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You Say You Want a Revolution: The Arab Spring

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Since December of last year, across the Middle East, dictatorial regimes have toppled and people power has triumphed. But what does this much-heralded wave of revolutionary fervour mean in the longer term? Our panel of Fethi Mansouri, Rima Ahmad Alaadeen, Samah Hadid and Robert Bowker - led by moderator Hamish McDonald - share their specialised, local insights as they explore the issues, outcomes and interests of the movement.

Alaadeen reflects on the complete transformation of the region and warns against assuming Arab nations are the same in terms of their economies and democratic aspirations. She emphasises the role the military has played in national uprisings and argues that no commentator - Arab, Western or otherwise - could claim not to be surprised by the breadth and success of the spate of revolutionary uprisings.

Tunisian-born Mansouri comments on his birth nation’s advanced progress reforms and shares Alaadeen’s sense of surprise. He notes that, previously, many observers had believed assassination, military coup or foreign intervention were the only apparatus that could have facilitated regime change in the region. That they have occurred largely at the hands of citizens is a landmark, he says, for the Arab and Muslim world.

Former diplomat Bowker offers his perspective on the difficulties of foreign governments in negotiating who to support in uncertain domestic situations. He, like all members of the panel, insists that it’s much too soon to judge the success of what Alaadeen calls a “rebirth of nations”.

Hadid celebrates the ability of the Arab world’s young people to “outpace and surprise” the world. As key members of the uprising, she argues that they have insisted the revolutionary message is well articulated rather than dismissed as youthful rabble-rousing or plain frustration. Adding to Bowker’s call for patience, Hadid also notes the importance of acknowledging immediate gains made in the wake of renewal: the creation of a space for revolt that now exists in some of the societies in question, with civilians freed of threats to freedom of speech.

Addressing the question of why the West has been seen as a major force in Arab upheavals whilst Middle Eastern peers have been less vocal, Mansouri criticises the late response of the West - anxious to protect the strategic value of existing alliances - whilst explaining the Arab reluctance to criticise peer nations as a fear of being seen as hypocritical, particularly on questions of accountability and change.

The panel then respond to questions from the audience relating to the Muslim Brotherhood and Coptic Christians in Egypt, the problematic example of Turkey as an ideal secular state in the region, the plight of women in Syria, the quality of Western media coverage and the risk we run of idealising the Arab Spring at the expense of recognising its negative and harmful aspects.

Presented in partnership with the Melbourne Festival.

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