BU professor discusses ramifications of Arab Spring
Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2011 03:12
Boston University Professor of International Relations and Anthropology Augustus Richard Norton last night delivered a lecture on the Arab Spring, offering his assessment of the recent social and political changes in the region, as well as his prognosis for its future.
At the lecture, hosted by the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, Norton discussed the unprecedented scale of labor protests, strikes and demonstrations that raged throughout the Arab world this past year. These movements gained momentum through the increased availability of both social media and WikiLeaks, he said.
"Inspiration for rebellion grew locally," Norton said, adding that the toppling of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime was not a catalyst for the recent popular uprisings.
The protests were partially fueled by a widespread dissatisfaction with U.S. foreign policy and a desire to be free of foreign influence, according to Norton.
"Many people have negative views of the United States," Norton said.
The United States' longtime support of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak undermined the country's popularity among Egyptians, Norton said, adding that the United States should have recognized that the former dictator would capitulate to popular demands. If the United States had recognized this earlier, Egypt's perception of the United States may not have been damaged or questioned in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, according to Norton.
Norton said he believes the United States needs to reconsider how it sees the region and should adopt a more grassroots approach to its foreign policy.
The radical growth and changing dynamics of political Islam in the Arab world has led many Islamist political parties to favor a democratic form of governance, as many believe it is in their best interest, he said.
"The mainstream among the Islamists is politically pragmatic," Norton said. "Once the political stage opens up, we shouldn't be surprised to find divisions not just among secularists and nationalists, but among the Islamists as well," Norton said.
He said that the nature of the elections and the development of constitutions in Tunisia and Egypt will be crucial to their future, stressing that a legitimate democratic process is necessary for long−term stability.
"Elections are products of a process of engineering," Norton said. "Election design is very, very important."
Norton said that the new political leaders in Tunisia and Egypt want their nations to prosper and join the modern world, but that old regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain who have resisted political reform are simply trying to clean up their acts.
Norton concluded his talk by emphasizing that changes in the region are still far from complete. "We're watching a region that's in midst of a transformation," he said.
This transformation, he added, could be threatened by forces such as the Egyptian military's desire to remain invulnerable in the reworking of the constitution. "There's still a lot of work to be done."