Veteran war correspondent Anthony Shadid spent much of the past decade in Baghdad covering the Iraq war, first for The Washington Post and then for The New York Times. Last December, Shadid left Baghdad for his home in Beirut, Lebanon, where he’s been based for more than a decade.
“It was amazing to me how many conversations I was having with people about how dejected they were, how disappointed, how pessimistic they were about where the Arab world was,” he tellsFresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “… And so remarkably, just a week or two later, the uprising began in Tunisia.”
Shadid reported from Tunisia and then from the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Bahrain. He says 2011 has been one of the most unbelievable years he ever could have imagined experiencing in the Middle East region.
“I think back to this idea that a generation ago, the Iranian revolution was this event that changed the Middle East,” he says. “And we’re [talking about] six revolts or revolutions or uprisings all happening, in a lot of respects, at the very same time.”
Shadid says the euphoria felt in places like Tunisia and Egypt throughout the spring has now passed.
“I think there’s a lot of anxiety and uncertainty of where we’re headed,” he says. “I guess after being a pessimist in Baghdad for so long, I remain an optimist. I think that optimism comes from this idea that these societies — that have been moribund for so long — have been revived or rejuvenated. … And that very dynamism of those societies leaves hope for the future.”
“You can crush the flowers, but that will not delay the Spring.” – Protest graffiti in a Cairo mosque
The year that is about to pass is historical for Islam for the reason that a much-derided faith has proved to be capable of being all that it was thought incapable of.
An awakening that swept the Arab world ended up re-inventing Islam in the eyes of the world. I consider myself lucky for being able to travel to some of the lands and meeting some of the people who were part of this.
The changes have been variously called “Arab Spring”, “Arab awakening” or “Arab Empowerment”. I prefer to call it Islam’s second renaissance.
For this to be the second renaissance, you may wonder, there ought to be a first one in the first place. Digression be excused, Ibn Rushd’s (Averroes for Europe) rescue of the Aristotelian texts (when Europe almost buried them) should be counted as one of the key features of the first Islamic renaissance.
The Arab spring was sparked in Tunisia in late 2010 by protests that followed the self-immolation of a young vendor harassed by police. His death in a hospital in January prompted thousands to take to the streets that forced the longtime president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, to flee to Saudi Arabia.
It’s been a historic week for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the prime beneficiary in the first round of voting for the country’s new parliament. Fully 62 per cent of eligible Egyptians cast ballots this week, and more of them voted for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party than for any other party or alliance.
For them, that’s the good news.
However, the last thing the Brotherhood wanted was to have its upstart Islamist rivals, the Salafists, running in second place in the voting, with as much as 25 per cent of the vote.
CAIRO (AP) — Hundreds of protesters marched Friday from Egypt’s pre-eminent mosque to a central Cairo cathedral in a show of Muslim-Christian unity after a bloody clash earlier this week involving Coptic Christian protesters and the military.
Demonstrators chanted slogans against the country’s military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who has increasingly become the focus of activists’ anger during the bumpy transition following Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February.
A crowd of onlookers threw rocks at the demonstrators outside Al-Azhar mosque, the most important center of learning in Sunni Islam. But the group of Muslims and Christians was undeterred and marched on toward the cathedral before heading to Tahrir Square and a nearby boulevard along the Nile where Sunday’s clashes took place.
The distrust between pro-democracy activists and the military council, which is leading the country’s transitional period until presidential elections expected in 2012, deepened after the clashes.
Ever since the Arab Spring began, Washington has been faced with the question of how to ease autocrats from power. After former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from office in February, President Barack Obama said that the United States had been on the “right side” of history, suggesting that that is where Washington would position itself in the Arab world’s transition to democracy. What exactly this should mean in practice remains an unsettled question – especially in states presided over by dictators whose stable rule and pro-U.S. orientation were long-standing cornerstones of U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
This dilemma is particularly salient in the case of Bahrain, a small island kingdom in the Gulf and a longtime U.S. strategic ally. For months now, Bahrain has been engulfed in protests against the repressive rule of the Khalifa family; the most recent demonstrations in late August claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy, the latest casualty in the regime’s drive to restore order.
The latest salvo comes in response to a rally held in Tahrir Square last Friday that was dominated by Islamist and Salafist (ultra-conservative Muslim) groups, many of them associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The sheer size and strength of the demonstration was, for many, a sign that the dream of democracy in Egypt may be giving way to the reality of theocracy. The Washington Postwrote that the Islamists’ presence at the rally “was a stunning show of force that left the liberal pioneers of Egypt’s revolution reeling.”
It is true that Islamists comprised the largest and most vocal of the more than 25 different Egyptian organizations, most of them labor and youth groups, who organized last week’s mass show of unity against the country’s military rulers. But that is a reflection of their superior organizational skills and their ability to mobilize their members, and not of their political clout or their national support.