On 17th December 2010, Tunisian police seized Muhammad Buazizi’s vegetable cart. The jobless graduate set himself on fire, dying from wounds and sparking protests around Tunisia. Less than a month later, a man sets fire to himself in Egypt. The Arab Awakening also called the ‘Arab Spring’ was the turning point for governance and policy in the Middle East as well as turning point in perceptions of the Middle East in the decade after 9/11. Today, Professor Nicholas Burns is moderating a panel titled ‘Inside the Arab Awakening’, with Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, UAE-based columnist; Rami George Khouri, Director, Issam Fares Institute and American University of Beirut; Dr. Karim Makdisi, Associate Professor, American University of Beirut and Diana Buttu, Joint Fellow with the Middle East Initiative and Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program.
6:07 p.m. Trey Greyson welcomes us to the JFK jr. Forum. Prof. Nick Burns presents an “all star” cast to discuss “the major event” of 2011. The Arab awakenings will last for a decade “tsunami of change” says Al Qassemi. They are all in agreement that this is a long term process. The American uprising in the 1700′s took a very long time, women had to get votes etc says Khouri. — Nur Ibrahim
6:13 p.m. The birth of the modern Arab state is happening. –Nur Ibrahim
6:13 p.m. Dr. Makdisi answers the question on the minds of many about where this could have occurred without social media. He points that we need to root this event in a longer history of discontent and contestation. –Lena Bae
6:15 p.m. There will be an impact on the Palestinian people. Buttu argues that one important factor is the ongoing repression existing in the Arab world at the behest of Israel. American foreign policy was looking at the popular opinion of Israelis and ignoring opinion in the Arab world. They’re hearing the effects of the uprising but in Palestine, they are unsure about how to proceed after this. Interesting link to US foreign policy and what is normally seen as anger at the domestic governments in the Middle East.– Nur Ibrahim
6:19 p.m. Khouri notes that the main issue of domestic authoritarianism cannot be separated from the foreign policy issues vis-a-vis Israel, the US, and the entire region. –Lena Bae
6:22 p.m. Makdisi argues there is a false dichotomy between internal and external. The security states were created and sustained by outside support. Today the shackle is being removed and domestic political actors are becoming important. There is no action on behalf of Israel or the United States.– Nur Ibrahim
6:26 p.m. Khouri notes that what we are seeing in Egypt today is the birth of peaceful contestation of power. “What you are seeing now is the birth of politics.” –Lena Bae
6:29 p.m. If Egypt is the most important revolution then Libya has been very dramatic says Burns. Makdisi agrees and disagrees with Rahmi on the point of intervention. He is not convinced that regime change will be positive. The coming weeks will legitimize it. He is unsure about the future. In Syria the regime may survive, says Burns but can there be a similar military intervention? Buttu doesn’t think there will be foreign intervention, there will be an attempt to isolate Syria in the Security Council. It is also like a litmus test in Al Qassemi’s opinion. It looks like a stalemate, Bashar is still popular not easy to dislodge him– Nur Ibrahim
6:32 p.m. UAE is the part of the region that has “surfed through the wave of reform”. Al Qassemi argues that the Gulf States played a large role, that Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE strongly supported what occurred, economically and militarily. In the region however, the shockwaves were quickly absorbed through fast reforms. The other side, with Bahrain, there were negotiations, and the uprising was put down. –Lena Bae
6:35 p.m. Israel has stepped out of dealing with the Arab uprising, but overall it is going to be a loser—there will no longer be a Mubarak like figure says Buttu. The US is also a loser in this, they haven’t had a consistent approach to the protests. Makdisi agrees with her but also says all the autocratic regimes have lost even Hezbollah in Lebanon is under pressure. The Palestinian Authority has been losing but is trying to resuscitate itself. — Nur Ibrahim
6:38 p.m. Khouri suggests that it’s clear that the situation in Iran is not sustainable. What’s up with Ahmadinejad telling Assad not to use violence against his own people? Well, according to Khouri, the point is not the hypocrisy, with is pretty much a political constant (how can we complain, right?), but that the “shattering of the regime stability dictate” has been replaced by the importance of public opinion. He says, the winners will be those that engage with that new principle, and the losers will be those that refuse it. Power to the people. –Lena Bae
6:42 p.m. Representative from the Obama administration would claim to support the revolutions. Obama very swiftly supported demonstrators in Egypt, but did not support those in Bahrain. The US president is balancing values dear to the country but balancing pragmatic interests. Is there one policy that can cover the Arab revolution?
Al Qassemi is more concerned about the Arab interests. He does not care about American interests as long as they dont stand in their way. Makdisi however thinks it is a valid concern. He says there is some hypocrisy but crystalized in question of Palestine. US did wisely to be in the background of intervention in Libya, but US foreign policy has no more credibility. Important interest is stability and credibility with the Arab people. A good relationship with the Arab people is key.– Nur ibrahim
6:46 p.m. Khouri: “This is a moment when everybody gets a second chance.” On what to expect from the US: “a minimum degree of honesty and clarity that is coupled to a graded degree of exigency”. His advice if the US has less laudable interests? “Tell us that, it’s okay.” We can talk it out. Let’s hope so. –Lena Bae
6:50 p.m. ”Countries are acting like countries… this is an amazing moment. People have to deal with it with clarity and some consistency” Rami Khouri– Nur Ibrahim
6:52 p.m. A question is posed, what kind of democratic system would be in place? In response Khouri considers it a good but unfair question, in Czech rep people were not asked what kind of democracy they wanted. The reality is nobody knows, but millions of people are wanting constitutional reform and social justice. Put those two things together and let the system evolve with many end games. Burns wonders if reform will happen throughout the Arab world or just some countries? Makdisi says the real question is how to appropriate other policies like spreading wealth through out society. Women’s rights also need to be worked upon in the aftermath of this and especially in Saudi Arabia. Al Qassemi wanted the Bahraini situation to work with a constitutional monarchy. That dream was ended for them. But many argue that they do not rush this system.
Buttu thinks we will see monarchies protecting one another.
7:00 A student from Iran is reminded of Iranian revolutions in 1979. He asks what would remain for the future of peaceful negotiations after the US use of veto on the question of Palestine. Makdisi says US should use this opportunity to realign themselves in history with the Arabs. Now it is no longer a question of Muslim vs Christian but a question of policy.
In order to get a well rounded perspective on the Arab world, the journalists recommend using social media like Twitter to get a wider perspective. Khouri especially recommends going to Israeli websites to see their point of view. (After which he says we will still stick to the Palestinian side!
7:11 Question asked: Do you believe in constitutional monarchies for this region? Are we seeking democracy for democracy’s sake? In response Al Qassemi believes that only way forward for Gulf states is a constitutional monarchy.
Important question: there is more than one form of governance and how well will these governments function in societies having lived under years of authoritarian rule? In essence, the demands of revolutionaries are pretty basic so the type of governance is a matter of time and testing.– Nur Ibrahim
7:15 Lena Bae asks an important question: Given the military’s entrenchment in the economy, what will the future hold for more fundamental social/political changes, and what will the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the people speak on that point? In response Makdisi says there are many vested interests but ultimately the people are not going to allow that. Khouri believes that he had bigger concerns when he saw the Republican presidential candidates! In the end he says that people know how to rule and implement. Burns says this is in fact a serious question in the context of Egypt. Khouri says that they will only govern in the way the people allow them to. If people challenge the military they will challenge the Muslim Brotherhood. In Buttu’s words “the fear factor is growing. The game has changed.” — Nur Ibrahim
Clearly, the Arab Spring is not the kind of transient phenomenon as spring in Cambridge, but a deeply cutting change for the region and the globe. Our guests today point to the rise of the Arab people as a new pivotal player, and one that countries will have to pay attention to in the coming years. While it is unclear whether the US will rise to the challenge of making its views clear and consistent as Khouri hopes, and similarly uncertain whether countries will truly rise to this “second chance” for Middle East policy, there truly has appeared a large potential and justification for supporting the general populace in these countries. Take the jump.
–Lena Bae, Nur Ibrahim