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The Arab Springs

I’ve been studying “the Arab Spring” in my Politics and Social Media class. It’s high time I express a thought niggling around my head for a while. Background: there’s no such thing as one Arab Spring. Each country expresses the revolutionary spirit Western journalists lumped together as one monolithic “Arab Spring;” even in country, various areas expressed the revolutionary fervor in different ways. For example, the tribal-sectarian lands of Libya responded with force to the violence Qaddafi used in speeches and physically unleashed, whereas Siwa Oasis in Egypt’s Western Desert saw little revolutionary protests. However, there is a few things linking the revolutions, protests, reformations, and minor unrest that swept the Middle East and North Africa (MENA): usual method of expressing dissatisfaction (initial nonviolent protests generally physically occupying a central open area in the capital city), demands (reform from perceived political stagnancy), and causes (high unemployment, police brutality, lack of governmental transparency, ridiculous wealth gap between public and elite, etc.). Also, as we’ve studied mainly the countries with actual regime changes (Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria because it’s still ongoing), each country’s revolution has seeds in demonstrations beginning 20 to 25 years ago.

I researched Libya’s pre-revolution political space for a presentation a few weeks ago; Qaddafi’s violent discourse stuck out to me as showing his defensiveness – he was seriously afraid. Geographically, Libya is between Tunisia and Egypt, and its revolution began about five days after Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak resigned. Libya, therefore, by being between the largest “successful” revolutions geographically was potentially at risk for having those successes influence Libyan dissenters. Qaddafi, realizing this, ramped up violence physically and rhetorically, literally reigning by terror using past methods of quelling demonstrations in an attempt that simply disintegrated into international warfare once NATO stepped in to secure the airspace. From the research I did through news articles, I found Tunisians and Egyptians influenced Libyans. Libyans no longer saw their dictatorship government as set in stone. Dr. Heba said one day that even if the Egyptian Revolution failed to change the political establishment, it succeeded in one aspect: fear of the establishment has been broken.

As an American, I was educated to regard the foundations of the US federal government (the Constitution and current expression of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches) as unchangeable. Effectively, I’ve always seen countries changing constitutions as wishy-washy, whereas America is a stalwart country having one Constitution written in titanium. Note the hindsight bias, as Articles of Confederation are ignored, the process of writing the Constitution forgotten, and the patriotic overtones in the previous statement. I’ve studied enough of the Arab Springs to begin to question my own government. We have our own form of corruption in pork barreling. Two election cycles have passed since I could vote; in both of those I remember complaints of partisanship as overwhelming issues. I no longer view the US government as an institution that is only changeable by voting for the lesser of two evils for whatever position (especially president). If I gathered enough of the population, we could completely rid ourselves of the career politicians, if not the entire system. However, I don’t want to rid the States of our governmental form…I’d be ok with switching around the people occupying the available slots to non-career politicians.

Via NPR podcasts, I’ve been hearing about China’s political unrest. I’ve not researched it fully, but perhaps China’s intellectuals and general public have reached their breaking point, and are being influenced by MENA populations again to break fear of monolithic regimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Latin American countries (of which I have done no research nor am I particularly interested in doing research, I’m just positing a generalization) also followed the MENA countries, or if the MENA countries had learned from the Latin American revolts of the mid-20th century. No matter who or where goes up in flames next, class is teaching me again the value of dialogue, sticking to emphasizing moderation over extremism, critical analysis, my liberal arts education, and thinking outside the box of historical precedent.

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