Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99

Editorial

News Opinion Editorial

The uncertain future of the Arab Spring

The killing of two dozen unarmed Coptic Christians — and the wounding of hundreds of others — by Egyptian security forces and Muslim extremists in Cairo this week has thrown a dark shadow over the country's prospects for a peaceful transition to democracy. The elation following the popular uprising that drove former President Hosni Mubarak from power last winter has gradually given way to disillusionment and distrust of the military generals running the country, who seem in no hurry to turn over power to an elected civilian government. This week's bloody turmoil deepened that unease by showing just how difficult it will be for Egypt and other nations that have recently thrown off decades of tyranny to fulfill the promises of the Arab Spring.

The deadly confrontation occurred after several thousand members of the Coptic sect, which makes up about 10 percent of Egypt's population, engaged in a peaceful march through the capital to protest the military government's failure to protect their churches. At some point, the demonstrators were set upon by thugs wielding sticks and stones, and as they struggled to defend themselves, army units arrived on the scene. But instead of protecting the protesters, the soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 17. Other demonstrators were crushed to death under armored vehicles that ran over them.

The brutality of the assault, the most serious outbreak of violence in the capital since the fall of Mr. Mubarak, shocked those who once regarded the Egyptian army as the guarantor of the country's democratic aspirations — a belief that stemmed in no small part from the military's refusal last winter to attack the crowds gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding an end to autocratic rule. Many Egyptians at the time praised the army as heroes of the revolution.

Since then, however, the generals have shown themselves to be at best reluctant stewards of democracy. Meanwhile, they have mismanaged the economy and allowed the country's once-thriving tourist trade to collapse. They have been willing to trample the very rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech the demonstrators thought they had won with the fall of the Mubarak regime, and they have repeatedly pushed back the timetable for elections. Now, this week's vicious killings show they're not averse to exploiting sectarian tensions as well in order to justify maintaining their grip on power.

These developments represent a potentially disastrous turn of events in Egypt's unfolding revolution, and not just for the country's own fledgling democracy movement. Every nation in the region has long-standing religious, sectarian and ethnic divides that must be bridged if democracy is to take hold, and all of them are vulnerable to violent strife in the political vacuum left when strongmen are deposed. If Egypt, long a leader in the Arab world, can't manage to overcome such differences, it surely does not bode well for all the other countries hoping to trade autocracy for democratic rule.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Egypt and Islam
    Egypt and Islam

    Our view: Religious parties' strong showing in the recent elections isn't necessarily inimical to democracy

  • Schmoke's vindication
    Schmoke's vindication

    When Gov. Larry Hogan's task force on heroin overdose deaths met at the University of Baltimore last week, the panel was greeted by the school's newly installed president, Kurt Schmoke, a former Baltimore mayor with plenty of experience coping with the city's heroin epidemic. More than 20 years...

  • Big pharma should support the NIH
    Big pharma should support the NIH

    Recently at a reception, one of my faculty colleagues at Johns Hopkins expressed concern about her academic future. The pay line for National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants in her field was 7 percent; that means that she has to spend two or three weeks writing a proposal that has only a 7 percent...

  • What Hillary Clinton needs to do to win
    What Hillary Clinton needs to do to win

    In finally declaring her 2016 presidential candidacy, Hillary Clinton put a reverse twist on the old break-up line, "It's not you. It's me." Her pitch, she said, is all about you -- the voters and what you need -- not about me and my ambition to follow my husband into the Oval Office.

  • Michael Phelps [Poll]
    Michael Phelps [Poll]
  • Restoring people's faith in government
    Restoring people's faith in government

    In Maryland and across the country, Americans are growing deeply cynical about Washington. And for good reason. They perceive that policymaking is increasingly an insider's game, with little role for the public itself. They feel that their voices go unheard in Congress. And they see, time and time...

  • Is there value to the n-word?
    Is there value to the n-word?

    The "n-word" — what a complicated topic to discuss in 2015. You're either for its free expression or against its very existence.

  • Charter reform: Better than nothing
    Charter reform: Better than nothing

    Gov. Larry Hogan's proposal to increase the number of charter schools in Maryland to give parents more choices about the education of their children suffered a major blow in the General Assembly session just ended. His proposal wasn't perfect, but it represented a much larger step forward than...

Comments
Loading

59°