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 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT