libya has proved incapable of removing a tinpot dictator who would have been rubbed out within three days by a General Patton and his U.S. tank-cavalry.
Those who continue to occupy Egypt’s Tahrir Square suggest indeed that the corrupt, property-endowed elite military junta has cut a deal with the Islamic Brotherhood in order to retain its own pre-revolutionary loot while sharing any additional revolutionary spoils with Islamic militants:
“the outburst against the generals is partly fuelled by suspicion of a secret deal with the Brotherhood intended to deliver political influence to the Islamists in exchange for guarantees for the generals.” Roula Khalaf, ‘Transition to democracy suffers painful birth pangs’, Financial Times, July 28, 2011
Any initial democratic gains of the Arab Spring have been overwhelmed by sectarian strife, struggling increasingly socialistic economies, and counter-revolutions. So warned British Foreign Minister, William Hague, on July 27, 2011. Fledgling democracies produced by waves of people power might well prove too weak to deal with the deep-rooted problems that they now confront, the Foreign Minister told The London Times. ‘There are a lot of problems and even convulsions to come in the region’, he suggests. Worse still, he warns of bloodshed across the Middle East and the Maghreb as religious groups turn against each other: ‘One of the risks in the Arab Spring is the unleashing of sectarian divisions.’ Progress is bound to be uncertain, and will take up to 30 years to unfold. ‘We are going to be working at this for the rest of our lives.’
Well, I have a response to these words by William Hague – a response that I suspect is shared by many Westerners:
’You may choose to work at this for the rest of your years, Mr. Foreign Minister. But we shall not stand shoulder to shoulder with you. If the Arab Spring should fail – as fail it already has – that is a problem for the Middle East, and not for us. We in the West now fully understand that the more we try to help, the more we flagellate ourselves, like President Obama, for the sins of our ancestors, the more we are hated and despised by those who receive our aid and shrug off our apologies. So, let us awaken to realities and seek to help ourselves and to leave others free to follow suit.’