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An Icy Winter Threatens

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Gloomy weeks for the western world: the elections in Egypt and Russia threaten to transform the Arab spring as well as the hoped for political thaw with Moscow into an icy winter. In both cases the high expectations of a democratic development have proved to be bitter illusions.

The army leadership in Cairo is solidifying its foothold in the areas of security as well as every day politics and economy. Arguably, the old generals vacate their positions for younger colonels but the junta at the top is in control. Without any haste it is seeking partners within the camp of Islamists of all different shades - from the traditional Muslim Brotherhood to the mightily growing Salafists.

Whereas the former are politically more flexible and attract supporters from different strata and political nuances, the latter are fanatical, uncompromising, and faithful to the Sharia and the notion of universal jihad. Their hatred against America and Israel, their connections to Hamas and Hezbollah and their backing of a dangerous, aggressive policy in Gaza makes them a big political risk factor.

All this must be seen against a backdrop of a catastrophic economic situation in this country of 81 million Egyptians. Tourism and investments from abroad could reach zero point soon.

It was not only dreamers in the free world who had hoped that the "bloodless" fall of the Soviet system would bring about a new era of democratic development, rule of law and a liberal constitution in Russia. The elections which were meant to procure Vladimir Putin a second term in office and thus 12 years as autocratic ruler of this gigantic realm, seemed to have been accompanied, alas, by attempts at intimidation of voters and the prosecution of leaders of the opposition and sympathisers. These autocratic, arbitrary tendencies should worry even the most moderate political realists.

The consequences of both elections go far beyond the immediate political scene. They open up dangerous prospects at a time when the pillars of the free world - The United States and Europe - are shaken by crises, disputes and doubt in the area of world economy and internal labour markets. This is going to be a severe winter for us. Only if we read the signal correctly can we weather the cold.