In addressing the recent events that have unfolded in the Middle East, Rami Khouri discussed the various factors that motivated these recent uprisings throughout the Arab world, in what he considered the "second Arab revolt."
On February 17, 2011, the Middle East Program hosted a discussion, "From 1910 to 2010: Understanding the Causes and Consequences of Youth and Adult Grievances that Drive the Second Arab Revolt" with Khouri, former Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar; Director, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut; and Visiting Scholar, Fares Center, Tufts University. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Khouri described the situation in the Middle East as dynamic, and called for it to be examined with clarity and objectivity instead of the typically politicized manner. He reviewed the past century, from Arab revolts of the early 20th century against Ottoman rule to the state-building developments of the modern Arab state. Khouri described the uprisings of the past two months as the first credible example of Arab self-determination, exemplary of the pursuit of pluralistic, accountable, and relevant governance.
In discussing the effectiveness of such uprisings, Khouri affirmed that these movements could lead to genuine sovereignty based on the consent of the people, as opposed to the past century's rule by monarchical families and self-imposed military regimes. Khouri made no attempts to predict what will ultimately happen and deferred to the Arab people as the true agents of their futures.
Khouri reviewed data from a report, "The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs," a study prepared in partnership with Gallup which is the first and most comprehensive poll of youth in the Arab world. He said the data suggests the reasons for discontent among Arab youth. For example, only 35 percent of Arab youth feel that elections are fair and free; one-third cannot find affordable housing; and 46 percent have no confidence in their government. He also stressed that the current movements are indigenous and result from the difficulties faced by Arab youth in attaining employment, housing, and even clean water.
Along with these reasons, Khouri highlighted the dehumanization that Arabs feel as a function of repression by their governments and regional and international pressures. He noted that similar movements have taken place over the last 30 years, but this time it is the unity of this movement that has affected real change. Khouri cautioned that artificial offerings to dissidents would not solve the problems at the heart of the protests. Similarly, he noted that it took hundreds of years for Western states to reach the positions they are in now, so patience with the Middle East is required. He listed four defining values to be included in the region's process of democratization: Arabism, Islamism, tribalism, and cosmopolitanism.
Khouri concluded by calling for recognition of Arabs' rights in their own respect, and not against the backdrop of regional or international relations. He ended by saying that denying Arabs their humanity and rights will ultimately hinder them from attempting to escape from the social, economic, and political challenges they have faced for generations.
By Sara Girgis, Middle East Program
Haleh Esfandiari, Middle East Program
- Former Public Policy Scholar