What did we expect from the
Arab Spring?
The uprisings heralded exciting change, but every country in
the Middle East has suffered.
  by Alistair Horne
8:12PM BST 16 Aug 2011
 Tourism in Egypt has been wrecked since the uprising

The Great Fire of London may have provided a smokescreen for the crisis in the Middle East, but it continues to rumble away as the number one issue on the foreign scene. “Things never turn out how you expect, dear boy,” Harold Macmillan once remarked to me. As an old Middle East watcher, dating back to the late Forties, when I worked for MI5 in Cairo, I’ve always recognised the validity of that observation in this corner of the world.

We never expected fat King Farouk suddenly to be overthrown by a bunch of colonels; never expected Nasser to seize the Suez Canal, then provoke a war with Israel in which he and the Arab “brethren” would be shatteringly defeated. Even when Sadat had half a million men milling around in the desert just west of Sinai, the CIA never expected that Egypt might be about to attack Israel again. And certainly, no one in the West could ever have predicted the September 11 attacks.
Now, six months on from the initial uprisings of the Arab Spring (which, understandably enough, no one expected), we seem to have got all our predictions wrong yet again. But why should we have thought the Arab world might introduce democracy? Against every expectation, out of all the nations in revolt, from Tunisia to Yemen, no leaders, not even a petty Nasser, have arisen, anywhere. The only potential one to emerge, General Abdel Fattah Younes, was killed last month, in an own goal.
With the season of Ramadan now well under way, the results of these popular uprisings are hardly encouraging. In Tunisia, once one of the most law-abiding countries in the Arab world, violent crime has rocketed – not least sectarian offences. Deprived of tourism, the economy has plummeted; the poverty rate has risen from a pre-revolutionary 4 per cent to 40 per cent. Politically, the Islamist Ennahda party looks set to profit in the coming elections.
In Libya, the pink-kneed boy scouts of the Coalition who have run down our Armed Forces have got themselves into quite a mess. Even though Gaddafi seems to be cornered (don’t hold your breath!), it’s difficult to predict any favourable resolution. For “rebel forces” read “rabble”. And how many strikes have actually been carried out by the Arab airforces in the Alliance? The killing by Islamists of General Younes, the rebel commander, was a major setback both to Arab reformists and meddling Westerners. Dr Liam Fox says that such groups will have to be “marginalised” – but can the good doctor give us a prescription for exactly how to do that?
Further east, none of the demands of the revolutionaries in Yemen or Bahrain seems to have met with any success. In Syria, President Assad still sits, brutally crushing all protests, impervious to bleats from the White House – to the great satisfaction of Tehran and Hizbollah.
In Egypt, rage has returned to Tahrir Square. In a state of lawlessness unknown under the despotism of Mubarak, Christian churches have been burned down, and Copts murdered on the streets. But, as elsewhere in the Middle East, the anger is mainly about economics. Tourism, one of the leading industries, is wrecked.
Egypt is the most populous and influential nation in the Arab world, but it also has the greatest endemic problems of poverty. The economy, one suspects, is still controlled by the same old effendi sipping their coffee in the Mohamed Ali Club. When the Arab Spring began, there was big talk about creation of a Middle Eastern “Marshall Plan”. It would have been visionary, and tremendous; the sheikhs of Riyadh alone could have financed it from this year’s oil profits. But rhetoric aside, when did an Arab nation last do something for another? Despite all the fulsome talk about “our Arab brethren”, 10 minutes in the Middle East will tell you that they loathe each other with a passion only marginally less than that reserved for Israel. Indeed, while its ugly head never arose on Tahrir Square, anti-Israeli sentiment still festers – perhaps particularly among the young. When I lectured in Cairo a couple of years ago, promoting a book on Henry Kissinger, I rashly pointed out that – as a consequence of the Camp David accords that he blazed a trail for in the Seventies – Egypt had enjoyed a longer period of peace than Europe had between the two world wars. But I was (politely) shouted down. Notably by young women in hijabs, whose cry was that Egypt had isolated herself, and betrayed her Arab brethren. (That lethal word again.)
It’s certainly possible that economic frustration on the Egyptian street could turn to a more aggressive stance towards Israel – helped by the current paralysis in Washington. (And why, one wonders, does President Obama continue to kowtow to Benjamin Netanyahu, and let the Israeli tail wag the American dog?) Cutting arms giveaways to Israel would certainly help the US deficit, as well as gain support in an unsettled Arab world.
As the heat of Ramadan takes hold across the Middle East, one prospect to view with a fair degree of certainty is that al-Qaeda and its allies will not take off to the beaches of Alexandria, or the green hills of Tuscany. The killing of General Younes proves that they’re right in there, and it would not be beyond expectation to discover that, in the long run, we may have helped Islamist regimes take root in both Libya and Egypt. Even in Ramadan, nature abhors a vacuum.
Some military dictatorships are better than others.
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