Revolutions sweep A&M
Experts discuss origins of Arab Spring uprisings
Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 23:07
One man sets himself on fire in Tunisia and sparks a change that affects every country in the Middle East. That change, now known as the Arab Spring, took center stage Wednesday when two professors sorted through the chaos in Egypt and Syria to find the revolutions' local origins before a student audience.
The conversation in this latest discussion of the Wiley Lecture Series was driven by University of Texas associate professor of modern Arab intellectual history, Yoav Di-Capua, and assistant professor of Middle Eastern politics at the Bush School at Texas A&M, Rola el-Husseini.
El-Husseini discussed the historic background of Syria and the events that led up to its place in the Arab Spring, while Di-Capua discussed Egypt's path to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.
"President Bashar was welcomed in Syria and by most western observers as the symbol of hope for change in Syria," el-Husseini said. "And for the first year or so of his regime, that hope seemed to be justified."
El-Husseini said Syria followed "the China model" which created more liberal economic practices, but at the cost of less political freedoms. The general population of Syria has not yet seen the benefits of an open economy. The citizens that have profited most were those closest to Bashar, especially his family.
The revolution in Syria started after a group of teenagers, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, were arrested and tortured for vandalism. When the victims' parents went to the police station for them, the police responded with violence.
"The police overreacted, and basically shot them, and this led to an explosion in the entire country," el-Husseini said.
According to Di-Capua, Egypt was much different than other countries involved.
"Egypt represents a different spectrum of the Arab Spring," Di-Capua said. "We tend to think of it as a unified movement, something that looks the same everywhere, but varies from state to state."
The groups involved in Egypt started protests over an abuse of power, like in Syria, including the handing down of the presidency from Mubarak to his son, and social injustices. Protestors decided to gather on Jan. 26, the Day of Police, a national holiday for local law enforcement.
"During their celebration, we're going to launch a revolution," Di-Capua said.
Di-Capua said he commended those involved in the initial demonstrations because the political sphere in Egypt, which would have allowed for open political opposition, did not exist.
"To be an activist is a very courageous position which requires personal courage as well as stamina and dedication," Di-Capua said.
As the movement grew and protestors were able to occupy both Tahrir Square and the bridges that cross the Nile River, more groups became involved.
The violence in Syria and the revolt against Mubarak are two separate actions, however, both Syria and Egypt share uncertain futures.
"A lot of people are afraid of what's going to happen next," el-Husseini said. "Events are still unfolding, we don't know what's going to happen, but most people are afraid of a civil war in Syria after the demise of the current regime. This is making people unhappy, because it will destabilize the region."
Di-Capua said the future of Egypt might include a democratic government.
"It seems like all the people around Mubarak are gone, but the structure is still there," said Di-Capua. "It's still a liberal economy, it still has the same international alliances, the same army, the revolution hasn't toppled that. Now there is transition to democracy."
Students said the presentations were informative and significant to others because of changing relations between the U.S. and the Middle East.
"They'll affect our foreign policy in the future," said Zachary Logan, a junior political science major. "There are some people who are unfriendly to the United States in the region, so whether or not it's going to remain friendly or unfriendly is the United States' major concern."
El-Husseini said students in the U.S. need to be more informed about what's happening in the Middle East.