Where did these commentators go wrong, and why? It is true that the demonstrators they saw in Tahrir Square were brave young people and that the Mubarak regime had been corrupt and repressive (although less so than many other Middle Eastern regimes—and the reports about the stolen $70 billion were clearly exaggerated). But these commentators seemed not to consider the possibility that these freedom fighters, however worthy of our admiration, were a small and isolated elite. Had Kristof and the others gone to Chubra el-Kheima, or el-Mahala el-Kubra, or other towns and suburbs where many millions lived, another picture would have emerged—that of a desperately poor, overcrowded, and conservative society a world away from Jeffersonianism. No outside help, no social media, no Al Jazeera (widely praised for its impact) could revolutionarily have refashioned this world into a second Kuwait or Singapore.I'm sure they prefer to sweep their former enthusiasm/effervescence under the carpet, hoping it will soon be forgotten.
The partisans of Arab Spring failed to consider that under Mubarak the position of women and minorities had been better than under the new regime that would probably succeed him. Women and minorities have been the main losers in recent events—not only in Egypt but in other Middle Eastern countries, even those with fairly strong secular traditions, such as Tunisia and Morocco. Even the moderate Islamists envisage a theocratic regime in which sharia would be the law of the land. But even so, many of those who came to Tahrir Square and felt they had seen a future that worked, as did Lincoln Steffens in the first days of Bolshevism, have not yet produced a reckoning.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Why Did Those "Smart" NYT Pundits (Kristof, Friedman, Etc.) and Other "Wishful Thinkers" Get the "Arab Spring" So Wrong?
Walter Laqueur takes a stab at answering that question in the current issue of World Affairs: