The Arab Winter
The Arab Spring, history may record, began last winter. This winter, the signs that freedom and democracy have been truly planted across the Arab world are not so bright as might have been hoped.
The act that is given credit for bringing millions of people to the view that their lives under despotic and corrupt rule could and should end occurred last Dec. 17. That is when an unemployed Tunisian man named Mohamed Bouazizi, his hopes of making a living by setting up a fruit and vegetable stand in a public square dashed by corrupt police, committed suicide by setting himself on fire. He was 26.
The resulting protests were so overwhelming that it took barely a month before strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled into exile in Saudi Arabia.
That was followed by popular uprisings elsewhere, with varying degrees of success.
• In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power since 1978, agreed to step down last month, following an uprising that led to dissident leader Tawakel Karman receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. But as recently as last weekend, there was no peace, as security forces were still killing their fellow citizens and Saleh said he'd like to go to America.
• In Libya, the people's uprising was significantly advantaged by the military intervention of NATO, mostly American and French. Dictator Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed and a transitional government, also promising elections and a democratic future, was installed.
• In Egypt, long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced from office and is now under arrest. A long cycle of parliamentary and presidential elections has begun. But the Egyptian military, which mostly stood with the people during last summer's protests, has since imposed its own dictatorial rule and in recent days has cracked down violently on new rounds of street protests. And the Muslim Brotherhood and other disquietingly Islamist parties gain strength at the ballot box.
• In Bahrain, the royal family has deployed weapons that include mass arrest, torture and other forms of intimidation. The movement for freedom there is all but over.
• In Syria, despite wave after wave of popular protests and international condemnation of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, thousands of people have been killed and the government shows no sign of loosening its grip.
Meanwhile, dissident voices in Jordan have been quashed, and the royal family of Saudi Arabia continues to offer the refuge of choice for deposed dictators.
Thus it appears that Mohamed Bouazizi's sacrifice has not yet inspired reform across the Arab World.