Ian Black

October 11, 2011

Egypt‘s latest spasm of violence is by far the worst incident amid a growing catalogue of disillusion with the progress of the February revolution – and a shocking reminder of the potential for deterioration.

It is hard to imagine a worse blow than the killing of Coptic protesters by members of the security forces, but all too easy to gauge the bitter disappointment as the great hopes of Tahrir Square fade.

Far beyond Egypt, the Cairo bloodletting also highlights the uneven progress of the wider Arab spring following the lighting of the spark by an angry and desperate young man who burned himself to death in Tunisia in December 2010.

Initial euphoria about an unstoppable domino effect that would topple one Arab autocracy after another has given way to a more nuanced view that looks at specific local factors over a longer period, including the capacity of the old regimes to fight back and hold on.

Seasonal metaphors – spring giving way to summer, then to autumn and winter – have also outlived their usefulness. Old assumptions are being re-examined. Westerners need to understand that Islamist groups will be players in post-revolutionary politics in ways that were not possible under the old dictatorships.

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