Hello all! This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending Joseph Bahout’s talk on the Arab Revolution and how things have developed in the region over the last four years. It has been a while since I’ve attended one of these talks, and once again, I was struck by how lucky I am to attend a university that puts on this type of events. Completely free, I have the opportunity to listen to leading experts on some of the world’s most contentious current events discuss their views, and in doing so, become a better informed citizen and a more well-rounded person. It was definitely my kind of lunch break.
Bahout prefaced his talk with a request that we would not make hasty judgments about the events he would describe, as well as a warning that things were far from over. It was a sobering beginning, and one that prepared me well for the heavy truths he would impart upon us.
He began by describing the pillars and foundations of the Arab state system that had been demolished in the recent revolutions. The authoritarian leadership, and underlying economic system, had crumbled in recent years, and though Bahout said that both institutions might not be dead, they were definitely not alive. As a citizen of the United States, it is challenging to wrap my head around revolution on such a massive scale. Norms that people in the region had lived with their entire lives were suddenly turned on their heads, never to be the same. It is a terrifying prospect, and one that better explains why unrest has continued in the region to this day. Everything changed, and in the confusion, citizens didn’t know where to turn, and anyone who could grab power did.
Before this talk, I had a tendency to think of the Middle East as one big hotbed of conflict with things constantly in turmoil. While it is true that the region does have more than its fair share of conflict, it is distinctly untrue that everything is falling apart. Bahout described the events in each country according to three models: Tunisia, where the uprising went relatively well and things are looking up, Egypt, where after the uprising, a counterrevolution occurred, leaving a somewhat stable autocratic government but many unhappy citizens, and Syria, where nothing is going very well at all. I thought it was fascinating that the countless conflicts I have been trying for years to wrap my head around could be somewhat neatly described in a model of three. Granted, the model isn’t perfect, but it was an easy way to make the conflicts more easily understandable and accessible to the uninformed masses (read: me). It was very interesting for me to see it all boil down into something so simple.
Bahout went on to describe various factors that contributed to the success or failure of the states after their uprisings, but what struck me most about the remainder of his talk was his insistence that neither ISIS nor any other authoritarian regimes in power represent the Arab world. They are part of the Arab world, but by no means do they represent the majority. Rather, they often murder the moderate leaders and leave you to pick between the radicals and themselves. Bahout wanted to make sure we left the talk knowing that the majority of Arabs are people much like you and me, just trying to get by in a world that keeps throwing them curve balls.
It is devastating to me to see so much unwarranted anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in America today, but it gives me hope that people like Mr. Bahout are helping to dispel ignorance and fear as much as they can by spreading their knowledge.
I absolutely loved Mr. Bahout’s talk, and I left feeling a bit more secure in my knowledge of Middle Eastern current events. There is still much to be learned, but I feel very satisfied having taken this first step.
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