As we are still touched with the euphoria of the Arab Spring, the Arab winter has crept up all but unnoticed, beyond the forecasts of experts and the calculations of governments. It was only this month, after all, when Libya’s civil strife was cut off by the death in a ditch of Muammar Gaddafi: however regrettable the nature of his end, it removes the main focus of a future fight back. It was only this month, after all, when Tunisia held fair and free and peaceful elections, in which a moderate Islamist party came first. It will, after all, be next month when the three rounds of voting for the Egyptian parliamentary elections begin. Why talk of a failure?
Because if there was a revolution in spring – in fact, a series of quite distinct revolts, animated by something of a common spirit – there is now a counterrevolution. Or rather, once more, a series of distinct efforts to push back, or at least control and turn to group advantage, the gains made by the demonstrators. Power is not won simply by revolt: it is won, and secured, by those interested in the exercise of power, prepared to grasp and hold it.
In Egypt, which provided to the international gaze the most stirring movement and the least ambiguous, largely peaceful, victory in the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, power is still grasped by the organization which has been the deep structure of power for more than half a century: the military. Both its will to rule and its desire to retain privilege appear to be as high as ever: and there are signs that both the Muslim Brotherhood – the only well organized political force – and the regional chiefs are coming to quiet understandings with the military leadership on how the country is to be governed.
Stability – if they can achieve it – would be welcomed by most: the economy and employment have suffered badly, and the promises from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the World Bank and the IMF of grants, soft loans and debt forgiveness amounting to some $15 billion could stabilize the economy – if a government emerges which both understands how to use the money and how to run the state. But the euphoria of liberation, already dissipated, will not return: that was a moment only.
The strength of the Islamists is growing, and will grow further. The al-Nahda party became the largest in Tunisia’s new parliament, with over 40 per cent of the vote and 90 of the parliament’s 217 seats. It’s in talks with the leftist Congress for the Republic, which came second with 30 seats: but since the first is firmly religious and the second is firmly secular, these are likely to be hard – though, if successful, they will be an early indication of how hard line, or accommodating, 2010’s political Islamism is likely to be.