A warm Arab spring or a bitter regional winter?
Similarly, the revolution in Egypt went quite smoothly and President Mubarak, having stepped down, was almost brought to justice – but then he suffered a rather convenient heart attack. Since his resignation an armed forces council has been running the country. At first, the army seemed keen to meet the demands of the protesters and outside parties. On taking power, it immediately declared that it would keep all of Egypt’s international commitments. Elections were to follow. All looked well. However, once the news cameras had refocused on new revolutions – this time in Libya and Syria – the pace of change slowed. More people were killed as the army tried to clear new protesters, angry that nothing was happening, from Tahrir Square – the focus point of the demonstrations against Mubarak. My worry is that Egypt is stuck in a rut. The initial excitement has worn off and the army does not seem to be in a hurry to relinquish power. Egyptians, weary of further unrest, may not want to cause any more mayhem by protesting again – and who can blame them? After all, over 300 people were killed in the ousting of Mubarak. No one is quite ready to take that risk again. However, having fought so hard for freedom earlier this year, the Egyptians should not allow their army to hold on to power. If they do, it would give other powerful forces – such as those in Syria – an example to follow. In effect the Egyptian army have staged a coup with the help of their people. Freedom is still far off.
The Arab spring entered a new phase when Libya and Syria saw the beginning of their own revolutions. In Libya, the protesters soon became a rebel force, who went on to capture various towns like Misrata, their unofficial capital. The conflict brought in foreign forces for the first time, when NATO convinced the UN that action had to be taken to give the rebels a chance against Col Gaddafi’s vastly superior weaponry. NATO and American forces have since pummelled Gaddafi’s army and bases, allowing the rebels to advance and take more towns. However, in the last month or so the battle for land has reached a stale-mate. The rebels know that the regime will not collapse unless one of two things happen – either the rebels capture Tripoli, the capital, or the regime implodes from within. In my view, the latter is increasingly unlikely; having survived the last few months it is hard to imagine that Gaddafi and his cronies will suddenly give in to pressure. The former option, then, is the one the rebels must focus their efforts on. However, here, again, there are problems. Firstly, the rebels are continually failing to get anywhere near Tripoli. This is because they are lacking in everything. They have not established supply chains, and even if they had, there aren’t any supplies. They desperately need heavy weaponry of their own, rather than relying on NATO to keep up. Secondly, many people in Tripoli have benefited from Gaddafi’s rule and continue to support him. They are richer and have better living standards than those who live in the rebel’s stronghold. While they still feel that Gaddafi’s rule is right for them, the rebels have no hope of taking the capital. However, as time goes on and oil and food become scarcer, these people may start to resent the regime. If they finally rise up, Gaddafi will be on a plane before anyone can blink – especially as he has just been indicted by the International Criminal Court. The people of Tripoli hold the balance of power in their hands and it is hard to tell what they will do with it. A few journalists are now bringing up a new possibility, on the basis that the Tripolians will not do anything – paralysed as they are by fear (which I think is likely). If neither side makes any headway, the country may split: with the rebels in the East and Gaddafi maintaining power in the West. This is a real possibility, I think, because Gaddafi will never step down and should the rebels accept defeat, they will be slaughtered. Mercy is not a word in Gaddafi’s vocabulary. And if the split happens, what then? A dire spectacle such as that seen when Partition occurred (when India and Pakistan split in 1947) could repeat itself as people try to get across the border. Then, of course, the rebels would have to form a stable, democratic government, which is not a given. They too may hold onto power without an official mandate, but somehow I doubt it. They have fought too long and too hard for democracy, surely they believe in it? Whatever happens, both sides, as well as NATO’s pilots, have a long slog ahead of them.
Islamism has shown itself in other areas too – most notably in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. After President Mubarak was overthrown, the Brotherhood became a legal political party once more. They plan to contest the next elections, and there is a good chance that they could win – as they were seen to support the revolution and were popular as an underground party. It is hard to say what the Brotherhood would do in power; having once upheld Sharia law they have, in recent years, proclaimed to support democracy and freedom of expression. I, for one, would be pressed to guess whether they would return to their old ways or not. My hope still lies in the people, though, because having given so much for democracy they are not going to let it go easily.