What the Arab Spring means to me

To even the most distracted observer, honor plays a tremendous role in the Arab culture. That which is flawed is dealt with privately. That which is embarrassing is kept hidden from the outside world. That which requires maintenance or a reorientation from dishonorable to honorable remains internalized. Only those things that raise the collective head of the Arab community are put out for display.

In a sense, this description can apply to any group or individual. But pride in one’s culture, family, and community overwhelmingly defines the Arab psyche, and anything that does otherwise is typically questioned in private or avoided outright. So when the revolution in Tunisia began, I sat in silence – outraged by the poor social conditions that led to the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi but humiliated that the world lay witness to our political, economic, social, and religious insufficiencies.

I remained in this quite shameful state of embarrassment throughout much of Tunisia’s revolution. It wasn’t until tens of thousands of Egyptians demanded similar reforms that I began to perceive the revolutions sweeping the Middle East as the first phase of a new era.

To date, the Arab Spring has resulted in the ejection of three ruthless dictators and the collection of their assets, the emergence of political ideologies reflecting a genuine concern for humanity, and a breath of fresh air for millions of Arabs who have nobody to thank but themselves and the hundreds who die every week standing against a network of illegitimate brutal regimes.

More importantly, however, the Arab Spring has redefined the Arab culture. Entire populations brok the silence and openly critiqued their then-current state of affairs, and even today, in countries like Syria where dissent is viciously marginalized, protestors continue to call for an end to state-mandated oppression. The revolutions, revealing each and every failure of the past few decades, have since been open to the public.

To the very same distracted observer who was referenced at the beginning of this piece, the Arab Spring exemplifies how to manage and overcome defects that were once kept hidden from the public spectacle out of sheer embarrassment. For example, Egyptians went from walking with their eyes on the ground during Mubarak’s rule to marching with their heads held high after his ouster, reaffirming their historical role as the liveliest bunch in the Middle East.

The positive change evidenced through this series of movements should carry more weight than all the naturally-positive aspects of Arab culture combined. Said differently, there is more to be proud of when recognizing and uniting against elements of a community one would much rather pretend never existed. This is not to say that the Arab culture breeds such monsters as Bashar Al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi but that the Arab community ultimately challenged their undeserved authority.

The Arab Spring is, thus, to me at least, more than just a populist movement concerned with social and economic national organization. It represents the glory of the Arab World and it reestablishes the precedent to which future movements must at least match.

Nevertheless, this merits a few closing points. First, by Arab culture, I refer to the culture of Arabs collectively but, more specifically, those who participated in the Arab Spring, whether it be through protesting in the streets of Yemen, waving the Bahraini flag on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, or simply ‘waking up’ to the realities of the Middle East.

Second, the Arab Spring is not over. Protests in Egypt are continuing and Tunisians are still pushing for the full breadth of reforms. Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen are case examples of the fascist state-sponsored violence Libya experienced for eight and a half months. It is easy to assert that the most difficult component of any revolution is the build-up to the downfall of an unpopular regime, but in reality, the difficulty multiplies once the regime has fallen and the people are tasked with establishing and maintaining the best possible government. The Arab Spring will therefore continue until only the ideal is achieved.

And finally, the success of the Arab Spring gives hope to Palestinians. The liberation of Palestine depends on the precedent and support of those who strive for equality and justice, those who make up the crowds protesting tyrannical regimes inside and outside of the Middle East. Justice transcends borders and the spirit of the Arab Spring will continue to seep through Palestine’s walled borders until the sha’ab themselves have complete control of their livelihood and fate.

Sami Kishawi


There are 5 comments

  1. AdamAkkad

    Great piece Sami. Just a pet peeve – I really don’t like the term ‘Arab Spring’ for the exact reason you point out in this piece, its not going anywhere anytime soon. Its essentially an asymptotic progression towards an ideal society. In my humble opinion, ‘Arab Awakening’ is a much more appropriate term.

  2. Roqayah

    I agree with Adam that this is indeed a great piece; also, I happen to loathe the term Arab Spring.
    Arab Awakening or simply calling what is happening an intifada would suffice; this is a ‘shaking off’ of dictators and the like – it is an uprising our generation has not witnessed before.

    Also, a side-note in relation to the term Arab Spring:
    According to Global Issues in Context: “The term “Arab Spring” was coined after the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.”

    More of a reason to loathe this empty, over-used term.

    1. Sami Kishawi

      Good points, the both of you. I’ll definitely keep that in mind. I take “spring” to mean the development of something new, not the literal season, but “Arab Awakening” definitely has a better ring to it. The other day, someone posited the more appropriate term would be to call it something along the lines of the Middle Eastern Spring to take into account the non-Arab minorities that participated in the wave of revolutions. However, I don’t consider the #j14 movement to be successful by any means. Nevertheless, it’s only fair to credit the various other groups that participated in the spirit of revolution. Thoughts?

  3. Mary Eldin

    Hi Sami, hope you do not mind but I am using some of your blog to give my students (on a course on the Middle East) to give them an Arab perspective. It is an impressive piece – thoughtful, perceptive and looks forward to the many problems lying ahead. I hope your commentators will not mind me also using their contributions – we in Ireland use the terminology ‘Arab Spring’ all the time and you made me think about this – so I want to alert my students, once again, to our eurocentric / westrocentric labelling of Middle Eastern phenomenon! Thank you all and keep it up!

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