Posted By Rashid Khalidi Share

This is above all a moment of new possibilities in the Arab world, and indeed in the entire Middle East. We have not witnessed such a turning point for a very long time. Suddenly, once insuperable obstacles seem surmountable. Despotic regimes that have been entrenched across the Arab world for two full generations are suddenly vulnerable. Two of the most formidable among them -- in Tunis and Cairo -- have crumbled before our eyes in a matter of a few weeks. Another in Tripoli, one of the most brutal and repressive, is tottering at this moment. The old men who dominate so many of these countries suddenly look their age, and the distance between the rulers and the vast majorities of their populations born 40 or 50 or 60 years after them has never been greater. An apparently frozen political and social situation has melted almost overnight in the heat of the popular upsurge that took over the towns and cities first of Tunisia and then of Egypt, and which is now spreading to other Arab countries. We are privileged to be experiencing what may well be a world historical moment, when what once seemed to be fixed verities vanish and new potentials and forces emerge.

The same mainstream Western media that habitually conveys a picture of a region peopled almost exclusively by enraged, bearded terrorist fanatics who "hate our freedom" has begun to show images of ordinary people peacefully making eminently reasonable demands for freedom, dignity, social justice, accountability, the rule of law, and democracy. Arab youth at the end of the day have been shown to have hopes and ideals not that different from those of the young people who helped bring about democratic transitions in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South, Southeast, and East Asia.

These young voices have been a revelation only to those deluded by this media's obsessive focus on Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism whenever it turns its attention to the Middle East. This is thus a supremely important moment not only in the Arab world, but also for how Arabs are perceived by others. A people that has been systematically and habitually maligned -- probably more than any other in recent decades -- are for the first time being shown in a new, and largely positive, light.

The most difficult tasks are yet to come. It was not easy to overthrow an out-of-touch tyrant and his greedy family, whether in Tunis or Cairo, and it is proving very hard in Tripoli. Building a working democratic system will be much harder. It will be harder still to ensure that a democratic system, if one can be established, is not dominated by the plutocrats who abound in the Arab world and by entrenched, powerful interests like the military. Finally, it will be a daunting task for any new popular democratic regime to achieve the social justice and the rapid economic growth that will be necessary to provide good jobs, decent housing, quality education, much-needed infrastructure, and equal opportunity. These are the very things that the old regimes failed to provide and whose absence triggered the youth revolution now sweeping the region. Failure at any of these daunting tasks could well lead to an attempted comeback for the forces of reaction and repression. It could also unleash those extreme, violent, minority trends that prosper in circumstances of chaos and disorder, such as were created by the American invasion and occupation of Iraq and the attendant destruction of the Iraqi state. And we must never forget that this is the Middle East, which is the most coveted region of the world and the most penetrated by foreign interests. It is thus vulnerable, as it has been throughout its history, to external intervention that could easily divert or distort outcomes.

Nevertheless, what has happened in Tunisia and Cairo has opened up horizons that have long been closed. The energy, dynamism, and intelligence of the younger generation in the Arab world have been unleashed after being dammed up by a system that treated the younger generation and its aspirations with contempt and that concentrated power mainly in the hands of a much older generation. Seemingly out of nowhere, young people in the Arab world have gained a confidence, an assurance, and a courage which have made fearsome police-state regimes that once looked invincible tremble and lose their nerve. Watching young Tunisians and Egyptians speak on Arab satellite TV stations was a revelation to many in the West. These young people were articulate, they were smart, and they were determined. Al Jazeera took much of the credit for relaying news about events to the Arab world and beyond, especially in Tunisia, where it was way ahead of other media in perceiving the importance of what was happening, but also in Egypt and now Libya, among others. However, other Arab TV stations played a major role, including Egyptian stations, once the fear of repression had ebbed and the spirit of revolution had spread.

All of Egypt, and much of the rest of the world, were transfixed by the interview on Dream TV with Wael Ghonim immediately after his release from 12 days of captivity, especially given his mix of clarity and rationality on the one hand, with profound emotion on the other. And the fact that he was a Google executive obviously played especially well with Westerners. But other young Egyptians that few people outside Egypt have ever heard of have been even more impressive, like the blogger Asmaa Mahfouz, a leader of the new revolutionary movement whose persuasive and forceful video blog helped incite the Jan. 25 protest, or Nawara Negm, a journalist, activist, and leader of the movement (and daughter of one of Egypt's most revered popular poets of the 1960s and 1970s, Ahmed Fouad Negm, and the renowned feminist Safinaz Kazim). A Dream TV interview with Negm gave a clear sense of the strategic clarity of the leaders of the protests -- although she protested that she was not a leader, saying: "We do not need leaders. We do not need zaims [strong men]. That stage in our history is over." Responding to a question about what the movement would do if the military did not keep its promises, she responded matter-of-factly and utterly convincingly: "We know the way back to the [Tahrir] Square." These young women, and hundreds of other women and men like them, in 18 days managed to produce a movement that toppled a pharaoh who had been in power for 30 years.

It once looked as if the Arab countries would continue indefinitely to be an exception to the wave of liberation from authoritarianism which has swept other regions of the world over the past few decades. Suddenly, the younger generations of Arabs have proven that they are no different than anyone else. They have shown that they have been following events elsewhere and watching carefully the examples of others outside their region. They have learned amply from the mistakes of their elders, and they are far more technologically savvy than the police state with its unlimited resources, top-of-the-line equipment, and extensive training in the best facilities the United States and Europe could provide.

This last point raises embarrassing questions. Why were American tear gas canisters used copiously against peaceful protesters in Tunis and Cairo, as they have been systematically used for years against Palestinians and a few Israeli and foreign activists demonstrating at villages like Bil'in in the occupied West Bank? Why were the goons and thugs of Ben ‘Ali and Mubarak on such good terms with the intelligence services of the United States, France and other European countries? Why was support for "stability" (which really meant support for repression, corruption, the frustration of popular demands, and the subversion of democracy) in practice the main, and indeed the only, policy of the United States and the European Union in most parts of the Arab world?

These may be questions which policymakers prefer not to answer in Washington, Paris, London and Bonn. But they are on the minds of smart young people all over the Arab world who follow the Western and other international media, and are aware of what is happening in the rest of the world -- much more aware than those who have repressed them for so long. Like people in the non-Western world going back to the eras of Lord Palmerston and Woodrow Wilson, this generation of young Arabs has also become aware of the long-standing gap between the proclaimed ideals of the great Western democracies and their cynical realpolitik policies. Because of the existence of this awareness, it would be a welcome change if American and European officials would refrain from preaching either to those in Tunisia and Egypt who have already engineered striking revolutionary change, or to others in the Arab world who are trying to do the same. Clearly, these young revolutionaries know better what they need to do to achieve democracy and social justice than those who until literally a couple of weeks ago were the closest friends of dictators in Tunis and Cairo, and are still intimately linked to the rest of the Arab despots.

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions raise many questions. After liberation from Western colonialism, failed experiments with radical populism, Arab nationalism and state-led economic development in the 1950s and 1960s gave way to the stagnation and repression of dictatorships and absolute monarchies. During the decades since the 1960s, sclerotic authoritarian regimes have controlled every Arab country, with the (partial) exceptions of Lebanon and Kuwait. This has been a night seemingly without end, going back as long as most Arabs, born in the 1970s and afterward, can remember. Most people in this very young population, over two-thirds of whom are under 30, know no time when they were not governed by either aging ex-military officers or absolute hereditary rulers, or by their chosen heirs.

One of the worst things about this pan-Arab patchwork of authoritarian regimes was the contempt the rulers showed for their peoples. In their view, the people were too immature to make decisions, to choose their own representatives, or to allocate societal surpluses or foreign aid. These things and much else were done for them by their betters, their rulers. Anyone who challenged the lines drawn by those with power, whether by the ruler or by the policeman in the street, risked being subjected to unlimited brutality. This was the lesson of the fate of Khalid Said, the young Alexandrian blogger who videotaped police corruption in June 2010, and was beaten to death in broad daylight by the crooked cops he had reported on (ironically, the Facebook page "We are all Khaled Said" was one of the many triggers of the Egyptian Revolution). These incessant infringements on the common dignity of nearly every Arab citizen, and the constant affirmations of their worthlessness, were eventually internalized and produced a pervasive self-loathing and an ulcerous social malaise. This manifested itself, among other things, in sectarian tensions, frequent sexual harassment of women, criminality, drug use, and a corrosive incivility and lack of public spirit. All of these phenomena appeared to confirm the dim view held by those in power of their subjects.

It was only after the shocking spark of the self-immolation of a young vendor in the town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, had started a chain reaction as people first in Tunisia and then in Egypt organized and realized their ability to confront the regimes in power, that it became possible to overcome some of these deep traumas bred by decades of oppression. Multiple reports indicated that in the Cairo protests, for example, people brought food to each other in Tahrir Square; sexual harassment dropped off noticeably; Muslims guarded Christians while they prayed in public and vice versa; and young Egyptians voluntarily swept the streets and picked up the trash. The millennium had not come, of course. It was simply that standing up to those who had denied their dignity and their rights gave the people in the streets of Tunis, Cairo and dozens of other cities and towns the sense that they were masters of their own fate, that they had dignity, and that they were not simply miserable, abject near-slaves of their lofty masters who ruled them from their palaces and villas.

It is impossible to say whether this spirit of liberation can be sustained, whether other Arab revolutions underway will help to keep it alive, or even if this spirit can be sustained sufficiently to surmount the daunting structural problems of a country like Egypt. We cannot know whether these upheavals will amount to real regime change, and whether Tunisians and Egyptians will succeed in establishing fundamentally new political systems, or will just end up with Ben Ali-lite and Mubarakism without Mubarak. The elites in both countries, whether the influential military in Egypt or the entrenched upper classes in both countries, will not easily cede their power, even if they have been willing to sacrifice Ben Ali and Mubarak and some of their closest collaborators. (They have not sacrificed them all: Mohammad Ghannouchi, the interim Tunisian prime minister, was a minister in Ben Ali's government, while Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Egyptian junta, was Mubarak's defense minister and crony.)

Nevertheless, for the first time in two generations there is hope among the people of Tunisia and Egypt that they can aspire to a better life, to greater dignity and to more control over their lives. The youth of these countries have found out how to harness popular discontent and turn it into a force against the status quo. They know their way back to the street, if foot-dragging by those in charge necessitates it. This spirit in turn has clearly inspired people in many other Arab countries to fight against the pervasive hopelessness and despair that are essential if despotism is to be sustained.

Another major question is whether what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and what appears to be happening in Libya, marks the beginning of a real Arab revolutionary wave. So far the demonstrations in Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, and Iraq are no more than a potent expression of universal dissatisfaction with a rotten status quo. Although they are a powerful echo of events in Tunisia and Egypt which have been amplified by the media, there is no indication yet that any of them -- with the possible exception of Libya -- has the potential to overthrow those in power in these countries. For all the similarities between their regimes, each of these countries is very different from the others and from Tunisia and Egypt. The populations of several of them, notably Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain and Iraq, are less demographically homogenous than Egypt or Tunisia, with significant ethnic, regional or religious cleavages that rulers can always exploit to divide and rule. And in some cases, notably Algeria, Iraq, and Jordan, there is memory of bloody strife that recently or not so recently tore apart these societies, and may make people hesitant about protesting. Nevertheless, a new spirit seems to be abroad in the Arab world, and there has certainly been a contagious effect of the spirit of protest, and of demands for democracy, that started in Tunisia and Egypt. Just watching Arab satellite TV and listening to radio accounts of the protests, one is struck by the ubiquity wherever Arabic is spoken, from Morocco to Bahrain, of the slogan raised first by the Tunisian revolutionaries and then by their sisters and brothers in Egypt: "Al-sha'b yurid isqat al-nizam" ("The people want the fall of the regime)."

Whatever the result, these events are a spectacular confirmation not only of the common aspirations for freedom and dignity of an entire generation of young Arabs, but of the existence of a common Arab public sphere. Although this owes much to modern media, including satellite TV, it is a mistake to focus excessively on the specifics of the technology. Such a common public sphere existed in the past, relying on earlier forms of technology, whether the printing press or radio. The importance of Al Jazeera in particular has been misunderstood. In the early days of satellite television it was certainly crucial in breaking the monopoly of the state broadcasting systems, and in introducing competition which forced even the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya and other stations to cover a great deal of news simply to avoid losing viewers. During the uprising in Tunisia and later during the Egyptian events, Al Jazeera riveted viewers all over the Arab world and in the Arab diaspora. But the insidious Islamist bent of its coverage is not reflective either of the protests themselves or of a large segment of its viewership. This bent was noticeable in its constant favoritism towards Hamas in covering Palestinian events, and during the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions in its intensive coverage of the return to Tunis of the Tunisian Islamist Rashed al-Ghannouchi, or the prominence it has given to Egyptian Islamists in the wake of the fall of the Mubarak regime. Similarly, Al Jazeera highlighted the participation in the Algiers demonstration of February 13 of a leading Algerian Islamist, Ali Belhadj, but not the fact that many in the crowd called him an assassin. The point is that Al Jazeera is followed by Arab viewers for its gripping and often daring news footage, but not necessarily in the political line its executives push. As most of the coverage of the Arab uprisings so far has shown, there is nothing specifically Islamist about most of those participating, nor about their demands for dignity, freedom, democracy and social justice.

The last question these Arab revolutions raise is that of the role of the United States and its European partners in upholding the rotten Arab status quo which seems to be crumbling before our eyes. The United States is always torn in its Middle East foreign policy between its principles, including support for democracy, and its interests, including upholding dictators who do what is wanted of them. When there is little public scrutiny, the latter impulse almost always predominates in U.S. policy in the Middle East. Today, with the American media featuring stories of charismatic young Arabs bringing down hated dictators and calling for democracy in perfectly comprehensible English, the public is watching, and Washington has responded by tepidly supporting a democratic transition, and calling for restraint by its other Arab clients in repressing their peoples. One can only wonder what will happen when the attention of the American public wanders from the Arab world, as it inevitably will.

In any case, this new moment in the Middle East will make the old business as usual approach in Washington much harder. The dictators and absolute monarchs, even if they stay in power, have been placed on notice that they cannot any longer ignore their peoples, as they have done before in making policy. Whether this meant submissively following Washington's lead in its Cold War against Iran, or in protecting Israel from any pressure as it colonized Palestinian land and entrenched its occupation, these highly unpopular policies of most Arab governments are no longer tenable. Much remains to be decided in the Arab world, and a real input of public opinion into the making of foreign policy there is still in the future. But the day when a Sadat or a King Hussein could ignore domestic and Arab public opinion and make peace with Israel while it brutalized the Palestinians may well be past.

Israel's peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan will most probably survive, even if there are real democratic transitions in the entire Arab world. But no one in Washington can rely on the complaisance and submissiveness towards Israel and the United States that was one of the features of the stagnant Arab order that is being challenged in the streets all over the region. What will replace it is unknown. It will largely be determined in these streets, as well as in the internet cafes, and in the union halls, newspaper offices, women's groups and private homes of millions of young Arabs who have served notice as publicly as possible that they will no longer tolerate being treated with the contempt and disrespect their governments have shown them for their entire lives. They have put us all on notice with their slogan: "The people want the fall of the regime." They are not only referring to their corrupt governments; they also mean the old regime that has prevailed for decades in the entire Arab world, from the Atlantic to the Gulf.

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, and author of Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East. A version of this article will be published in Spanish in Vanguardia.

AFP/Getty images.



7:38 PM ET

February 24, 2011

much too kind

. . . you are, Rashid Khalidi

"The United States is always torn in its Middle East foreign policy between its principles, including support for democracy, and its interests, including upholding dictators who do what is wanted of them. "

To this American, the "tear" has been between our actual actions and policies and the democratic values we express -- like the womanizing politician who loudly defends "family values."

This is the country that arranged the assassination of the freely elected president of Chile and replaced him with a fascist dictator. Which overthrew the elected government of Iran and replaced it with the Shah of a Million Jewels.

Our problem is the illusion that we, the American people, actually control our government. An oligarchy controls it, and easily and contemptuously overrules whatever our interests and will might be. Most of us are woefully ignorant about the rest of the world, so those old stereotypes are rather easy to sell.

This administration still struggles to preserve a foreign policy that's exploding in its face. We just vetoed a Security Council resolution that used some of our own words about Israel settlements. In an ironic twist, we've labeled our own statements a threat to peace -- and declared that the UN is useless in setting the terms for a peace between israel and the Palestinians.


As the ancient Greeks might have said -- you can hear the laughter of the gods in the distance. I would be laughing also if this wasn't my country.



10:43 PM ET

February 25, 2011

Questions I would have for Mr. Khalidi:

When the young people of Cairo think about Democracy, what are they thinking about?

When they think about personal freedom and liberty of action, are they thinking about the freedom to do as they choose and the freedom to be what they choose, as I am?

Does their idea of freedom include freedom of conscience? As mine does?

In their mind, is it ok to be a Christian? Or a Jew? Or an atheist?

Do the young people of Cairo think about the freedom to share freely with others their religious, political, cultural and economic views? As I do?

Do they have a vision of anything beyond their “freedom” to topple another corrupt regime, and, in the traditional way, of replacing it with yet another one that this time might happen to favor them and their families a bit more?

Do the young people of Cairo dare think about equality? Would they agree with me that, under law, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and even atheism ought to be treated equally?

Would they agree with me that men and women ought to enjoy equal rights?

Or would they be more likely to align with their societies’ more traditional, orthodox views on “equality”?

And what about the idea of justice? Would the young people of Cairo agree with me that justice should be a product of human reason? Not of will?

What about the constitution they must produce? Will it reflect reason? What will it say about personal freedom, equality, and justice? Will it support the notion of liberty and justice for all?

Will it support the notion of a civil society? Free of corruption? Including courts able to apply the law fairly and with justice for all? And police authorities able to enforce the law fairly and justly?

How much time will the young people of Cairo need to produce a constitution? Should the process drag on and on with competing interests unable to reach sufficient agreement, what will happen?

Will the young people of Cairo be able to prevent a better organized and more willful group from taking over?

If the young people of Cairo do indeed think as I do about freedom, equality and justice, and yet fail to prevail against better organized and more willful opponents, will they face charges of apostasy and blasphemy? And the punishment of death?

What are the chances that traditionally privileged classes – political, theocratic, and economic – will once again prevail, and that a new set of autocrats will simply replace the old one?

How likely is it that the old ways will prevail after all? Traditional, orthodox ways that reject free will, philosophy, reason, and science – not to mention political and economic justice?

In the end, should the young people of Cairo fail, who or what will they blame? Jews? The “Orientalism” of West? The usual suspects?

What are the odds of anything good happening anywhere in the Middle East until Shariah law itself is brought into alignment with reason?



12:20 AM ET

February 25, 2011

What a Windbag

There are no editors at Columbia? Not even a couple of grad students with time on their hands?

It always possible I missed something while scanning all the rhetoric here, but as best I can tell Mr. Khalidi seems to be proposing that this generation of Arabs repeat the mistakes of past generations. Always blame all your problems on the West; never cease to shake your fists at Israel; focus with passionate intensity on politics while expecting economic affairs to take care of themselves. The "rotten regime" overthrown, or at least forced to change its leadership, in Egypt was built on these pillars of conviction in the first place, beginning over half a century ago.

That regime, Incidentally, took its current form thanks to the intervention of the kind of "enraged, bearded terrorist fanatics" Khalidi is sure don't exist in Arab countries. The American government hasn't forgotten that. It has and will continue to pursue its interests in the Middle East and North Africa. This meant maintaining good relations with established governments in the past; it may mean supporting transitions to more representative, recognizably civilized governments now. Times change, and policies change with them. Arab publics newly empowered in Tunisia, Egypt and (we may hope) elsewhere can work to profit from this fact, or follow the professor here in reiterating old, comfortable grievances.



12:40 PM ET

February 25, 2011

"Mr. Khalidi seems to be

"Mr. Khalidi seems to be proposing that this generation of Arabs repeat the mistakes of past generations. Always blame all your problems on the West; never cease to shake your fists at Israel; focus with passionate intensity on politics while expecting economic affairs to take care of themselves"

I could not agree more. Egyptians have lived on their knees for 30 years - whether out of fear or cupidity - Shame on them. They have decided to stand up. Congratulations. They will find no truer friend than the people of the United States.
Now stop blaming others and get on with the business of creating a country you can be proud of.



6:08 AM ET

February 25, 2011

Your words may be comforting to Arabs...

who have felt the hand of repression, but to Americans who rely on the Middle East for a percentage of oil, your words denote 'interesting times'. If the Arab world is to place the blame of dictatorships so squarely on our shoulders, ignoring even the paltry vocal support the govt gave as a desire for at least a relations 'reset' (which could have been opposition to the protests and aid to the government's instead), then doesn't that validate the govt's former policy in the interests of the American people? It is all well and good to spout rhetoric of freedom and defending human rights around the world, but that doesn't fuel your car to get to work or grow crops. Hardly a matter of interest to Arab protesters no doubt, but if matters do take a turn for the worse, can you really say Washington's policy was wrong from a pragmatic (some would call it cynical) perspective? In fact if such worst case scenarios were to become reality it could be said Washington's only fault was to not even more strongly support these strongman's of the Middle-East.

The greatest vindication of Democracy in the Middle East for the American people, and the greatest proof that successive generations of policy from the cold war on were wrong, would be to prove all these fears wrong. It would be to find a Democratic Middle-East could be worked with, could be reasoned with, one that didn't have an overt anti-americanism present in both its political and economic ties as is feared. The same of course goes for its relations with Israel.

It should be desired that Israel's peace treaties survive on their own rights, because if they don't, the entire Middle-East might not survive. The US cannot stop Israel from protecting its existence by threatening to take the whole house down with it should it be attacked and losing.

I should also add that if the Egyptian police did not have American-made teargas, would they have used (Egyptian?), made bullets? All the regimes that have had ties to the West have been shown to be relatively peacably dealt with, but what of Libya? Its leader made his name on anti-americanism, and we see how he has dealt with his people and country. Its devolved into a full blown civil war.

Arvay- Career politicians do not an oligarchy make. The UN is of course useless. The US protects Israel, China protects Iran and North Korea as does Russia to a small extent. Libya's Gaddafi was on the Human rights council, laughable isn't it?



6:40 AM ET

February 25, 2011


Right, our career diplomats to not an oligarchy make.

The ability of the business lobby to determine and in many cases even author key legislation an oligarchy makes. And it's the interests of those oligarchs that the little diplomats labor.

The UN may become somewhat less useless when the reckless power of the US is broken. Right now, our lack of insight and impotence on the Middle East are on full display. We can still do a lot of damage -- all those bombs, aircraft and other destructive systems are still in place -- but the returns are diminishing quickly.

Witness the new Iranian ally-in-the-making in Iraq and the Afghan/Pakistan charade. Zillions of dollars -- non-retrievable dollars -- poured down the drain.

Thrash, thrash, thrash.

This is not the Rome of Scipio Africanus, it's the Rome of Valerian I.



9:30 AM ET

February 25, 2011


Mr. Khalidi surely realizes that nations have interests not friends. The US learned to deal with the regime that controlled Egypt for 60 years, and it will learn to deal with the regime that follows. Egypt as well as the US has interests rather than friends, and if it is in the interest of the new Egypt to deal with the US, it will; if not, it won't. Unlike individuals, nations have neither the patience nor the luxury of schoolyard tiffs.



10:56 AM ET

February 25, 2011

This piece is striking in its

This piece is striking in its arrogance, and if representative of these Arab movements they seem doomed to fail and to revert once again into strongman-rule. The author seems like a resentful teen who has experienced next to nothing of the world. Does he really think these new 'freedom' movements have nothing to learn from those societies that have been living and working their proclaimed ideals for centuries? What colossal stupidity.



11:34 AM ET

February 25, 2011


I read Rashid Khalidi's piece with relative approval. I had expected a certain amount of blaming the West, a reflexive reaction among most Middle East academics. I was wiling to forgive Mr. Khalidi given the obvious excitement and pride he feels as an Arab witnessing a genuinely popular uprising and the shaking off of mental lethargy that has plagued the region for decades. I see others above have rightly pointed out that this 'blame the West' bit is taken too far and is in itself a throwback to that same lethargy, that "we are not in control of our destinies, it's the evil outsiders" mentality that has stifled Arabs of Mr. Khalidi's generation. Perhaps his younger grad students will do better.

But mostly I was amazed by his not dragging Israel into the picture. Another, perhaps more deeply held reflex among Arabs and Arabists. Sadly, he succumbed at the end and gummed up his piece with another vapid attack. Worse, in his excitement about Arab empowerment, he verges on the edge of revealing his true hope, that the Arabs and Arab states will finally rise up and renounce the peace and engage in conflict to free his Palestinians. That sentiment can't be excused by his excited state; it is a call for warfare lurking below the surface of a Westernized, 'reasonable' Arab scholar and is exactly the reason Israel will never trade land for empty promises of peace, never be able to let down its guard, and always seek any advantage it can in a hundred year war with Arabs like Khalidi who do not, in fact, have peace in their hearts.



11:40 AM ET

February 25, 2011

Too early

I suspect it is way too soon to judge whether recent events in Egypt reflect a changed power structure, or simply changed individuals assuming new roles in the same old power structure. Mubarak did not argue with the rhetoric of the movement, (justice, dignity, more participation, etc.), he attempted to cast doubt on the methods and efficacy of the movement and the reliability of it leaders. All of this (exciting and hopeful) activity may simply have been cover for a regime change, not a change in the structure of governance. We will probably see the shape of the result over the next 12-18 months.

More troubling, at the heart of this essay is a binary view of Arabic - Western relations. The assumption of an "us vs. them" perspective ignores critical integrations between the Egyptian opposition movement and "the West" (perhaps because it would complicate the narrative). Although US and European companies and governments provided weapons and training for repressive forces in Egypt, US and European governments and companies also provided the tools, infrastructure and yes, training, that made organizing Mubarek's ouster possible, (see "Revolution U" published in Foreign Policy a couple weeks back). Western satellite, fiber-optic and server infrastructure provide the backbone and central nervous system for these movements. Al-Jazeera uses a Western-media business and programming model for covering these events, even if the coverage is in Arabic. To highlight one set of relationships and ignore or not mention the other makes me suspect there is some other kind of agenda at work here (other than

The relationships between Egypt (and other Arab states) and "the West" are multifaceted, complex, and cannot be adequately described in a few paragraphs and should not be reduced simply to an "Arab-West" perspective. These relationships should be addressed a far more granular level. Attempting to describe these relationships in broad sweeping statements feels like a tactic to trigger an emotional rather than rational action, a tactic sure to backfire as large institutional players rapidly attempt to evaluate who to trust in the region.

Egypt must deal with critical economic, political, and legal issues to address the hopes raised by it's newly energized popular movement. It remains to be seen how these issues will be addressed through the coalition of students & activists, and the generals. The critical step for building effective civilian institutions, ceding control of the armed forces to legitimate civilian authorities, has not been accomplished. Until then, the Egyptian revolution remains an unrealized dream. The "West" uses an aphorism to describe these circumstances that applies equally to the Middle East and North Africa, "Don't count your chickens until they're hatched."



12:31 PM ET

February 25, 2011

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12:38 PM ET

February 25, 2011

Reminds me of my time in Israel.

As an American, with most of my exposure to the Middle East being Israel/Palestine issues and 9/11, I travelled to Israel to study abroad.

There I was, in the Middle East, during the Lebanon war in 2006, playing a pick-up game of basketball with a few of my American classmates, a couple of Jewish Israeli students, and a Muslim Israeli Arab named Mohammed, within view of the Dome of the Rock and the rest of the Old City of Jerusalem and in the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

And it was just a fun game of basketball on a sunny afternoon.

Corny reminiscence, perhaps, but I really wish some of my ideologically-similar countrymen could have had such an experience. I love following politics and the undulations of foreign policy, but I wish the people involved would just play a casual game of basketball once in a while. Dehumanization and reduction of people to stereotypes (on all sides) is a very ugly consequence of 9/11 and the ironically-named War on Terror.



4:28 PM ET

February 25, 2011

cogent and thoughtful

this is the most cogent and thoughtful article reflecting on the uprisings in the Middle East that I have seen to date



4:41 PM ET

February 25, 2011

How dare the arabs criticize the "west"!

Overall pretty good piece, but as another commenter said would be read better among the recently liberated Arabs than the "west" in general.

The answer to some of the rhetorical questions posed are simple to answer: The "west"'s foreign policy is filled with realism. A good question to ask would be: why do so many people in West think that their foreign policy are not realism based? Personally I blame the media. When it comes to domestic reporting Western media is typically very good, but when it comes to international reporting they are usually just mouth pieces of the government.



8:29 PM ET

February 25, 2011

"The last question these Arab

"The last question these Arab revolutions raise is that of the role of the United States and its European partners in upholding the rotten Arab status quo which seems to be crumbling before our eyes."

The western nations certainly do have relations with many of these nations, as do latin american countries, asian nations, african nations and even muslim democratic nations, the entire world basically. So singling out the west is a little unfair.

Also trying to put the blame the west for these dictators being in power is also not entirely fair, oppressive nations can get by without western support, look at syria, north korea, cuba and also iran, in fact US support is often overall meaningless in that it is often powerless to stop a leader from being removed such as the shah. Often the west is in a no win scenario where if it has relations with certain nations (egypt, jordan) it is supporting dictatorships, if it does not have relations ( syria, cuba, iran), it again is criticised for bullying nations and putting economic hardships on the people.

Personally i think the US (and the rest of the world) is/are right to have relations with the middle eastern nations, as opposed to cutting off aid or relations for this doesnt seem to move the countries along and its just hurts the people of those certain nations economically.
The cuban people would be much better off if the US opened relations with the oppressive cuban government, so would the iranians and syrians.

Whats often odd is that many of those who are critical of us or eu relations with places like egypt are also critical of the us's lack of relations with cuba.


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