More than two years after the Arab Spring, the Middle East has descended into a chilly fall. Early success stories like Libya and Tunisia are still plagued by internecine violence, Syria’s full-scale civil war threatens to drag the entire region into chaos, and Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has returned to military rule.
In “Egypt in Crisis,” a documentary airing Tuesday night on PBS, FRONTLINE and Globalpost document the military’s violent crackdown on protesters following this year’s July 3 military takeover.
The military violently suppressed followers of deposed–and democratically elected–Muslim Brotherhood Leader Mohamed Morsi. On Sept. 5, terrorists based in the Sinai Peninsula failed in an attempted assassination of Egypt’s interior minister, General Mohamed Ibrahim, according to Reuters. Reports also allege that a gunmen killed an Egyptian military officer and wounded three others in an attack northeast of Cairo Tuesday, raising concerns that the Islamist insurgency is spreading beyond the Sinai. According to medical officials, clashes along the Israeli border have claimed 121 lives in recent weeks, including 69 military and police personnel.
But elsewhere, the interim government has made gains. This week, military forces recaptured an Islamist-held town where former Morsi supporters had been targeting Christian minorities. The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has either been jailed or killed and protests in Cairo have subsided. Unlike the protests of 2011, the majority of Egyptians had lost faith in Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party and the electoral process.
Many experts are warning not to judge Egypt’s democratic transition based on the first two post-Mubarak years. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College who has done research on the democracy movements in Eastern and Western Europe, wrote in Foreign Affairs, “A country often begins with a nondemocratic regime, proceeds through a phase (or several phases) of minimal or illiberal democratic experience, and eventually emerges with a consolidated liberal democracy.” The Economist looks at the history of autocratic regimes in the region and concludes, “Those who say that the Arab spring has failed ignore the long winter before, and its impact on people’s lives.”
Whatever the long-term prospects for the Arab Spring, Egypt is proving that the Arab world’s transition to democracy will not be without fits and starts.