New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman
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The Arab spring has turned into a gloomy autumn. The revolution in Egypt, which at first seemed to be a spontaneous uprising of the Facebook and Twitter generation, is gradually beginning to resemble the revolutions we are familiar with from other places. The overthrown ruler and his sons were taken this week from the place where they were under house arrest in Sharm el-Sheikh to full detention. There are no happy revolutions. The violence merely changes sides.

Hosni Mubarak was arrested and interrogated next to his hospital bed while his sons were taken to the Tura prison in Cairo, where the Israeli, Azzam Azzam, was once imprisoned. Gamal Mubarak, wearing a tracksuit and unshaven, seemed like a pale shadow of the heir apparent in a smart suit he was a few months ago. "He couldn't believe it was happening to him," a source in the Egyptian prisons service told the official organ Al-Ahram.

There is no protracted investigation in Egypt, no wavering over an indictment or a hearing for senior officials, as in Israel. First they arrested former ministers in the Egyptian government, and after they revealed what they needed to in the interrogation room, it was time for arrest warrants against the former Rais and his sons. The demonstrators in the square demanded Mubarak's head and the generals supplied them with the goods.

What happened to Mubarak explains the determination of the other tyrants in the Arab world to fight for their rule. That is why Bashar Assad is shooting those who demonstrate against him, Muammar Gadhafi is "fighting to the death," and the Yemeni president is refusing to step down even after the Americans have removed their patronage of him.

The Saudi royal house, which rules over the least democratic regime in the region, is carrying out its war of survival across its borders, in Yemen and Bahrain. That is where the struggle between Iran and the United States over hegemony in the region will be decided.

Earlier this week, the columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a melancholy article in The New York Times about how the Arab revolution had lost its naivety and now resembles the breaking up of Yugoslavia rather than the "velvet" revolutions of Eastern Europe. Friedman is still hoping that democracy will triumph in the Middle East as in Eastern Europe, but it seems that he too has understood that Tahrir Square is not the Berkeley University of California campus of the 1960s.

Friedman's bewilderment reflects the helplessness felt by the governments in the West that want to be seen as supporting freedom and democracy, while at the same time preserving their strategic outposts and avoiding military entanglements. The result sounds like "The Uncertain Trumpet," the name given to his book by the American strategist of the 1960s, General Maxwell Taylor: fighting against Gadhafi in Libya, but only from afar and with a small force so as not to dirty one's hands and prevent losses that will look bad at home. Speaking in favor of freedom and against repression but shaking with fear lest the regime in Saudi Arabia collapse, and with it the oil economy on which the Western way of life depends. Presenting the revolution as a popular uprising and understanding that the real battle is for hegemony over the Middle East, and is being conducted with the classic tools of struggles for power and control.

And just as the revolution has returned to familiar patterns, so too the attitude toward Israel. The euphoria of the early days, when the demonstrators concentrated on calls for democracy, ended last Friday with a demonstration by 2,000 people outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo. The candidates to replace Mubarak have become more extreme in their expressions against Israel, and the temporary regime is growing closer to Iran and wants to amend the natural gas contract with the Israel Electric Corporation. From their point of view, this is the ideal policy - the right-wing government in Jerusalem is isolated in the international community and it is possible to attack it as much as they want without having to pay any price in Egypt's ties with America and Europe.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to miss his arrested friend, knowing full well that he will have a much more difficult time with the heirs, especially at a time when Israel is fighting a rearguard battle against being expelled from the territories under international pressure.