About ten years ago I was a junior Arab graduate student in Queens Astoria who saw the Arab uprising unfold. I got rumors that it would start in Morocco. I was mainly concerned about my parents there, and perhaps in the Arabic way I imagined the worst and felt the guilt of being far away and being unable to protect my ancestors. I felt obliged to go back and I did. I felt my world collapse in front of me. Ten years later the earth is still spinning and life goes on. In this attempt to commemorate ten years after the Arab uprisings and the 2011 revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, which caused lingering shock waves in my region, I would like to spend some time teaching a lesson in dignity from the Arab world to the rest of the region . This lesson on dignity is about the need to develop political institutions, empower youth and expand their stake in the economy, and finally accept differences.
Before class I would like to briefly reiterate the importance of talking about the “Arab uprisings” as opposed to the widely used counterpart “Arab Spring”. The Arab Spring connects to the Spring of Nations of 1848 in Europe, which were popular uprisings against old monarchical decisions. The problem with this connection is that it continues an orientalist tradition of likening the East to a so-called more advanced West. This at least creates an arbitrary symbolic power structure. On the other hand, for the immediate timeline of 2011 in the region, it makes more sense to talk about the Arab uprisings, as it relates to the 1987 Intifada, in which Palestinians participated in a series of protests that were largely suppressed Israeli authority have risen. Very similar to the 2011 events. The Palestinian uprisings were not alone, there was also the Berber Spring in Algeria before them and you can continue earlier.
Another starting point for this Arab uprising motion is the tragedy of the Arabs, with Arabs not being an ethnic denominator but a descriptive feature of the dominant mode of communication that unites and integrates the region. This Arab tragedy has resurfaced at various times since the post-colonial era when intellectuals inside and outside the region wondered what went wrong with an Arab world leadership nearly seven centuries ago. In fact, for millennia, the region has had a long history of living communities who have managed to live together, but it seems that they have struggled to learn to live together again since the post-colonial era.
First, in relation to the teaching of the dignity of the Arab uprisings for political institutions. Since their inception, the Arab states of today have ruled in a kind of “us or chaos” which, it can be argued, has become a hallmark of modern state development and even the ideal of democracy. Indeed, statism is based on hierarchical power structures that are inevitably violent and create a mystery to the development of human rights around the world. Indeed, it is difficult to accept authority and uphold the principles of equality because it becomes unclear whether all human lives are of equal value. This question is particularly important today at a time when our world is battling a pandemic. The Arab uprisings are a doctrine of dignity because they created the need for political institutions to recognize human worth. It is fundamental that we fight for all life, not just for family, country or religion. And if lost lives have not been fought over, we must at least recognize the wrong things, which will help correct them and build trust, and trust is a necessary ingredient in learning to live together again.
Second, regarding the teaching of the dignity of the Arab uprisings to empower the youth. The youth are important to our economies around the world. I teach young people and what I see in them is tremendous energy that we as educators often try to discipline and punish. There is a commercialization of the youth in students, recruits, workers and when they roll out of their young age they become the new handlebars of the bike. The youngsters are told to shut up, speak, act and stop, and these are many mixed messages that we need to clarify in their ambivalence with better communication. Most importantly, the value of young people is often diminished by the smaller contribution they make to the economy and that we should not appreciate them that much because of the intrinsic dimension of human worth. Youth in the Arab world continue to be victims of higher unemployment rates and this is an ongoing complaint that needs to be addressed. Youth is an easy target for marginalization, and there are many other groups who can take such a position. Revolutions rise at prophetic moments for the marginalized. We have to learn from revolutions, not try to break them off, but try to emancipate those on the fringes in order to be able to live together better.
Finally, with regard to the teaching of the dignity of the Arab uprisings, to accept differences. Postcolonial theory in various disciplines of the social sciences and humanities has paved the way for studies that question the coined epistemological imperialism or a hegemony of knowledge production derived primarily from Western and Western influenced science. Despite the waves of decolonization in the world over a century ago, the colonial discourse based on this epistemological imperialism seems to continue as we keep seeing dichotomies between better / developed / whiter / male and worse / underdeveloped / darker / female. The problem with this epistemological approach is to create an imbalance in power structures that normalizes violence against the weaker, and this in turn is another limit to the acceptance of inner human worth. In a globalizing world we cannot afford to stigmatize each other and reject diversity because this is unsustainable for a more dignified world in which the value of everyone and everyone is recognized in order to live better together.
In summary, it can be said that ten years since the Arab uprisings is still too little time to appreciate the changes in those marking events in which lives were lost today and where we were fought for. Would we appreciate her memory.
Further reading on e-international relations