The world celebrated the “Arab Spring” as evidence that the people of the Middle East, like those everywhere, yearn to be free. But time has not been kind to the optimists, writes AP analyst Dan Perry:
After some hiccups, Tunisia is the one bright light today, with a free presidential election planned later this month. But across the Middle East, bloodshed, chaos and dashed dreams were far more often the result.
Hundreds of thousands have died, most in a ferocious and seemingly unwinnable Syrian civil war that has displaced millions, spilled over into Iraq, and threatens to destabilize other neighboring countries. Libya is an ungovernable and dangerous mess. And Islamic radicals have seized the discourse to a great extent; a US-led coalition fights them now, in Syria and Iraq.
“We can expect democratic transitions to be messy, chaotic and sometimes bloody, but this is worse than even the worst expectations,” said Shadi Hamid, a Mideast expert at the Brookings Institution.
The biggest and most unfortunate lesson people learned, he said, is that peaceful protest does not necessarily lead to a peaceful way forward or toward democratic transition, Perry adds:
Increasingly, people in the region are asking whether democracy is even a good idea in the Arab world. The question seems unfit for polite society, but it was already on the table in January 2011, as a panel of Arab finance figures considered events back home from the comfort of the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, its members clearly none too pleased.
One recommended strong but “benevolent” leaders for the region. Another said democracy was alien to a region where patriarchal traditions dominate. A third said the public needs education lest it simply vote along tribal lines. Others saw radical Islamists swiftly bamboozling the masses.