The “Arab Spring” that actually began in the dead of winter has spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria…and the year only half over. As the media, policymakers, and global audiences struggle to make sense of changes that have inspired hundreds of millions to “just say no” to decades of dictatorship, a number of narratives have taken hold in the US—evident in remarks on cable news talk shows, at academic and policy symposia, and on Twitter—about precisely what is happening and what these massive crowds want. While elements of these narratives have some foundation in truth, they also present such a simplified view as to obscure crucial dimensions of the power struggles across the region. Below we unpack three of the most common narratives whose “truth” has become almost conventional wisdom, tossed out at cocktail parties and across coffee shops and metros. We aim to highlight what kinds of politics are made possible (and what kinds of challenges to power are foreclosed) as these narratives become part of the “common sense” that shapes our understanding of these extraordinary events.
Narrative #1: The Obama Administration has been behind the curve.
“The US government spent months watching from the sidelines until Obama crafted a vision with his May speech.”
Since January, the President and his National Security Council have gone to great pains to reassure all who are listening that US policy is rightly calibrated concerning the changes introduced by the popular uprisings against incumbent autocrats in the Middle East. The Administration, they argue, has advocated a case-by-case set of policies that sees the protests as opportunities to improve relationships in the region.
This article is now featured in Jadaliyya`s edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.