Monday, June 24, 2013

Egypt And How The West and The Pundits Got The Arab Spring So Totally Wrong

Barry Rubin addresses the failure in the West to understand the Middle East and the need to realize
Unlike Madonna, the Middle East Isn't A "Material Girl":
A reader pointed out that in the West, it is assumed to be obvious that Arabs understand that material advancement is necessary for progress and power. For example, Tom Friedman talked about the UN Arab Human development report written by Arab liberals. In other words, the Arabic-speaking world is shaped by the failure of leaders to understand that Western pundits know far more about their society than they do.

Understanding that Friedman doesn’t understand the Middle East, though he has persuaded a big audience otherwise, is the beginning of wisdom on the region.
Indeed, the insistence to refer to the protests that engulfed the Middle East over the past 2 years is a symptom of the problem -- to the extent that arming Islamist extremists in Syria is considered a serious policy by the Obama administration, which considers the extremists of the Muslim Brotherhood to be an antidote to Al Qaeda.

Egypt is perhaps the perfect example of how badly the West in general, and pundits in particular, got -- and continue to get -- the Arab Spring all wrong:
Think of the perfect symbolism of what happened on February 18, 2011, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square which shows where the locals think the West can physically insert its deficits. President Husni Mubarak had just been overthrown in the “Arab Spring.” There was the huge rally to greet al-Qaradawi with an estimated one million people, ten times what the “moderates” (many of whom were Muslim Brothers in disguise) had been able to muster.

Wael Ghonim, an executive of Google on leave who had been a leader of the revolt, a young man of about 30 and married to an American convert to Islam tried to get on the platform. He was thrown off. Since then, Ghonim has been a political zero.

And so Ghonim, the 30-something hero in the West, got to be in Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people; was presented by the JFK Profile in Courage Aware (whose name was based on a book that had Kennedy’s name on it but was written by my PhD advisor, Professor Jules Davids) by Caroline Kennedy on behalf of “the people of Egypt.” He was listed as the second most powerful Arab in the world by Arabian Business magazine for leading Egyptian youth.

Yet perhaps it would have been more appropriate if the award had been given by a hijab-wearing Caroline Kennedy to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, who really represented "the people of Egypt."

What happened to the 80-something al-Qaradawi? Oh, he didn’t get any Western awards or plaudits. He just got Egypt.
Read the whole thing.

Wael Ghonim
Wael Ghonim, one-time hero of the Arab Spring in Egypt,
before reality set in. Ghonim, Ghonim, gone.
Credit: Wiki Commons

Wael Ghonim's awards have as much meaning as the Nobel Peace Prize that Obama received: both were more a political statement on hope for the future than a reflection of actual accomplishment. At least in Ghonim's case, there was a brief moment when it appeared that Egypt had turned the corner -- until the Egyptian majority took over the situation.

Hope may spring eternal, but the reality across the Middle East is providing a lesson whose importance goes beyond the pap the pundits are peddling.

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