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A short Arab spring succeeded by long summer

The wave of democracy that swept across the Arab world beginning in January appears to have dissipated. Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa remain under the rule of governments that are anything but democratic.

In Tunisia and Egypt, where revolutions succeeded in removing long-time despotic leaders, there are uncertainties about whether liberal constitutional democracy can actually take hold.

Whatever happened to the “Arab Spring” that surprised the world at the start of the year? It was a spring of discontent that defied the notion or even the myth that Arab people do not crave freedom, democracy, justice and the right to demand accountability from their governments.

While the two successful uprisings inspired young people in the rest of the region to seize the opportunity to take the future into their own hands, earlier predictions of a domino effect that would collapse other regimes never materialized.

Instead, Libya, Syria and Bahrain have turned into bloodbaths as governments deployed their militaries to put down the uprisings by the use of violence. Defections in the Libyan army meant that the revolution turned into a civil war with the young people taking up arms and are now in control of parts of the country. In Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, it is still a case of the government military taking on mostly peaceful and certainly unarmed demonstrators.

The United Nations response to the turn of events in the Arab world has been inconsistent, at times even smacking of double standards that reflect the (oil) interests of the big powers rather than standing up for the principles of human rights and dignity that it stands for.

The silence on the part of the club of nations, which was enacted upon the ashes of World War II, raises questions about its ability to maintain peace and security. Between its responsibility to respect the sovereignty of governments and to protect the lives of people in the face of a clear and present danger, the U.N. has clearly opted for the first.

The early spring now looks as if it will be succeeded by a long, hot summer of infernos and killings in the Arab world. Governments might be reluctant to help, but there is no doubt that our prayers are with the safety, well-being and prosperity of the Arab people who wish to lead decent lives.

(The Jakarta Post, May 13)
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