Short Takes

Lost Promise of Arab Spring

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam

At this point of time it is quite clear that the great hope and promise that the Arab Spring generated across the Arab world have been frittered away recklessly.

None of the countries that seemed to have been transformed by the Revolution is a picture of good governance and sound democratic functioning. It may sound callous, but the fact is that the Arab world is still unprepared for democracy.

The saddest and most gruesome case is that of Egypt, which despite being heir to an ancient civilisation and the largest population in the Arab world, has never been a democracy where peopleís writ runs large.

Till about six decades ago the country was run by a puppet regime controlled by Britain. The ruler, an inept, obese monarch called King Farouk, was deposed by military officers and sent into exile. The Neguib-Nasser duo (later Neguib was sidelined) began a new era of great promise, which crashed in 1967 under Israeli attack. This was no time for democracy.

When Nasser died, his crony General Anwar Sadat became president. After he was shot dead by a Brotherhood-affiliated gunman for his alleged softness towards Israel (even though under Sadat Egyptians had fought well in the Ramadan War).

General Hosni Mubarak stepped into Sadatís shoes and ran the country as a military dictator for three decades till he was booted out by the Revolution. From Nasser to Mubarak it was five decades of Egyptian life under military boots. For half a century there was no time for building democratic institutions that work as checks and balances against power-hungry rulers.

Placed in that context President Mohammad Morsiís short rule looked promising. However, even under Morsi there was no attempt to build democratic institutions. On the contrary, Morsi tried to unilaterally change the Constitution and extend his own powers without consensus. This was just the opposite of democratic procedures or convention.

The army, always lurking in the shadows like a pack of wolves ready to attack and destroy democracy, pounced on him, toppled his government and arrested him. There is no justification for such behaviour. There is only one place for the army at peace time Ė in the barracks. The army chiefís place is not in the presidential palace even if he changes his uniform for mufti or places his minions in the presidentís chair while remaining army chief.

The worst outrage that General Sisiís dispensation has caused is the kangaroo trial of Brotherhood members in March, in which as many as 529 leaders were sentenced to death. Making a mockery of due process, each person was given less than a minute to defend himself. Had democratic institutions been built over the last 50 years it would not have happened.

The Brotherhood, for all its flaws, deserves better treatment than imprisonment and death. The unjust sentencing of the 529 Brotherhood members must be scrapped and any retrial must be fair. Democracy must be allowed to take root in Egypt and elsewhere.