Take notice D.C. – Panel of distinguished Arabs analyze the ‘Arab Spring’ at Harvard

I had the privilege of attending a discussion entitled “Inside the Arab Awakening” on Sept. 19. The panel was organized by the Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School and was moderated by Ambassador Nicholas Burns. The panelists – all experts on various issues pertaining to the region – had the benefit of having been in the Middle East very recently. Moreover, they were all Arabs.

Rami Khouri, Director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut shared the stage with Dr. Karim Makdisi, also of AUB, Diana Buttu, a Harvard Fellow and UAE-based columnist Sultan Al Qassemi.

Burns set the tone of the night with his first question. In essence, he asked the four participants to describe whether the words “Arab Spring” appropriately or accurately describe the events that have been unfolding in the region for months now. Buttu was the first to respond: According to her, we are witnessing a series of uprisings; Intifadas. There was general agreement that today’s tumult is the first grade in a long period of development for the region.

Over the course of the night a powerful narrative emerged. Khouri explained that the Arab Awakening was about the genesis of the Arab citizen. Self-determination had finally seized the Arab object and shattered his fear. Hope and possibility animated  him.

Palestine came up repeatedly. Makdisi observed – and the others underlined – the extent to which the internal/external policy divide is an alien construct for many protesters. For them, freedom in Cairo and freedom in Jerusalem are intimately related.

Al Qassemi warned, credibly I think, that the Gulf Arab states must transition and adopt constitutional monarchism in order to survive. Their homogeneity, natural resources and strong tribal norms cannot forestall democratization.

The Arab – particularly the Palestinian – voice was so dominant yesterday that I found myself hoping that Burns would push harder on both the hard and the hasbara questions: Has the Syrian connection impacted Hezbollah in meaningful ways (he asked this question, but didn’t persist in this vein for long)? What about Hamas? Is Israel really as blameworthy as was repeatedly claimed by the panelists (he did push back here, but again not aggressively enough I think)? And so on.

In the main, these are good question and there are good answers to them. Rigorous analysis has always benefited the dual causes of truth and justice – at root, the Palestinian cause.

The night was an overall astounding success. It’s too early in the new relationship between the Arabs and the West to know if this co-equal conversation is the new paradigm or just paradigm-defying. After yesterday’s discussion, I’m at least as hopeful as the people in the region.

PS. Burns repeatedly referred to Palestine – not the Palestinian Territories or the Occupied Territories or the West Bank and Gaza, but Palestine. That seemed significant to me.

About Ahmed Moor

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American who was born in the Gaza Strip. He is a Soros Fellow, co-editor of After Zionism and co-founder and CEO of liwwa.com. Twitter: @ahmedmoor
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 8 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Keith says:

    “Al Qassemi warned, credibly I think, that the Gulf Arab states must transition and adopt constitutional monarchism in order to survive. Their homogeneity, natural resources and strong tribal norms cannot forestall democratization.”

    I am under the impression that nowhere on this planet is there anything approaching real democracy. What you do have, particularly in the Western “democracies,” is ritual voting and the illusion of democracy. Symbolic participation to ameliorate popular discontent.

  2. RE: “Khouri explained that the Arab Awakening was about the genesis of the Arab citizen. Self-determination had finally seized the Arab object and shattered his fear.” ~ Ahmed Moor

    MY COMMENT: But…but…but, that’s simply not possible! Arabs are creatures of the desert. They are nomads who just tend to their sheep. They travel from lonely oasis to lonely oasis; that is, when they aren’t sidetracked by mirages (not to be confused with The Mirage™ in Vegas).
    “Those types” simply aren’t capable of self-determination. The best they can possibly hope for are marginally benevolent dictators who keep very them well lubricated with an abundance of “firewater”.
    Oh yeah, and despite what you you may have read in the “lamestream press”, all those people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were really just Bollywood extras!
    I know everything there is to know about the Arabs, because I’m a proud graduate of Glenn Beck University (GBU)!
    Ray Stevens: Ahab the Arab (VIDEO, 03:47) – link to youtube.com
    [ALSO SEE THE WIKIPEDIA EXCERPTS IN THE P.S. BELOW]

    • P.S. FROM WIKIPEDIA:

      (excerpts) Benzion Netanyahu (Hebrew: בנציון נתניהו; born Benzion Mileikowsky; March 25, 1910) is an Israeli historian and a professor emeritus at Cornell University…
      …The April 3, 2009 edition of Maariv, Israel’s second largest daily newspaper, reported (in Hebrew) an interview with Benzion Netanyahu [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's father] …
      Q: You don’t like the Arabs, to say the least.
      A: The bible finds no worse image than this of the man from the desert. And why? Because he has no respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as he pleases. The tendency towards conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war.
      Q: Is there any hope of peace?
      A: Out of agreement? No. the other side might stay in peace if it understands that doing anything [else] will cause it enormous pain. The two states solution doesn’t exist. There are no two people here. There is a Jewish people and an Arab population… there is no Palestinian people, so you don’t create a state for an imaginary nation… they only call themselves a people in order to fight the Jews.
      Q: So what’s the solution?
      A: No solution but force… strong military rule. Any outbreak will bring upon the Arabs enormous suffering. We shouldn’t wait for a big mutiny to start, but rather act immediately with great force to prevent them from going on….
      If it’s possible, we should conquer any disputed territory in the land of Israel. Conquer and hold it, even if it brings us years of war…” …

      SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org
      ALSO SEE – Bibi’s Father’s Answer to the ‘Arab Problem’: Hang’ Em in the Town Square, By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 4/04/09
      Link – link to richardsilverstein.com

    • RE: “dictators who keep very them well lubricated” – me, above

      EXPLANATION: I swapped the words ‘them’ and ‘very’ as a trick to slow the reader down. It is akin to a speed bump halfway through the comment. Aren’t I clever?
      And so damn dyslexic!

  3. yourstruly says:

    as the palestinians rise up en masse, the worldwide justice for palestine’s primary task?

    by whatever means are available & then some

    getting the word out

  4. hughsansom says:

    This is a change. Not to long ago, the entire panel would have consisted in ‘experts’ from the “Washington Institute for Near East Policy” with perhaps a Thomas Friedman or Ethan Bronner. Alan Dershowitz would have been screaming, so a companion panel would have been set up on Israel with Israeli Likudniks and the likes of Bernard Lewis and Bernard-Henri Levy.

  5. Chaos4700 says:

    Yeah not to be too snarky but…

    A panel on Middle Eastern affairs at a mainstream American venue where more than half the speakers aren’t Jewish? That’s pretty much historic, isn’t it?

  6. Rusty Pipes says:

    Ahmed, regarding your concerns here:

    The Arab – particularly the Palestinian – voice was so dominant yesterday that I found myself hoping that Burns would push harder on both the hard and the hasbara questions: Has the Syrian connection impacted Hezbollah in meaningful ways (he asked this question, but didn’t persist in this vein for long)? What about Hamas? Is Israel really as blameworthy as was repeatedly claimed by the panelists (he did push back here, but again not aggressively enough I think)? And so on.

    Have you seen this post by Richard Silverstein: Hamas Leader, Meshaal, Praises Abbas’ UN Bid for Statehood:

    We heard in the Israeli media and from other sources before Abbas spoke at the UN, that Hamas officials inside Gaza denounced Abbas’s approach to the UN and instead endorsed a one-state solution. But either this reporting was wrong, or it has been superseded, and in a major way, by a more authoritative source who not only supports the independence bid, but does so strongly and firmly. In truth, Meshaal may differ with Abbas tactically in how or when he would have made the approach to the UN. But this statement and the fact that it was made in Iran, in the anti-Zionist heartland, is very significant.

    I doubt Meshal’s words will resonate at all in the halls of power in Tel Aviv, Washington DC, and Brussels where it should (and this fact will attest to the bankruptcy of their approach to the conflict and resolving it), but let us circulate this statement as widely as possible for the sake of those in the world who are pragmatic and believe that the Palestinians, ALL of them, can eventually come to terms with an Israeli state within 1967 borders, which in turn recognizes a Palestinian state.

    Keep in mind that Israel’s far right government and its water-carriers in this country talk about “Hamastan” and the fact that Iran supplies virtually all Hamas’ missiles and weapons (without offering any proof of the claim). Now, either Meshaal is being a fool in brooking a major patron, or Iran doesn’t provide nearly the support that is claimed, or Meshaal is one brave dude. When you add to this that Meshaal also refused to provide Bashar Al Assad with the full-throated statement of support the latter demanded to shore up his tottering regime, you have to give the Hamas leader credit for having a backbone. Now, if only the president of a certain western nation could copy his example.