It has become commonplace for people to talk about the middle class and its role in economic and societal transformations, and many have credited this group with playing a role in the current changes sweeping the region. But despite the newfound ease with which people talk about it, there are those who argue that the middle class has dwindled and that its values and the role it plays in Arab societies have changed. But what do we actually know about the size of this group and nature of its role, and can we generalize across countries that differ vastly from one another?
A Blog on Middle East Transformation
Best selling author and Mind/Body pundit Deepak Chopra has deemed him a “Muslim Gandhi” for his calls for a pacifist antidote to the often inaccurate Islamist extremist discourse that emerged post 9/11, and he has been widely sought in the American Media for his American- Muslim perspective. In his new book Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era, Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer by trade and founder of themuslimguy.com charts out a new global movement based on peaceful coexistence that is firmly rooted within the framework of modern Islam. Iftikhar talked to the Cairo Review about how the Arab Spring has affected his mission and how Obama is getting it wrong.
Egyptians today are engaged in a vigorous discussion over the political future of the country. This is a healthy and vitally important debate, and I am confident that it will result in a democratic Egypt that protects human rights and helps address its citizens’ needs. However, we know from experience that successful democratic transitions not only rely on political reform, but also depend on broadening economic opportunity.
The day I met Sergio Vieira de Mello, who died eight years ago, remains imprinted in my memory. I had never been as mesmerized by someone. I had heard and read about him. Who in the United Nations system hadn’t? But when Dennis McNamara, his lifetime friend and colleague, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Special Envoy for Iraq (with whom I was traveling on mission) introduced me to him in Larnaca, Cyprus on June 1, 2003, I was star-struck.
A curious thing has happened on the Nile since the fall of Hosni Mubarak: after decades of dictating the river’s politics, Egypt is finally acting like a downstream state. Sensing both its vulnerability and opportunity for change in the wake of the January 25 revolution, Egypt’s transitional authorities have shuttled representatives from one Nile Basin state to another, making gestures in the name of cooperation and mutual development.
There is near consensus that because Egypt has enormous cultural influence on the Arab world, the direction the country takes after the 2011 revolution will be an indication of the direction of Arab politics in general. To understand the dynamics shaping Egyptian socio-politics, observers need to reflect on five dichotomies that mould Egyptian psyche.
Despite the intense focus on the uprisings across the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to command diplomatic attention. Later this month, the United Nations General Assembly is slated to vote on Palestinian statehood. William B. Quandt, author of Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab–Israeli Conflict Since 1967, spoke to the Cairo Review on the outlook for progress.
As Egypt’s post-revolutionary politics oscillate between protest and politics, the uneven progress of change has led to widespread frustration and suspicion that the remnants of the old regime are sabotaging efforts at fundamental change.
U.S. relations with Pakistan have been on the rocks since Navy SEALs buzzed into Abbottabad unannounced in a pair of modified MH-60 helicopters and took out Osama bin Laden. The move, which 68 percent of Pakistanis viewed as a “severe” compromise of their country’s sovereignty, according to a Gallup poll, prompted the humiliated Pakistani military to expel U.S. military trainers from the country and refuse visas to other American personnel.
Egyptian women were on the front lines of the protests that brought down President Hosni Mubarak. The Arab Spring has not expressly rallied for the advancement of women’s rights, though many have said that the empowerment they felt during the demonstrations should be used to effect change for women themselves. Now, however, many women are worried they are being sidelined in the formation of a new Egypt as the country’s de facto ruling body, the military, charts a framework for transition. Isobel Coleman, senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, talked to the Cairo Review about the days ahead for women in Egypt.
The longer the protest continues, the worse it is for President Bashar Assad, whose claim for political legitimacy is based primarily on the assumption that his regime was the only one capable of maintaining stability in Syria.
President Obama’s May 19 speech about change in the Middle East raises some important and enduring conundrums about politics and identity that apply to Asia as well as the Middle East. The U.S. wants to be on the right side of history, and has newly embraced the demand for reform and democracy as a higher-order determinant of U.S. policy priorities than the earlier emphasis on stability.
The rising sectarianism, violence, and the conspicuous presence of many religious groups bent on Islamizing the society in Egypt in the past three months since the forced removal of President Mubarak raised the prospect of the establishment of an Islamic state in the country. To assess whether or not that prospect will transpire, five factors need to be understood.
The closing sentence of Eliza Griswold’s “Talk of the Town” vignette in the May 16 edition of the New Yorker poignantly connects Abbottabad to the surge of protests sweeping North Africa and the Middle East: “I’m afraid of our economy,” an Abbottabad realtor insists, “not of Osama bin Laden.” This simple, yet powerful, statement transcends ideological warfare—be it against terrorism or for democracy—and reminds us that dire economic conditions are the most basic driving force behind the protests.
What Egyptians want, above all, is an Egyptian democracy. For many of them, this means a democracy that doesn’t view religion as either a backward relic to be surmounted and militantly policed (again, France) or an apolitical feel-good faith to be celebrated as long as it behaves (Great Britain).
Friday’s announcement of George Mitchell’s resignation as the U.S. mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict appears to be yet another sign of the disarray and failure in President Obama’s handling of the Middle East. Recently, two articles provided a troubling inside look at the ineptitude that makes Mitchell’s departure unsurprising. A New Yorker piece on the Arab Spring by Ryan Lizza describes Obama’s navigation between realists and idealists, and tags him (per the article’s title) as “The Consequentialist.” Perhaps “The Cluelessist” is more like it.
There was a theatrical air about Osama bin Laden. He cultivated mystique. For example, he relished inviting selected international journalists–some known for their own theatricality–to meet him in dangerous or shadowy circumstances that facilitated dramatic storytelling. I had a minor part in bringing Bin Laden to the world stage in 1996 when I interviewed him in Khartoum for a TIME magazine story headlined “The Paladin of Jihad.” Bin Laden’s enemies added to the hype. George W. Bush, the gun-slinging president from Texas, responded to September 11 with a line straight out of Hollywood: “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West I recall, that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.'”
Three months after the January 25 Revolution in Egypt, President Obama’s approach to the Middle East is hopelessly adrift. He is hesitant to truly embrace the Arab freedom movements, failing to lead Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and lacking effective diplomacy to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Two years after his ballyhooed Cairo University reach-out to the Arab and Muslim worlds, it’s clear now that he actually doesn’t get it.
McCain: Support anti-Gadhafi Libyan rebels, de-legitimize Syria’s Assad.
Opened just two months after the start of protests, Tahrir! embodies the texture as well as the spirit of a revolution that is still ongoing.