The Arab Spring has inspired popular uprisings in many nations and succeeded in toppling some dictatorships, but elsewhere defiant dictatorships are determined to hang onto power.
Emilio Gonzalez, 46, an Arabic studies professor at the University of Seville in Spain, who lectured at Montana State University this week on the many facets to the Arab Spring, gave an interview on how he sees the upheaval.
“There is not an Arab Spring, but a lot of Arab Springs,” Gonzalez said. “The Arab Springs are all about connection, a horizontal connection between the same generation. Youth is getting tired of the ancien régime (old order).”
Today’s world is horizontal because people in Cairo know what is happening in Madrid, for example, and Arab people are aware that in other nations citizens have voting and other rights.
Gonzalez traced the roots of the Arab Spring to the rise of Al Jazeera Arabic television, the Internet, Facebook and the WikiLeaks case, which released hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.
In Tunisia, the small north African country where the Arab Spring first overturned a dictator, the WikiLeaks cables revealed that President Barack Obama distrusted Tunisia’s dictator and wondered what he was doing with all his country’s money. The leaks showed Tunisians that it wasn’t the United States or Europe that were holding up the dictator. It was their own army, and the army was made up of neighbors. The dictator no longer seemed so strong.
Gonzalez said young Arabs are like the little boy in the tale of the emperor’s new clothes, who says aloud, “But the emperor is naked!”
In Egypt, youthful demonstrations succeeded in forcing Hosni Mubarak from power after 30 years, but now army officers are creating a new dictatorship and stalling elections. Gonzalez, who lived in Egypt and has friends there, said if he weren’t married and the father of four children, he’d be tempted to go to Egypt and join protesters on the barricades. There will likely be more blood spilled there in the future, he said.
If Tunisia had the most successful uprising, then the worst case is Syria, he said. There leader Bashar Assad’s forces have killed thousands of peaceful protesters. Syria is controlled by Iran, Gonzalez said, and Iran, Russia and China have joined in a new kind of “Cold War” against the West.
Libya, where rebels overthrew and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi, isn’t really a country, Gonzalez said. When a country is based exclusively on a head of state, and that head is removed, “you don’t have a country,” he said. However, he predicted, international interests that control oil won’t allow Libya to break up.
In Morocco, King Mohammed VI heeded the Arab Spring and accepted reform, in a new power-sharing constitution, which voters approved in July by 98 percent.
Gonzalez said the Arab Spring has made him feel freer to express his opinions about the Arab world, because in the past, Westerners tended to view Arabs in a monolithic way, as people interested only in jihad. Now they are seen as people demonstrating in the streets for civil rights.
Arabs really are like us, he said. “People in the Arab world are not thinking about how to pray five times a day, but how to eat three times a day.”
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.