The pro-democracy protests that have swept through the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, toppling authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia relatively swiftly and non-violently, have been called an "Arab Spring" by many analysts.
But on a day when Muammar Qaddafi's forces close in on rebel headquarters in Benghazi, Bahrain's Sunni monarchy cracks down violently on Shiite protesters, Syrian security forces break up a rare public protest, and government supporters in Yemen attack pro-democracy protesters and wound hundreds, some analysts are wondering whether the Arab Spring has run out of steam, depleted by bullets, bombs, tear gas, and the steely resolve of entrenched powers. As Ashraf Khalil put it on Twitter today, "Seems like Arab leaders have decided Mubarak fell because he was was too soft."
Some are blaming the West's reluctance to intervene aggressively in recent uprisings for emboldening autocractic rulers to forcefully quash revolts (the U.K. and France support a no-fly zone in Libya, for example, but Germany, Russia, and the U.S. are more hesitant).That's what Bloomberg's Henry Meyer suggests, and the BBC's Gavin Hewitt agrees. If Qaddafi wins, he says, Europe--which brands "itself as a defender of democratic values"--will have to ask itself a tough question--did it fail the Arab spring?"
Foreign Policy's Stephen M. Walt, meanwhile, argues that it's Qaddafi's very isolation that has motivated him to prosecute his counteroffensive so heavy-handedly: "With few genuine foreign friends, a big pile of cash, and no place to run or hide, Qaddafi and his family had little choice but to fight it out and hope for the best, even if their brutal suppression of the rebel forces lands them back on the list of international pariahs." In the Arab world, Walt adds, "the revolutionary impulse has been remarkably contagious, but revolutionary outcomes much less so, at least thus far." It's not even clear, he points out, how extensive reform in Egypt and Tunisia will be.
But even if the Arab Spring, as originally conceived, is effectively over, some analysts believe its consequences will prove more durable.
Walt, for example, predicts more political change in the Arab world in the years ahead. "Even if some governments are able to keep the lid on for now," he says, "the social, political, and economic conditions that have given rise to these upheavals won't vanish anytime soon. Whether they consent to real reform or not, ruling elites are likely to be more mindful of popular opinion going forward."
British politician Denis MacShane expresses a similar sentiment at Progress Online. When the uprisings in the Middle East erupted "there were excited comparisons with the post-1989 freedoms in East Europe after the end of Sovietism," MacShane explains. "What we are seeing is more like Prague in 1968 or perhaps the crushing of the spring-time of nations as continental Europe's hope for liberal democracy in 1848 ran into the sand. But freedom's banner once unfurled cannot be hauled down."