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Arab Spring Revisited

This past Thursday afternoon Conn College revisited the Arab Spring.Professor Hybel, who works in the government and international relations, joined Ikram Lakhdar ’13 and convened Conn students to discuss the ongoing efforts of 2011’s Arab Spring.

First hailed as a revolution, Professor Hybel claimed that instead of revolution the Arab Spring has achieved revolt, a precursor to a democratic revolution. As our own American history has shown, true revolution takes time with democracy as an end result, not an instant outcome. Here, in the US, our far physical remove from the change creeping over states such as Libya, Tunisia and Egypt often time dampens its importance. Professor Hybel, Lakhdar, and other attending students brought first hand experience of the Arab Spring to Conn, closing that gap.

Last Wednesday’s breaking news of American ambassador Steven’s death at the hands of Libyan protestors was a reminder of the power and danger still present in the states of the Arab Spring. Many current news articles have called attention to the implications the killing could have on our own soil, affecting the approaching election. Up until recently, foreign policy has had little weight in present campaigns. Yet now, as Stevens’ murder has rallied national emotion, foreign policy has become a pressing point due present media appeal. Some Americans are criticizing politicians’ slow reaction and our country’s lack of action, focusing on the volatility of current protests. But Hybel stressed an interesting point: think of what we are not
seeing.

The Arab Spring succeeded in toppling dictatorships but it didn’t, and reasonably couldn’t, deposit democracy in its place. January 2011’s Tunisian revolt overthrew a fifty-year regime, which left corrupt bureaucracy, failing education and people divided. Democracy will take time and looking back through history it doesn’t always succeed, like the failure of the USSR and the Cultural Revolution in China. Tunisia, for example, is in a transitional period, forming a new democratic constitution and anticipating its first true presidential elections. This interim period is important, and actions like last Wednesday’s volatile Islamist’s at the consulate distract public opinion. Though coverage of such violent protests is important, our media is so infatuated with action it can overlook the feats and problems of those pursuing a democratic future. The Arab Spring was primarily a youth movement hoping to embrace modern ideals of freedom. Revolutionists were and are still excited for democracy and the freedom of speech and expression is promises. It is a slow process with tiny steps keeping it steady. Ikram Lakhdar, from Tunisia, shared her first hand experience. Since the Tunisian revolution, Lakhdar claimed, 30,000 groups have been established to advance its goals. Just as American youth has embraced art as expression, Tunisian youth groups are using photography, music, art and writing to spread their hope and gain power. Lakhdar offered stories of her Tunisian friends’ efforts: some have set up street music to further ideas of freedom and have presented photography exhibits focuses on the poverty and struggle of Tunisian families.

Others attending the talk offered up their experiences. One student reported on former classmates, at the American University in Cairo, currently attempting to repair the University’s corrupt administration through demonstration (an assertion not yet confirmed). Hybel, who traveled throughout North Africa and the Middle East this summer, was impressed with the strength of the youth movement. Hybel noted that behind the absence of women on Tunisian streets and disparity between social and religious groups in many Arab states there are moments and places of modern freedom: young men and women socializing and working together in spaces where that was once forbade. The end result of revolution may not come in our generation, but 2011’s revolt will lead to the revolution that will hopefully, one day, create the states the Arab Spring initially intended.

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