The pessimists have already written off the Arab Spring and talk now about the Arab Winter—and the photos of a young woman beaten (possibly to death) yesterday in Tahrir Square, and likewise the couple who hurried to her rescue, appear to prove them right.
This on the day Vaclav Havel died, a pacifist and a democrat like few others, who never tired to warn against the excesses of state violence.
That the transition of Egypt and other Arab countries to democracy would not be easy was clear from the beginning. The protesters, who flooded the streets back in January, February and March, thus bringing about a change of government, were never a homogeneous group. Religious denomination is one cleavage, religiosity another; education, generation, gender and class are other equally important and dividing factors.
Still, I would contend, these are not insurmountable obstacles. Difference is not what keeps democracy from working; it is rather what keeps it going.
What, instead, would deserve more attention, including by international media, is the way in which the military in Egypt is not only the embodiment and executor of state violence but also the motor and main beneficiary of the national economy.
As explained by Wendel Steavenson writing for The New Yorker in August, the military in Egypt is an economic entity like no other; and it is heavily entangled in the privatizations that were staged under Hosni Mubarak. This could mean they are also the ones who stand to lose most by recent court decisions to renationalize certain companies, and which the interim government is contesting.
There are various conditions that have to be met for democracy to (begin to) work. Facilitating freedom of opinion towards the gradual formation of political judgement is an important first step. But, as shown by Robert A. Dahl in Democracy and its Critics, published in 1989, when the Iron Curtain was torn down, undoing the concentration of economic power is just as important.
This is even more crucial in countries like Egypt, Syria and Russia where those concentrating economic power are those also controlling the army; or where the army is the one to pull the strings of both economic and political institutions.