Four years after the revolution, however, democracy is the one option not being discussed as a way of ending the subsequent turmoil — in large part because liberals have been excluded from the debate. Tens of thousands have been driven into exile, including the leaders of Libya’s first liberal government; many more are in prison, including most of those who organized the Jan. 25, 2011, march in Cairo that triggered the downfall of Egypt’s rotting autocracy.
Some supporters of the liberal agenda, in Egypt and elsewhere, abandoned it when Islamists won Egypt’s first democratic elections in 2012. But, as Nabil points out, most simply found themselves literally outgunned. “You had Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states backing the restoration of dictatorship in Egypt,” he says. “You had Iran and Russia supporting the Assad regime in Syria, and money from the Gulf going to ISIS [an acronym for the Islamic State]. But no one backed the democratic forces — the United States and Europe decided not to take the risk of helping them.”
President Obama denied aid to secular moderate rebels in Syria, declined to defend Libya’s pro-Western democrats against rogue militias and backed Egypt’s new military dictatorship even as it imprisoned the country’s most committed and effective liberal leaders.