The term Arab Spring is one that speaks to the general sympathy with which the world greeted anti-authoritarian protests in the Arab world. But as we survey the region, it appears that those who feared that this year of revolutions might turn out to be another 1848—in which European liberals rose but were soon defeated by reactionary forces around the continent—may turn out to have been right.
While the success of repressive regimes in Syria and Bahrain are the most glaring examples of authoritarian regimes being able to suppress dissent (with the military stalemate in Libya another depressing story that has left Qaddafi in power in Tripoli), it appears that the most famous triumph for Arab protesters may turn out to be no victory for freedom after all.
As the New York Times reports today, Egypt’s military is increasing its censorship of critics in the media, making it all too obvious that the fall of Hosni Mubarak was more of a military coup than a successful popular uprising. Military control of Egypt may be preferable to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that is increasingly influential in that country since the fall of Mubarak. But it is far cry from democracy or anything approaching a free society.
Especially appalling are the revelations that the military conducted “virginity tests” on female demonstrators during the protests. This practice, which sounds more like an official policy condoning rape than anything else, puts the lie to the new regime’s supposed desire for accountability for the violence that went on at that time. Indeed, such stories place Cairo’s determination to try Hosni Mubarak for protesters’ deaths in a hypocritical context that is difficult to defend.
While those in the West have debated the virtues of exporting democracy to the Arab world, events in Egypt are making it all too clear that the outcome of the Arab Spring has little to do with anything that resembles our ideas of freedom.