The so-called Arab Spring is looking pretty parched right now. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is on the rise and has struck up an electoral alliance with even more openly radical Salafis. Muslim attacks on Egypt’s besieged Coptic Christians continue. Mass demonstrations by the secular (but often hard-leftist or Nasserist) Facebook revolutionists have sought to quell anti-Christian feeling by turning anger against Israel instead. This continues even today. (The Facebook revolution was supposedly not anti-American or anti-Israeli, but any serious study of the revolutionists background would have shown that hope to be false.)
The Syrian government, under siege from its own people, is permitting civilian attacks on Israel as a way of diverting attention, and to warn the West away from further pressure. Israel’s foes have united and seem primed to provoke a war designed to tilt the Middle East’s playing field toward Iran, and perhaps even draw in a post-election “democratic” Egypt ruled by Nasserite nationalists and Islamists against Israel. Our incoherent Libyan misadventure is bogged down in a stalemate, with no greater clarity on the true political intentions or leanings of “our side.” The Gulf states remain on a low boil, with Iran well positioned to take advantage of further chaos.
But what about Tunisia? At least there we should find reason for hope. Tunisia is where the great Arab revolt started, after all. Unlike most other Arab states, Tunisia has a history of coherent national identity, relative secularism, fairly successful development, and a continuous and robust alliance with the United States. Tunisia’s military (as opposed to the dictator’s personal security forces) supported the revolt with enthusiasm. If the Arab Spring can succeed and bear fruit anywhere, it’s Tunisia.
While that may still happen, as elsewhere in the Middle East, the outlook for genuine liberal democracy in Tunisia is now tenuous. An Islamist party quite like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is on the rise and fledgling secular parties are now worried that the Islamists will dominate Tunisia’s July 24 election.
Whatever the outcome, it’s now clear that the supposed Arab Spring has substantially empowered the region’s Islamists. Unfortunately, few of the secular counter-forces are genuine liberal democrats, and those few liberal democrats who do exist are by no means sympathetic to American interests. We’ll have to wait at least until after the July election in Tunisia and the September election in Egypt (if there is one, which is not yet entirely certain) to make reliable judgements on the initial outcome of the Arab Spring. The preliminary outlook, however, is decidedly bad.