What A Difference a Year Makes

What A Difference a Year Makes

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


Spring 2012 in Egypt and Syria is beginning to bear no resemblance to spring 2011. The hope, exuberance, and promise that pervaded that Arab world has now been colored in repression, violence, and denial of democracy. In Egypt and in Syria, the two most significant countries which underwent challenges to their regimes, the movement for a positive change appears to be deferred—at best. 

After Tunisia began the 2011 Arab Spring, it was in Egypt and the massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square that ousted President Hosni Mubarak which the world watched in hopeful expectations that true liberal democracy actually could take hold in the Arab world. The military commission now ruling Egypt, having overseen parliamentary elections, appeared begrudgingly to be moving towards free presidential elections at the end of May. This all now seems to have come to an abrupt end as the special election commission announced the disqualification of the top three presidential candidates from the ballot, including the most likely winner, Khairat el Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s more mainstream candidate.

While some may well view this action as evidence of stability as the military continues to appear to have maintained its power, for the Egyptian people, especially for the supporters of the more moderate wing of the brotherhood it is a great disappointment. For Israel and for the West it means–at least for the moment–that the Egyptian situation will remain static; but for the forces of democracy and for the hopes for change in the Arab world it is once again a test of whether Islam can accept the challenges of liberal democracy.

In a worse episode of reversal from the spirit of last year, Syria appears to be regressing even deeper. Most recently, despite some initial optimism with the efforts at establishing a ceasefire between the rebels and the Government arranged by the offices of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan, Syria again is tittering on the brink of failure as the initial monitors in Syria suggest that significant shooting continues in some cities. The likelihood of Russian and Chinese acquiescence to a more strict and demanding approach by the U.N. is unlikely. While the Arab League may support a stronger U.N. resolution, at the end of the day it is unlikely that that the Arab League would support it enforcement—certainly not by Arabs.

The interesting footnote to these events is that President Obama is in a position, should the opportunity–and the polls– present itself and should he deem it appropriate, he could take action in addressing events in Egypt or Syria. This is the advantage of incumbency which candidate Romney comprehends as his delimma in commenting about the the war in Afghanistan in today’s New York Times indicate. Specifically- even without his personal penchant for saying the wrong thing—Romney can speculate what he “might do were he the President” but the power to act is only Obama’s.

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