Crown, Heller forums address Mideast uprisings

'Furor in the Arab Street: Tunisia, Egypt and Beyond' to be held Feb. 15

Photos/Win Ko Ko

Heller Mideast panel, from left, Professor Eva Bellin, Professor Mari Fitzduff, students Dina Zaki, Mohammed Abdel Hamid and Amadou Hamadou, and Professor Ted Johnson

Mass movements against entrenched authoritarian regimes in the Middle East are riveting the attention of faculty and students campus-wide, both in classes and in specially arranged forums.

The fall of long-ruling strongmen in Tunisia and Egypt have specialists, students from the region and many others enthralled at the demonstrations of "people power" but also concerned, and sometimes worried, about what comes next.

A major forum on the latest developments is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15, in Rapaporte Treasure Hall. Sponsored by the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, it will be moderated by Shai Feldman, the Judith and Sidney Swartz director of the center and a leading analyst of the region.

The forum will include presentations by Eva Bellin, the Myra and Robert Kraft Professor of Arab Politics, who has written extensively on the persistence of authoritarianism in the Middle East; Ibrahim Karawan, professor of political science at the University of Utah and former director of the Middle East center there, and David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's project on the Middle East peace process.

Bellin, who was a featured speaker at a Mideast forum held Feb. 10 at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, says the events that have been taking place in the region have taken almost everyone by surprise "because North Africa and the Middle East are areas where ordinary people have been demobilized... Regimes have done everything in their power to achieve that."

She says that now researchers and analysts must concentrate on "why we get this sudden mobilization of people in the streets. Will we see a transition to democracy? Will it prove contagious?"

Bellin doubts those who attribute the movements to underlying grievances over social inequities, corruption and lack of democracy, because these grievances have existed for many decades.

"Normal people go into the streets over a deep and passionate anger," she says, and often are further enraged when a regime uses lethal force to defend itself. If the army then makes clear, as happened in Egypt, that it will not fire on the demonstrators, she said, the public outpouring can quickly grow dramatically, as social media communicate offenses of the regime and make organizing easier.

Bellin and Feldman, who appeared on Bloomberg Television just after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, both cautioned that the fact that the public is able to bring down an authoritarian regime does not ensure democracy will develop.

"Historically," Bellin says, "most authoritarian regimes that fall are replaced by authoritarian regimes."

Feldman said on Bloomberg that the Mubarak resignation created more questions than it answered. Noting that Mubarak handed power to the supreme military council of the country rather than to his vice president, he said, raised issues such as:
  • Can a country the size of Egypt be governed by what is essentially a committee?
  • Given the lack of clear leadership and structure among the protesters who forced Mubarak out, with whom will the military council negotiate the transition to civil government?
  • Can a military organization successfully negotiate a transition to democracy?

Feldman said Egypt, which long has had economic difficulty, now faces severe problems.

"Thirty-five million Egyptians make less than $2 a day," he said. "The country is dependent on tourism for foreign exchange, and tourism, for now, is dead."

Numerous students from Egypt and other countries in Africa attended and participated in the Heller forum.

One, Mohammed Abdel Hamid, who is in the Program in Sustainable International Development, says people outside Egypt should not be worried about the future of the country's peace with Israel or its U.S. alliance.

"Egypt is in a critical situation now," he said, and he hopes and believes the new government will "develop peaceful international relations with everyone. The country now is like a dead body. We don't want to have any troubles, any problems, with anyone."

Categories: International Affairs

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