A whole new take on the Arab Spring and how it happened from Al Jazeera’s top analyst Marwan Bishara.
A year after the Arab spring broke open, we’ve got Egyptian generals sitting down today in Washington for some very tough conversations. Not only are they not turning over power in Egypt, they’re going after Americans working for democracy there.
In Tunisia, where it all began, there’s high tension between secular reformers and Islamic powers. In Syria, there’s open battle – tanks and gunfire – in the suburbs of the capitol, Damascus. There’s still a revolution on in the Arab world. It’s still inspiring. But it’s rough going, too.
This hour, On Point: Arab spring, Arab realities.
Marwan Bishara, senior political analyst at Al Jazeera, he's the author of The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolutions.
Robin Wright, senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a distinguished scholar at the Wilson Center. Her most recent book is Rock the Cashbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World.
From Tom's Reading List
Salon "With the country still struggling to pull itself out of an economic recession, foreign policy has not rated the highest among issues discussed by the Republican presidential candidates. But among those foreign policy issues that have been debated, one has dominated the agenda: Iran. And other than Ron Paul, the candidates have arrived at the same verdict on President Obama’s Iran policy: It is appeasement."
Huffington Post "Mistaken are those who demand that power be handed over to the Islamists in the Arab region of change, even on the grounds that they have been brought to power by a democratic process that must be honored, and that there is no choice but to submit to the de facto situation until the Islamists are tested in power. This is because democracy has been abortive as a result of excluding women and the youth from decision-making, and there are dangerous indications that the personal freedoms of Arab women and religious minorities are being undermined in the age of the Islamist monopoly of power."
Time "As 2011 was coming to a close, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a remarkable speech to his parliament. Assessing the Arab Spring barely a year after it had begun, Netanyahu announced triumphantly that it had failed, that events had confirmed his extreme suspicion about the pro-democracy movements in the region. The Arab Spring was moving the Middle East "not forward, but backward.""
Excerpt: The Invisible Arab
The Promise of a New Dawn
They took everyone by surprise, including themselves.
T-shirted youths filled public squares, cheered and sang, chanted and demonstrated peacefully, and, in the process, turned the tables on their violent regimes. People of other generations joined them—not as moderates or extremists, jihadists or atheists, Muslim or Christians, rich or poor, young or old, men or women, conservatives or liberals, but as citizens united for freedom and justice.
A long nightmare, shaped by political oppression, military defeats, social regression, and economic stagnation, finally gave way to a new dream of national unity, development, stability, legality, transparency, and accountability. Like Eastern Europeans, Latin Americans, and others before them, the Arabs at last took matters into their own hands.
Their long-held motto Insha’Allah or “God willing” was replaced with Masha’Allah or “God willed it.” “Down with the regime” overtook “Long live the leader.” Arabs offered their blood for the freedom of their homelands instead of sacrificing it for the leader whose praises they’d been forced to chant.
Their revolution has brought the best out in Arabs—their collective conscience, their deeds and slogans, which have been peaceful but firm, elegant but revolutionary, poetic but strategic—and it has energized millions. Never has personal and national dignity been so intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Never has a transformation come so fast when the stakes were so high, the people so daring, or the change so within reach.
If it was Tunisia that lit the Arab imagination, it was the determination of the people of Egypt, the Arab world’s largest country, that served as the catalyst. Never has the power of the people appeared so humane, so inspiring, so personal, so determined as in Tunisia, so daring as in Syria, so diverse as in Yemen, so humble as in Bahrain, so courageous as in Libya, or so humorous as in Egypt. If, as one keen observer noted, every joke is a tiny revolution, the Arabs, and most notably the Egyptians, are revolutionaries par excellence.
No longer would revolutionaries fear change in accordance with the Arab dictum, “Better one hundred years of tyranny than one day of chaos.” Considering that the Arabic word for “regime” and “order” is one and the same—nitham—any attempt to bring down a regime is equated with chaos, along the lines of France’s Louis XV’s après moi le deluge. Over history, this fallacy has been internalized by many, even by opposition parties that allowed themselves to be domesticated through blackmail and bribery. The end result was stagnant regimes, subservient oppositions that acted as mere puppets, and continuous social and economic regression.
The youth-led upheaval has embarrassed “loyal opposition” groups in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries. The speed and efficiency with which the demonstrations have been organized and maintained have shamed the old establishment parties that have boasted large memberships and state controlled media outlets. Unlike the timid demands of the “domesticated” opposition parties that advocated for limited reform, or worse, colluded with despots in order to gain power, the new revolutionaries have insisted on wiping the slate clean, demanding regime change and constitutional reform.
By illustrating the power of the people, the revolutionaries have marginalized the extremists who ran amok in the region and the world, claiming to speak for all Arabs and Muslims through violence and terrorism. No longer would those who terrorized Arabs, polarized their societies, and gave rulers and foreigners justification to use excessive force be the only Arab face visible on the international stage. The millions that have filled the Arab political and metropolitan landscape have ridiculed and shrunk the megalomania of the few hiding in faraway hills, using the passion of believers to commit some of the worst atrocities.
Forced to choose between despotic regimes and foreign intervention, between oppressive stagnation and the threat of Islamist tyranny, Arabs have chosen an even more radical third option: freedom—freedom of expression, freedom from want, freedom from humiliation. The threat of “either dictatorship or chaos” was exposed and confronted. The Arab revolution has taken on regimes, bypassed the traditional opposition (and then incorporated them once their protests reached critical mass), marginalized extremist movements, and put foreign powers on notice. And, in the process, it has begun to reverse decades of colonial myths and authoritarian thinking.
Excerpted with permission from The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolution, by Marwan Bishara. Available from Nation Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012.
This program aired on January 31, 2012.