Saturday, September 17, 2011

Foolish Arab Spring Optimists

Optimists Were Wrong About the Arab Spring - Josef Joffe (Wall Street Journal Europe)
Like many, I thought that dawn was finally breaking over the Arab world when those nice, middle-class crowds thronged Cairo's Tahrir Square chanting "freedom" and "democracy." What a wondrous moment of transcendence! Free the people, and they will free themselves from the obsession of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism their overlords had implanted to distract them from misery and oppression.
It was a false dawn - and not only because of the sacking of the Israeli embassy in Cairo last week. The demons of yore are back, and presumably, they have never left. The Friday demonstration on Tahrir Square was at first yet another protest against the military regime. But at the end, several thousands armed with Palestinian flags, crowbars and hammers marched off to the Israeli embassy.
But there is more. For six hours, desperate Israeli leaders tried to contact the junta; its leader Field Marshall Tantawi refused to speak with either the prime minister or his defense minister. It took another seven before Egyptian security forces rescued the last Israeli - perhaps only because Washington had interceded in the meantime.
The moral of this tale is simple. The revolution isn't going anywhere, and life is as miserable as always. So how about a little pogrom? It wasn't the junta that invented this stratagem, but our good friend Hosni Mubarak. How do despots stay in power amid poverty, hopelessness and repression? By feeding the people the heady brew of hatred against the "Other."

The writer is editor of Die Zeit in Hamburg, a senior fellow of the Freeman-Spogli Institute, and a fellow of the Hoover Institution.

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