Thursday, July 14, 2011

Egypt's spring turning to autumn

In early February I compared the Arab uprisings with the wave of revolutions across Europe in 1848. I pointed out that the latter had early successes followed by disastrous setbacks as the internal contradictions of the revolutionary alliances began to work themselves out. Middle class liberals joined ranks with the monarchists they had just defeated to block the rise of socialist radicals. Ethnic nationalist revolutions pitted Danes against Prussians, Poles against Ukrainians, Croats against Hungarians, and the monarchs - playing them off against one another - gradually crept back into power. Within a few years most of the successes had turned to failure, most of the countries were once more under autocratic rule.

I noted something similar in modern North Africa:

In Egypt, just as in 1848 Europe, the anti-government forces are a mixture of contradictory ideologies. Then it was liberal nationalists and socialist radicals, now it is democrats and Islamists.

Now Shadi Hamid and Samuel Plumbly write that Egypt's revolutionaries are beginning to fall apart:

Egypt has not had its second revolution, and remains governed by an institution—the military—that was long the backbone of the Mubarak regime. With tens of thousands returning to protest across the country on July 8, the frustration with the military regime’s performance and a lack of revolutionary dividends has reached a fever pitch. Protesters representing a wide range of factions, from liberal youth movements to the resurgent Salafis, turned out to voice their anger over the military’s foot-dragging....

Oddly enough, many of the liberal and leftist groups participating in antimilitary protests have also supported the “constitution first” movement, which would effectively delay September elections and keep the military in power even longer. Among other things, they believe they need more time in order to organize to counter an ascendant Muslim Brotherhood and members of the former ruling National Democratic Party.

Troubling fractures, these. With liberals turning a blind eye to military rule to prevent an Islamist takeover, I'm reminded of the 1840s liberal deals with monarchs to prevent the rise of early socialism. Europe was to find liberal democracy, but the hard way, via fascism, communism, genocide and two world wars. Let's hope rival Arab factions find a way to peacefully solve their differences and build healthier societies. Just as I did in February, I wish them luck. There is nothing inevitable about success.

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