The hopes for democracy that bloomed in the “Arab Spring” are drying up in a long, hot summer of crackdowns, civil war and continuing protests.
Egypt remains under the military’s tight control, while demonstrators are still protesting for reforms more that five months after the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.
Political turmoil in Yemen threatens a civil war much like the conflict in Libya, as both countries’ leaders desperately cling to power.
“I think the Arab Spring has devolved into a long, hot summer with severe setbacks to pro-democracy movements in Libya, Syria and Bahrain, violent civil war in Yemen and growing instability in Egypt,” said James Phillips, Middle East specialist at the Heritage Foundation.
On the plus side, he said, Tunisia, whose public demonstrations kick-started the Arab Spring, “is the country with the most optimistic prognosis, due to its large and well-educated middle class and secular tradition.”
P.J. Crowley, former chief spokesman at the State Department, said the region may end up something like Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union collapsed. Some countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, became democratic. Others, such as Belarus, stuck to their old repressive ways.
“Change is occurring” in the Arab world, Mr. Crowley said. “The region as a whole will not be the same, but on a country-by-country basis, successful transformations are definitely not assured. Some will go all the way, some part way and a couple will resist change entirely.”
Recent events in the Middle East and North Africa show:
• Iran, Bahrain and Syria turned to brutal repression to put down anti-government activists, with no intervention by the West.
• Yemen, home to a lethal arm of al Qaeda, is teetering on anarchy that would allow militants a new ungoverned base from which to operate. Al Qaeda claims it now controls Yemeni territory.
• There are no signs that royal rulers, particularly the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, are embracing any type of democracy.
“Now there are backlashes,” said Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “Instead of reforming, they are becoming more reactionary. So the ‘Spring’ has really polarized Arab politics. And of course the Saudis are going to try to terminate all manifestations of the ‘Spring’ and are working to that end.”
Perhaps the most troubling “Arab Spring” development is the uprising in Yemen, home to al Qaeda’s most potent franchise, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh fled to Saudi Arabia last month after barely surviving a rocket attack. Fighting continues as government troops, tribal warlords and al Qaeda sympathizers compete for power.