Welcome to the Arab Summer
by Jack Stallworthy
More than a year on, what has become of the Arab Spring?
Once the results of the first round of Egyptian Presidential elections were announced – the first time after millennia of civilisation that Egyptians have been able to vote for their head of state – it became clear that the two candidates to go through to the next round (to be held on 17th June) were to be Mohamed Morsi, the official Muslim Brotherhood candidate and Ahmed Shafik, a former Commander of the Egyptian Air Force and the last Prime Minister to be appointed by the ousted former Egyptian president, recently condemned to life imprisonment for the deaths of protestors, Hosni Mubarak.
Initially the two favourites were both independents: Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood -expelled for opting to stand for election himself when the Brotherhood maintained that they were not going to campaign in the Presidential elections – and the former General-Secretary of the Arab League and Foreign Minister under Mubarak, Amr Moussa, who went head-to-head in a televised debate days before the election, managed to obtain only 17% and 11% respectively.
The decision of the Egyptian electorate (or more accurately 43% of the electorate – the turnout) result was immediately dubbed ‘the nightmare scenario’ by the intelligentsia. In addition, allegations have surfaced that suggest 900,000 Egyptian soldiers were given ID cards so that they could vote for Ahmed Shafik, the preferred candidate of the Supreme Military Council, which has been governing the country since the resignation of Mubarak 16 months ago.
Egyptians now have a choice between an Islamist, whose colleagues elected in the parliamentary elections have proven to be less competent than the long history of the Brotherhood’s public engagement might have suggested, and an appointee of the former regime, supported by the army, which continue to lose legitimacy and popularity.
Indeed, the hoped for Arab spring into a democratic future has become a hard slog for reformers across the Middle East. Whilst Tunisia has managed to have successful elections, Egyptian revolutionaries feel disillusioned, Libya is facing numerous problems in constructing a functioning state and depressing news stories of atrocious massacres committed by Assad regime, desperate to hang on to power, emanate from Syria seemingly daily.
Tunisia’s success is certainly not insignificant, indeed the Arab Spring started there; but the country is small compared Egypt, with Cairo seen as the centre of Arab political and philosophical thought. Indeed, it is not just the result of the election that is to be regretted; Egypt still needs a new constitution. The next president will be elected under the old constitution and have the same powers that Mubarak had. Negotiations over the formation of a committee to decide upon the contents of the news constitution have stalled, with secularist voices claiming that the committee is dominated by Islamists, using it as an opportunity to strengthen their power.
Whilst the British and French led intervention can be championed as a foreign policy success, Libya still has a mountain to climb before it can be described as a functioning democracy. Unlike Egypt, where, although fraudulent, elections had previously been held, Libya not only lacks the basic infrastructure for the electoral process but corruption is also rife and militias still have arms, meaning that the state has no monopoly over the use of lethal force, undermining its authority. Kalipha Shakreen, a lecturer in economic and politics at Tripoli University, refuses to vote in the upcoming elections, as distinct political parties remain to be established, individuals do not know where to vote and constituency boundaries are not even clear.
Russia and China, not wanting to be fooled twice, are refusing to allow Libya-like measures, such as a no-fly-zone, to be enacted over Syria, fearing that the West might use a UN Resolution sanctioning such undertakings as a cover for encouraging regime change and actively helping the rebel Free Syrian Army. Thus, the autocratic Assad government can carry on wiping out any opposition.
A tragic situation indeed. However, it must be remembered that in the last 18 months four Arab dictators have been forced from office, free and fair, if not perfect, elections have been scheduled for the first time in three North African countries and the threat of civil war or sectarian strife has been thus far avoided. If not a ‘dream scenario’, the region has thus far avoided the ‘nightmare scenario’ of a continued, across-the-board lack of democracy, conflict along religious lines, military coups or Islamist hijacks of the revolutions.
It has since been announced that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi won the presidential election.