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The initial enthusiasm for the transformation of the Arab world generated by the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings has long since given way to frustration, political polarization, and violent civil war. What is left of those hopes? Have Egypt's military coup and Syria's horrific civil war dashed the hopes for democratic change? Or are there still reasons to expect new movements towards more democratic and inclusive politics in the Middle East?
Marc Lynch began his talk by discussing the term and the concept of the “Arab Spring”. He then divided the talk into two parts. In the first, he gave a comprehensive account of how the Arab Spring started in Tunisia. When the Tunisian regime was removed by the people, protests in Egypt erupted. After Egypt’s Mubarak regime fell in February, 2011, citizens in other countries in the region believed that what the Tunisians and the Egyptians had done could also be done in their own countries. As a result, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain went on to revolt. Lynch spoke of an Arab “identity”, and that people in the region experienced a powerful sense of “Arabism” and believed in the potential for victory over what they perceived as despotic rule.
In the second part, or what he referred to as “after the “Arab Spring’”, Lynch said that in March, 2011, the “Arab Spring” ended and protestors started to lose. He gave examples from all over the region to support this claim that the “Arab Spring” was over: the situation in Syria deteriorated, the Yemeni military violently dispersed a student demonstration at Sanaa University on March 19, Saudi Arabian government spent $140 billion on securing their people’s support in spite of the evolving state of rebellion in the region, and protestors in Bahrain were severely attacked by police forces. According to Lynch, these events marked a change in the general attitude in the region. He noted that people no longer believe that victory is inevitable and each country has become focused on their own internal political struggles, leading to a great fall in the morale throughout the region.
Lynch went on to evaluate the situation of each of the countries that went through major changes. He stated that the center of the region, characterized by Egypt and Syria, was “falling into the abyss” as situations in these two countries deteriorate. Lynch was more optimistic for Tunisia and Libya, noting that there is hope for these countries to go on the right track.
As a final note Lynch said that, “protesting is a lot easier than building a new government”. The people of the Arab region are realizing that removing the old regimes was not the hardest part of the process of change.
After the presentation was over, Lynch responded to questions from the audience. When asked about the economic situation in Egypt, he said that the only thing keeping Egypt afloat is the money they receive from the Gulf, and that in order for el Sisi to succeed, he needs to restore stability or be faced with “restless free-floating discontent”. In response to another question about unemployment in the region, Lynch cited the Gulf area as an example of potential mismanagement of resources. Gulf countries are struggling with employment while oil revenues go to the state; millions of Saudi Arabians are living in poverty.
Lynch expressed his opposition to US military intervention in Syria. He believes talks in Geneva are unlikely to succeed in the short term and that it will require “painful compromises from both sides”. He was dismayed at how little the world did to aid Syrian refugees, and how very little has been done to end this conflict. Instead states are pumping money into arming the fighting sides and making the situation only worse.
In response to a final question on growing anti-American sentiment in the Egypt Lynch replied that the situation has been aggravated by the Egyptian government and the Egyptian television, the primary news medium for the majority of the Egyptians. All political camps and parties in Egypt were disappointed as the US administration chose to remain neutral; each expected the American government to take their side.
This rapporteur's summary prepared by Mariam Eskander.
Marc Lynch is professor of political science and director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University. He edits Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel, leads the Project on Middle East Political Science, and is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. The paperback edition of his most recent book, The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East, was published in January.
The Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University promotes understanding of the people, cultures, languages and religions of the Middle East. As a National Resource Center for Middle East Studies under the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI program, the Center serves as a resource on issues pertaining to the Middle East through activities that reach students and scholars, as well as businesses, educators, and the media. The Middle East Studies Center supports academic conferences, workshops, cultural events, lectures, and a resource library.
The Center’s Lunch & Learn series offers students, faculty, and members of the community an opportunity to learn about events in the region from experts in the field. Through informal presentations followed by discussion, scholars offer academic analysis of current events including subjects such as the Egyptian revolution, humanitarian aid in Libya, and the UN vote on Palestinian statehood. These conversations provide a forum for the community to engage in thoughtful dialogue about the region, ask questions, and share their opinions. This responsive series fosters an increase in international awareness and a community of learning with a shared interest in the Middle East.