Egypt takes a huge step forward
In a world in which global communication is as instant as a Facebook or Twitter message, it is easy to get impatient with the pace of current events. The popular uprisings against Middle Eastern dictatorships and autocracies known as the Arab spring started barely 18 months ago and are still on-going. But some experts and political commentators have already dismissed them as failures. Tens of millions of Egyptian voters taking part in historic presidential polls which end today know otherwise, understanding that regardless of who eventually wins, a fair election is a huge step forward. For those people who have won democratic freedoms and are shaping their future as they see fit, or are still agitating for change, it is far too soon to determine meaning or say that there has been a definitive result.
Even before a winner has been declared in Egypt, there are those who believe that the push for democracy has failed. Among the leading candidates are a former prime minister of the ousted leader, Hosni Mubarak, and an Islamist - neither of whom are seen as representing progress. Regardless of who takes the presidency, though, they will face the same challenge of restoring the shattered economy by rejuvenating foreign investment, bringing back tourists, creating jobs and lowering inflation. Under autocratic rule, Egyptians had no way of expressing dissatisfaction with the way they were being governed; with democracy, if it is allowed to flourish, they will have every opportunity.
In Egypt and Tunisia, where the Arab spring began, there is concern about the rise of Muslim extremism and the resulting perceived loss of freedoms for women. Yemen's new president faces terrorism; 96 soldiers were killed this week by a suicide bomber in an attack claimed by al-Qaeda. The threat of civil war hangs over Libya, while Syria is already embroiled in one. Bahrain is in turmoil.
The Arab spring movement is at various stages and has taken on particular forms in each country. Ruling so soon on success, failure or otherwise is wrong. There is no doubt, though, that the region thirsts for, and deserves, more representative and accountable government.