x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Arab uprisings are not proof against tyranny

Two years to the day since the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire, the end of the region's revolutions are far from certain.

Egyptians have gone back to the polls in an act that would have seemed unthinkable barely two years ago. No matter how many surprises the Arab uprisings have thrown up, there remains something remarkable about the most populous Arab country voting in (apparently) free and fair elections.

But two years to the day since the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire - and captured the imagination of poor and oppressed people across the region - the end of these revolutions is far from certain. As Mouin Rabbani writes on the opposite page, elections by themselves are hardly a guarantee of a representative democracy, and indeed might serve to usher in a new form of authoritarianism.

In Egypt, turnout for the referendum at the weekend has been interpreted, in part, as a plea for stability as much as an endorsement of the draft constitution. A "yes" vote would be a victory for President Mohammed Morsi, but hardly a binding political settlement.

Exit polls on Sunday suggested that a little over 56 per cent of Egyptian voters had favoured the draft constitution in the first round. That is not the official result, which depends on the second round next Saturday. But if that margin holds, it would be a slight improvement on the 51 per cent of voters who supported Mr Morsi in June.

It is one thing, however, to elect a president by a narrow margin; it is entirely another to approve the constitution of the land in a rushed vote with a slender majority.

The tyranny of the majority is still a tyranny of sorts. Egypt offers a stark example: protecting the rights of minority groups, such as Copts and others, will be a critical test of this new political order and its prospects for stability. Anything else is a recipe for disaster.

Egypt is often seen as a bellwether for the region, but in truth each of the countries where regimes have fallen face their own political, economic and security issues. Regardless of the result of Egypt's referendum, its economic torpor may be the more pressing issue; Libya's security situation is still very much in doubt; Tunisia is struggling with continued protests; Yemen hovers on the brink of being a failed state. Syria has yet to begin its post-Assad transition.

The legacy of dictatorships in each of these countries has eroded the governing institutions and - just as importantly - entrenched a "winner take all" mentality in politics. Rediscovering the art of compromise will be vital in the coming months and years.

The results of Egypt's referendum must be respected. So, too, must be the rights of the many who voted no.