One Year Later: The Failure of the Arab Spring
A year has passed since liberal America and the liberal opinion class, in particular, went ecstatic over the Arab debut into the modern world. I know that my standing in that class is suspect. So, being a bit flummoxed myself by the not altogether dissimilar developments in the vast expanse from the Maghreb to Mesopotamia, I conquered my doubts and made a slight stab for hope. But I quickly realized that I was wrong and left the celebration. The true-believers are still there, mesmerized by some ideological mirage or preferring to look on the brighter side of things.
For example, Nicholas Kristof found some Muslim Brothers who promised that even Copts and the ancient Coptic Church, among the first of history’s Christian fellowships, have no reason to fear their party’s electoral strength. “Conservative Muslims insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood is non-discriminatory and the perfect home for pious Christians—and a terrific partner for the West.” Yes, he actually wrote this silliness. One 24-year old Salafist he cites went reassuringly specific: “…under Salafi rule, diplomatic relations with Israel would continue unchanged and ties with America would strengthen.” Alas, less than three weeks after Kristof published his daffy attestations, theJerusalem Post reported on an Al-Hayat dispatch saying that the deputy head of the Brotherhood, Rashad Bayoumi, pledged that his movement would not, would never recognize Israel—“This is not an option, whatever the circumstances, we do not recognize Israel at all. It’s an occupying criminal enemy.” What this means is that, more than three decades after Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin signed a more-or-less successful peace treaty, the agreement negotiated by Jimmy Carter might just be submitted to a reckless electorate. At best! And at worst? You figure it out.
Of course, there are some coyer journalists, commentators, and television personalities who have not dallied too long (and certainly not that long) over the democratic prospect in Arab Islam or, for that matter, in the world of Islam in general. The narrative is actually repetitive and, if not repetitive, simply too grim. And if it’s really grim, like in Syria, no reporters are allowed to or no reporters want to risk it. Which is why every story about Syria is datelined Beirut.
A few years back there was a rush of programs by American colleges and universities to set up “international” outlets in Arab countries for their own students and for students from other institutions, both American and foreign. The most successful were situated in the emirates. But even these never reached their numerical goals. As for their intellectual aims, who really knows what they were? But even in the rich little kingdoms, soon to be marbled up with extensions of the Louvre and the Guggenheim, American educational establishments confronted serious practical and conceptual difficulties from the beginning. Already near the outset of these ventures Tamar Lewin wrote in the New York Times Feb 10, 2008 of the unavoidable (and unavoided) challenges they faced. The downward spiral of the regional economies exacerbated these problems. Syracuse, Cornell Medical College, New York University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Michigan, George Mason, and Carnegie Institute of Technology were among those exposed to questions about whether a degree from, for instance, N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi is a degree from N.Y.U. at all. The answer is obvious. Some five years ago, Yale University decided to avoid the problem altogether. It has cooperative research programs all over China and elsewhere. Otherwise, it is an institution in New Haven, Connecticut. Anyway, the Middle East neighborhood is now too agitated for schools to do long-term planning. Just a few Sundays past, an article in the New York Times reported that a host of such programs are canceling. Anyway, Cairo is not Florence. I don’t know which is more interesting. But you can get killed in Egypt—or, as three American college students from Georgetown, Indiana, and Drexel have already learned, at least get yourself arrested for doing nothing. Chalk up one success for American diplomacy: It was able to get the trio released.