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As part of its Arab Uprisings Lecture Series, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs recently hosted Fawwaz Trabulsi. In his presentation, entitled: “Revolutions Also Topple Ideas: How the Uprisings Shattered the Prevailing Political Constructs of the Arab world,” Traboulsi critically reviewed how the uprisings have called into question the main concepts that have dominated intellectual production and public practices in the Arab world over the past quarter of a century, including the state-society binary, governance, corruption, human rights, and neoliberalism.
The Arab Uprisings Lecture Series at the American University of Beirut (AUB) is an ongoing multi-disciplinary lecture series given by experts in their field on the nature of the Arab revolutions from an indigenous perspective. Fawwaz Traboulsi has an ongoing column in Lebanon’s As-Safir newspaper on the Arab Uprisings, and will be teaching a course at AUB entitled, “Arab Revolutions.” He is the author of numerous works, including, A History of Modern Lebanon (Pluto Press, 2007) and most recently, Democracy is Revolution (2012 ,سيرلا راد).
The ongoing Arab revolts, propelled by the goal of transforming political structures, have earned them the right to be described as democratic revolutions, said Fawwaz Traboulsi, a leading political scholar and faculty member at AUB, during the first of a lecture series on the Arab uprisings.Traboulsi, speaking on February 20, said that those calling for the overthrow of their regimes have been careful to mark a distinction between oppressive state authorities and the state.
“Whichever way we look at what’s happening, this process is trying to impose very radical political, social, ethical, and economic change,” he said. “We are in a situation where, for a whole year, we have had people in the streets willing to shed blood as they do in the villages and towns in Syria, Yemen, Egypt and everywhere else in order to radically change regimes which they believe to be both repressive and unjust.”
Organized by the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI), Traboulsi’s lecture was entitled “Revolutions also Topple Ideas: How the Uprisings Shattered the Prevailing Political Constructs of the Arab World.”
Karim Makdisi, associate professor of political studies in the Department of Political Studies and Public Administration and the IFI associate director, moderated the talk and explained that the lecture series along with a research program on the Arab uprisings were launched to better understand and frame issues emerging from the ongoing rebellions.
Traboulsi dismissed a popular notion that the uprisings have been spearheaded exclusively by a young, internet-savvy generation, noting that while youths played an instrumental role in the beginning, their forces were quickly joined by diverse layers in society including workers, slum dwellers, and in some cases even members of the upper class.
The lack of jobs, largely due to a failed system of economic neo-liberalism imposed by global institutions and managed by the Arab regimes for decades revealed itself as a driving force for revolutionaries, Traboulsi said. Their sentiments were captured by a popular slogan shouted across the region: Work, freedom, bread. He noted that the Arab world suffers from the highest rate of unemployment in the world, and that the revolts challenged not only the autocratic leaders themselves but the failed economic and social order they presided over.
“This is a rebellion of the youth, not because they have discovered democracy through the internet,” Traboulsi said, “but because they discovered that they are ruled by regimes that have blocked their futures.”
He added: “If this process is going to continue, and it needs to continue, it's not enough to have revolutionary youth. The youth should link more and more to the needs and demands of wider sectors of the population.”
The Islamists, Traboulsi said, had gained the right to govern democratically but did not have the answers to the pressing social and economic problems. This, he added, would provide an opportunity for the progressive movements in the Arab world to organize and respond to the real needs of the people.
Traboulsi reminded the audience of the cozy relationships the United States had maintained for decades with Arab regimes. In an attempt to preserve those regimes and their economic and social orders once the uprisings began, he explained, the United States, beginning with ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and continuing up till today with Bashar Al Assad in Syria, has pushed leaders to relegate power to their vice presidents.
“Attacking your enemy in the name of democracy and covering up the violations of democracy among your puppets or allies has been the hallmark of US diplomacy in the region,” Traboulsi said. What is needed in political terms, Traboulsi concluded, was a shift away from presidential systems of power prevalent in the Arab region to parliamentary ones, along with constitutional guarantees for equality and citizenship for all Arab citizens.
[This event synopsis was written and first published by the American University of Beirut (AUB).]
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