The phoney presidential election underway in Egypt is a depressing spectacle. It underlines how the demands for democracy, unleashed by the Arab uprisings of 2011, have been dashed. The rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is even more repressive than that of the Mubarak regime that was overthrown by the Egyptian revolution. Meanwhile, neighbouring Libya has descended into violent anarchy, leaving some citizens nostalgic for the relative stability of the Gaddafi dictatorship. Most tragically of all, Syria is locked in a gruesome civil war that has seen millions killed, wounded or displaced. The violent collapse of the Arab spring has damaged the cause of liberal politics, not just in the Middle East but around the world. In the US, the Trump administration now dismisses the promotion of democracy as naive and many Europeans would quietly agree. Strongman leaders are back in fashion from Moscow to Manila. This gathering gloom about the prospects for democracy made it particularly i...

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