Advancing a Free Society

Optimists Were Wrong About the Arab Spring

Friday, September 16, 2011

I wasn't alone, but the mea culpa is all mine. Like many, I thought that dawn was finally breaking over the Arab world when those nice, middle-class crowds thronged Cairo's Tahrir Square chanting "freedom" and "democracy" without burning American and Israeli flags. What a miracle, I mused: The dogs of hate are not barking. And what a wondrous moment of transcendence! Free the people, and they will free themselves from the obsession of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism their overlords had implanted to distract them from misery and oppression.

It was a false dawn—and not only because of the sacking of the Israeli embassy in Cairo last week. On my desk sits a Reuters photo dated May 13; the caption reads: "People burn an Israeli flag during a demonstration on Tahrir Square." There were no such symbols of "Arab rage" when the protests erupted in late January.

The demons of yore are back and presumably they have never left. The Friday demonstration on Tahrir Square was at first standard fare—yet another protest against the military regime. But at the end, several thousands armed with Palestinian flags, crowbars and hammers marched off to the Israeli embassy for a bit of deconstructionist work.

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