It’s now been five years since Hosni Mubarak stepped down in the face of massive Arab Spring protests against the incompetence and repression of his regime. You’ll be forgiven if you haven’t noticed, because Egypt is pretty much right back where it started in early 2011, except that “Sisi” is slightly easier to spell than “Mubarak” (in English and Arabic). I don’t have much to say about this day that I didn’t already say on the anniversary of Zine el-Abidine ben Ali’s resignation in Tunisia:
I kind of cheated when I gave this post a “today in history” title, because while the Arab Spring is undoubtedly a part of the history of the region now, it’s also still very much a part of its present condition, and five years hasn’t nearly been enough time to assess what it all means. Four years ago people were celebrating the Arab Spring movement’s toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and now…not so much. Two years ago you might have thought the Arab Spring was ushering in a new age of Arab democracy, but then Egypt became a military dictatorship again. Last year you might have thought that at least Bashar al-Assad was finally about to answer for his myriad crimes against the Syrian people, but, uh, Vladimir Putin had other ideas. Tunisia remains a success, but a tenuous one; rising youth radicalization and the instability in neighboring Libya are constant threats. The situation is too unsettled to allow for some kind of bird’s eye view of things in a historical context.
There’s even less to say about Egypt’s Arab Spring from a historical context than there is to say about Tunisia’s. Tunisia has, at least, been able to hang on to its fledgling democracy, although it’s far too early to say whether that will hold. Egypt has slid all the way back into dictatorship. If anything, Sisi is more repressive than Mubarak, and his short reign has consequently involved more violence than Egypt has seen in quite a while. And there’s no sign that he’s going to let up, particularly not when the Obama administration is actively working to remove the relatively minor legal penalty that Sisi’s abuses have had on US aid to Egypt. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that there was a moment on February 11, 2011, where it looked like Egypt was going to go in a different direction.
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