BOULDER – Popular unrest has engulfed the Arab world, and as the despots fall, the question on nearly everyone’s mind: where is this going?
This week at CU, four experts on the Arab world gathered to offer insights and background skipped over by the mainstream media on the current and historical context in Egypt and the Middle East.
The panelists included Haytham Bahoora, assistant professor of Arabic studies, Nabil Echchaibi, assistant professor of journalism and media studies, Najeeb Jan, instructor of geography, and John M. Willis, assistant professor of history.
After spending extensive time living and studying the Muslim world, all four professors possess a thorough knowledge of the culture, history and political structures of the Middle East.
At the panel, Willis started the conversation by offering a short history of parallel revolutions that have occurred in Egypt in the past century. He spoke of the popular revolution in 1919 that spurred what he describes as “a preemptive independence” from Britain. However, the revolution did not produce the desired results, and so again in 1952 the government was overthrown, which led to a period of economic reform and modernization under Gamal Abdel Nasser.
According to Willis, neither revolution ultimately fulfilled the idealistic goals they set out to accomplish, as Nasser’s rule ultimately led to Mubarak, where Egypt was “subjugated to a brutal regime of neoliberal capitalism.”
“What we find historically when we look at the two major revolutions in Egyptian history is that there’s always the possibility of revolutions being co-opted or turned against their original intents,” said Willis. “So we must proceed with caution.”
Bahoora, who has lived and studied extensively in Cairo, contrasted the current push for democracy in Egypt with the as yet largely unsuccessful American-forced democratization of Iraq.
“As an Iraqi, I can say I am jealous of Egyptians in that they did not have to be bombed into democracy,” said Bahoora.
Middle Eastern media expert and journalism professor Echchaibi, who is from Morocco, said the media may be focusing too much on Twitter and Facebook’s role in the uprising, while not recognizing the enormous role that Al Jazeera and activist blogs played in laying down the foundation for the revolts in Tunisia and then in Egypt.
“Make no mistake, Al Jazeera wanted this to take place,” said Echchaibi.
Jan concurred with the fellow panelists that the events in Egypt so far can be called “a happy moment,” but he refrained from calling the uprisings a revolution as of yet. As did the other panelists, he criticized U.S. foreign policy double standards that allowed Mubarak to remain in power.
“How can we claim we are the leaders of world democracy when we consistently support authoritarian leaders across the world in the name of stability?” said Jan. “What happened in Egypt did not happen because of the U.S., but rather in spite of the U.S.”