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A chill blows through the 'Arab Spring'

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AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

(Read caption) Egyptian protesters on Monday gather in front of razor-wire barricades, used to blocked Tahrir square, to prevent others from removing it in Cairo. Protesters remained barricaded in Cairo's central square to demand the removal of the military council ruling Egypt, infuriated after soldiers stormed their protest camp Saturday, killing at least one person and injuring 71 others.

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It has been less than 10 weeks since the uprising began in Egypt's Tahrir Square -- a time when hope soared throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world for a peaceful transition away from one-man, one-party rule. In the short period since the departure of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, however, what looked like the road to democracy has become a twisting path filed with dead-ends, U-turns, and aggressive moves by entrenched regimes to hold onto power.

Tahrir Square last week was the scene of violent clashes between protesters and the military. In Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen, governments have been using deadly force to reassert their authority. Libya has plunged into a civil war. Iran has tightened its already tight control over dissent. Farther afield, China has clamped down on even the barest hints of dissent.

Concerns about sectarian advantage-taking -- by Iran in the Shiite regions of the Arab world, by fundamentalist Sunnis in the relatively secular societies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan -- have overlaid "democracy spring" with ethnic and religious concern. All the uncertainty has rocked the global economy. In such an environment, the dominant trend now seems to be stability over freedom.

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