Even in Egypt, Arab Spring not yet secured
Egypt may have swept aside Mubarak in the Arab Spring, but the real fight lies ahead.
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In Egypt, Tunisia, the hard work beginsSkip to next paragraph
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These incidents are a reminder that the authoritarian habits of decades aren't going to vanish on their own.
In Egypt and Tunisia, there are still security states reliant on torture and coercion that need dismantling, and allies of Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali still fight rear-guard actions.
Qaddafi and Assad, meanwhile, have taken the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia to heart – and plunged their countries into bloody civil wars. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf's preeminent financial and authoritarian power, is using its money and troops to make sure the spark of democracy doesn't ignite in fellow monarchies.
The House of Saud participated in the bloody crackdown on activists in Bahrain, where 1,500 of its troops helped sweep protesters from the street. The Bahraini monarchy then destroyed Pearl Roundabout, a focal point of protests. "No Tahrir Squares here," was the message.
At home, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has promised vast new payouts to citizens and reempowered some of the most reactionary elements of the religious establishment to lash out at any liberalizing influences. (For more on Saudi Arabia's efforts to slow political change read The House of Saud strikes back).
"We know that Arabs want democracy, and they're willing to fight for it and die for it," says Shadi Hamid, who studies democratic reform in the Middle East at the Brookings Doha Center. "The short, rapid nature of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions was something of a fluke. It's usually not that easy … [regional leaders] saw the mistakes Mubarak and Ben Ali made, and are determined not to make them."
Mr. Assad isn't taking any chances. At least 1,600 Syrians have been killed in a crackdown on democracy protests in Syria, which has involved torturing to death regime critics as young as 15. Troops have been sent into towns to contain protests before they start, and the situation has increasingly veered toward civil war.
Assad, who watched as Mr. Ben Ali and Mubarak offered tepid concessions while a populace fed up with dictatorship grew braver, has chosen the route of state terror – which has been an effective tool of social control for his family in the past. In 1982, his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad, had tens of thousands killed in the city of Hama after it backed an Islamist uprising against his rule.
Sadly, brutality has worked: Assad held power for 30 years, with his son becoming president in 2000 after Hafez's death. (Editor's note: The original version misstated the length of Bashar al-Assad's rule.)
But even when dictators do fall, the hard work of fundamental reform remains. Egypt is now negotiating its way toward a true political transition under the shaky guidance of a military junta.