FROM an air force pilot to a royal 30-year furlough in the presidential palace to an accused in a cage, Hosni Mubarak is now out of prison. He could have been a free man but for the Egyptian prime minister, who, using his emergency powers, ordered that the former dictator be kept under house arrest. The change in Mr Mubarak’s fortunes is as much amazing as it is ironic. What greater irony could there be in the generals’ two hare-brained decisions? One takes a former dictator out of prison; the other sends a democratically elected president to jail? No one ever voted for Mr Mubarak as president during his three-decade stay in Kasr Gomhouria where he lived in royal splendour, while the whereabouts of Mohamed Morsi, for whom millions of Egyptians voted, remain known only to his captors. Mr Mubarak at least had the benefit of an open trial; Mr Morsi doesn’t have even that. Mr Mubarak still has to face one charge — the killing of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters. Mr Morsi, on the other hand, handled the demonstrators with considerably less force.
The Arab Spring has now become a chilly winter, with democracy trying to find a warm place for itself. What began as a struggle for democratic rights has channelled into hideous zones. Syria has become a sectarian battleground, while in Egypt the army is slaughtering citizens demanding a return to the Arab Spring’s moral fibre. The generals have messed up. Using Mr Morsi’s mistakes as a pretext, they have usurped power, and the way things are going it is difficult to see how Egypt can return to democracy. The saner way out for the generals is to seek a negotiated settlement with all political parties, halt brutal crackdowns and announce an election date.