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Withering of the jasmine

The jasmine revolution began as a romance and is now ending in tragedy. As the world dithers on intervention, Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi is rapidly rolling up the rebellion that a week ago had seemed on the verge of toppling him.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2011 19:37 IST

The jasmine revolution began as a romance and is now ending in tragedy.

As the world dithers on intervention, Libya's dictator Muammar Gaddafi is rapidly rolling up the rebellion that a week ago had seemed on the verge of toppling him.

Bahrain's Sunni rulers have violently turned on pro-democracy protestors, backed by troops provided by fellow Persian Gulf monarchies.

A similar story of protests being slowly but surely ground to silence is being repeated in many of the other Arab countries, ranging from Yemen to Algeria, where there had been an expectation of regime change.

To a large extent this is not unexpected.

The set of circumstances that led to the overthrow of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt were not to be found in most of the other Arab countries.

The Persian Gulf nations have sufficient oil and gas-funded resources to pacify their populations.

But most important is that most of the Arab nations are still tribal. This has made it difficult to convert protests into mass movements.

As has happened in Libya, the ruling leadership has been able to count on tribal backing to ensure that an uprising is converted into a civil war. In addition, tribal structures have meant that the government can count on the support of some military elements.

Combined with greater firepower, the result has been a jasmine withering.

The Tunisian and Egyptian militaries crucially declined to violently suppress their own people. The only hope the remnants of the jasmine revolution have today is international intervention.

This in military terms means the United States. But after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington has no stomach for such action unless there is overwhelming international sanction.

This has not been forthcoming, unsurprisingly, from countries like China and Russia. But even the democracies have been divided with France pushing the hardest for intervention and more conservative voices like Germany hiding behind a position of non-intervention.

India has taken the latter line, continuing a long tradition of preferring passivity when it comes to value-driven foreign policy.

However, the jasmine revolution has left a powerful legacy. The most important of these is the creation of a new political culture in Egypt. Egypt is the largest Arab nation and historically the intellectual leader of that part of the world.

Where its revolution takes it will be a key determinant in whether democracy can find a place in the Arab world.

Other Arab governments will find it necessary to bend to liberal wind in the decades to come, if that wind blows from Cairo.

The revolution is over, but the reformation may have just begun.