Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

How to rescue the Arab Spring

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Tue July 30, 2013
A bus passes a destroyed pickup truck with loudspeakers that was used by supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy on Friday, August 2. The supporters and security forces clashed in Sixth of October City in Giza, south of Cairo, after the government ordered their protest camps be broken up. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/15/middleeast/gallery/egypt-violence-august/index.html' target='_blank'>Look at the latest violence in Egypt.</a> A bus passes a destroyed pickup truck with loudspeakers that was used by supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy on Friday, August 2. The supporters and security forces clashed in Sixth of October City in Giza, south of Cairo, after the government ordered their protest camps be broken up. Look at the latest violence in Egypt.
HIDE CAPTION
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Photos: Unrest in Egypt
Photos: Unrest in Egypt
Photos: Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
Unrest in Egypt
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's long been known that revolutions devour their young, Frida Ghitis says
  • The hope of the Arab Spring has dimmed with Egypt, Tunisia, Syria upheaval, she says
  • Ghitis: Liberals in Egypt benefited from the military's move but may suffer as well
  • She says they must stand up for liberal, democratic values

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.

(CNN) -- Revolutions devour their young. That lesson became well-known after the French Revolution, and it has proven itself true many times since then.

Now the Arab Spring -- whose very name summed up the idealistic, democratic expectations of the activists that launched it and the optimistic reception their movement engendered around the world -- looks like it may well join the long list of popular uprisings that failed disastrously to meet those aspirations.

It has turned out that mass movements would not swiftly sweep away entrenched dictators and replace them with pluralistic democratic rule.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

In Tunisia, where a street vendor set himself on fire in December 2010, igniting the region, someone has been assassinating liberal politicians, raising tensions between the Islamist-dominated government and an increasingly restless opposition.

In Syria, what started as a peaceful uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad has turned to civil war. More than 100,000 Syrians are dead. Millions more have fled, further destabilizing a fragile region. Al-Assad, with the support of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, has stopped the opposition's momentum. The democratic movement has been invaded by radical Islamists, including al Qaeda loyalists. The country is falling apart and could well end up as a failed state, run by warlords and split along sectarian lines.

There are serious troubles also in Libya, and few if any signs of democratic progress anywhere else, not in Bahrain, Jordan or Saudi Arabia.

Is the Arab Spring over? Is there any hope for the people of the Arab Middle East to enjoy true democracy, equality, respect for human rights, freedom of the press and of religion?

Pro-Morsy camp digs in
Egypt: Who's in charge?
Egyptians fear more bloodshed to come

All eyes are now on Egypt, the Arab world's most important country, a state whose political example has proven a regional trendsetter over many decades. As in the other struggling Arab Spring nations, democracy here has also found toxic soil. But the cause is not hopeless. Despite the setbacks for revolution, something has changed in the region, and it is in Egypt where the movement will live or die.

It was in Cairo's Tahrir Square where liberal groups launched their movement for democracy, only to see their vision hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. And it is in Egypt where last month they made a push to save their revolution from Islamists, only to be outplayed yet again, this time by the military and its leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The highly disciplined Brotherhood won the first wave of democratic elections, but its intentions differed sharply from those of the Tahrir protesters. President Mohamed Morsy, Egypt's first freely elected president, set on a course to give his Muslim Brotherhood steadily expanding control of the country. The Brotherhood repeatedly broke promises and started to create a country dominated by its loyalists, firing critical newspaper editors, blocking opposing views from the writing of the new constitution, naming Brotherhood members as provincial governors, allowing laws and practices that were disastrous, even deadly, for Christians, Shiites and women. Making matters much worse, the economy started spiraling down, creating enormous hardships for the Egyptian people.

Then the Tamarod (rebellion) movement gathered millions of signatures calling for the president's resignation and new elections. On June 30, millions of Egyptians took to the streets. Within hours, the military put an end to the Muslim Brotherhood rule. Morsy has been held in an disclosed location since then, but the European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, met with him for two hours Monday.

Egyptians by the millions are exhilarated by the end of the Muslim Brotherhood experiment, intoxicated with gratitude to the military, grateful for removing the president. Al-Sisi's profile is rising. He's clearly in command and exploiting the popular adulation.

But is this what the Arab Spring was supposed to do, replace an unelected dictator with a general and his hand-picked prime minister?

In a highly suspicious move, al-Sisi called for a mass demonstration in support of the military on Friday, summoning his backers to the streets, even as thousands of Morsy supporters continued a sit-in outside a mosque. On the day of the protest, as if to provoke the Islamists to confrontation, Morsy was charged with murder and espionage.

With the strong show of popular support, security forces took on the Islamists. In the clashes, which have been replicated in other cities, scores of Brotherhood supporters have been killed.

Liberal Egyptians are getting worried.

Al-Sisi's own words should be cause for concern. He has defended the military's outrageous "virginity tests" on female activists as a way to "protect the girls from rape." The military has promised a return to democracy next year, but al-Sisi has written about the need to introduce another version of Islamist rule to Egypt. Authorities are reviving Mubarak-era institutions of repression amid an atmosphere of swelling nationalism and adulation for the military.

This is a steep, seemingly impossible, challenge for liberals. The military saved them, but it could easily bury them. What they have in their favor is that the Arab Spring introduced the concept of democratic legitimacy into Egypt. A government that strays too visibly, for too long, will ultimately face the wrath of the people.

What activists should do, and the world should help them do, is stress the fundamental values of liberal democracy and publicly demand that the military affirm its own acceptance of those values -- which the Brotherhood was criticized for violating -- including freedom of thought, freedom of the press and equal rights under the law for all.

The killing of Muslim Brotherhood supporters is a shameful violation of those principles.

Egypt needs to develop democratic institutions, political tolerance, real political parties and politically educated citizens. It's a tall order. But it's the only way to keep the revolution from devouring the ideals on which it was launched.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT