Arab Spring turns to cruel winter

By Geoffrey Alderman, October 26, 2011

Did you, perchance, notice the Arab Spring? This singular phenomenon, like some deceptively beautiful carnivorous plant, lived but a very short time upon this earth, but then died a violent death, eagerly devouring many of its children in the process.

If you don't believe me, then believe the video footage of civilians being deliberately run over by military vehicles in Cairo last week. If you don't believe me, then believe the reports of scores – no, hundreds – of civilians being tortured and shot in Syria. If you don't believe me, then believe the view of our own British Foreign Office that anyone suspected of assisting protesters in Bahrain, including doctors and nurses who merely bound up their wounds, has been imprisoned at best and, at worst, tormented beyond description, together with their families.

In a recent interview the noted American-Jewish intelligence analyst Dr George Friedman explained to the perplexed that actually there never was an Arab Spring. Only in Libya, he noted, has there been – apparently – a change of regime, and then only because of NATO's military intervention.

"In Egypt," he added, "one general is replaced by four generals. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad is still in power. There is tremendous excitement but...very little outcome." Dr Friedman also pointed out that not every instance of unrest is tantamount to a revolution and that, in any case, a revolution is not necessarily democratic.

Indeed the only instance of a truly democratic revolution in any Muslim state in modern times brought to power the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, under whose beneficent rule Iran (you will recall) became and has remained a byword for brutal and unashamed repression.

What we recently witnessed in Egypt was a pogrom

At a recent seminar an academic colleague tried to convince me that my cynicism was unjustified. He argued the case for Iraq – not exactly a revolution, we agreed, but at least a change of regime facilitated, as with Libya, by external forces.

Well, Saddam has certainly gone. But I regret to have to inform you that the Iraqi state remains one in which repression is institutionalised. Earlier this year Amnesty International published a depressing report into instances of violence and torture against Iraqi civilians who had dared to take part in, or be identified as sympathetic to ,peaceful "Days of Rage' protests last February. One activist reported [and I quote] that on February 24 he was "stopped in the street in Baghdad by about 30 armed police. He was subsequently beaten, blindfolded and taken to a police building where he was tortured. He was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists with his legs and arms tied together and had freezing water thrown over him." He was released without charge on March 8.

This is the "freedom" that you and I paid for through our taxes and that British soldiers paid for with their lives.

The recent incidents of brutality in Cairo relate, of course, to the continued repression of the Coptic church. The overthrow of Mubarak has not led to freedom.

It has, rather, permitted Islamists to put into practice their long-cherished ambition to turn Egypt into a repressive Islamic state. What we recently witnessed in Egypt was nothing less than a pogrom, the only difference being that the victims were Christians, not Jews.

For the Christians of Egypt (as, incidentally, of Gaza), there never was an Arab Spring. For them, what the events of last February ushered in was only a nightmarish winter of cruelty and oppression. In this connection I need to draw your attention to an astonishing warning given recently by the Patriarch of the Lebanese Maronite Church, Bechara al-Rahi.

During an official visit to France a month ago al-Rahi angered his French hosts when he warned that the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria could turn out to be disastrous for Christians (both in Syria and throughout the region) if it were to be succeeded by a fundamentalist Islamic government.

And what of Tunisia, where the Arab Spring is said to have started? The government of the tyrant Ben Ali may have been overthrown last January, but the cycle of violence and repression continues apace.

In May a peaceful demonstration in Tunis (called to draw attention to the undue influence in the new administration of a cadre of wealthy cronies of Ben Ali based in London) was viciously dispersed by police, still led by officers loyal to the old regime.

In the Arab world, it seems, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Last updated: 9:44am, October 26 2011