How's democracy doing so far in the much celebrated and slightly mislabelled Arab Spring?
There are 22 members of the Arab League, which include such Arab countries as the Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Mauritania, Somalia and Sudan. The only six countries affected by the "Spring" are Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and Syria, in chronological order. Let's review them.
In Egypt, a military junta hijacked the popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak and is toiling to hand the country over to a coalition of army and Islamists. Moderate and liberal forces appear sidelined. Elections will at best create a deadlock between a nationalist president with weak Islamic but strong anti-Western credentials and a Muslim parliamentary bloc strong on both. The economy is in freefall, a development more favourable to toxic populism than democratic consolidation. In short, civil rights, Christians, women, economic development and Israel beware.
Tunisia still offers a moderate chance of orderly transition, but Islamists are slated to make significant electoral gains. In Bahrain, harsh repression and foreign occupation shielded the regime from having to adopt change. A fragile stability has returned to the country, with many ordinary Bahrainis bruised and battered in prison. Libya is embroiled in a civil war but with no end in sight. Syria faces a very real risk of descent into sectarian violence and civil war and is undergoing a ferocious repression by the regime. If democracy is on the march in both countries it is a slow process, although they offer more promise of a real overthrow of the regime, as opposed to the cosmetic changes in Egypt.
Yemen may be closer to democracy than before President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. Still, there is a real chance that the country will fall apart, and the real question will be what it runs out of first — weapons, qat or water. It could become a democracy. It could also increasingly look like Somalia, or become an Arabian haven for al-Qaeda. The odds do not favour democracy.
There has not been much earth-shattering change in the remaining 16 countries.Neither Sudan nor Somalia is showing any prospect of democratic change. But southern Sudan has a real chance to develop into a democracy, provided the north leaves it alone-again, an open question.
As for the rest, in Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, protest fires were quickly put out.In Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Kuwait, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania and the UAE there were either no protests or not enough to cause a stir. In places like Qatar or the UAE, the downtrodden who should be asking for democracy are not the indigenous Arab population.