The United States and Israel need to understand and appreciate the change taking place this year across the Arab world because “you have for the first time nations with popular legitimacy.”
Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University in Beirut, brought that message to the Israel/Palestine Mission Network at the 220th GA on July 4 when he spoke at the organization’s luncheon.
Khouri is an author and internationally syndicated columnist for Agence Global who was born in New York City to an Arab Palestinian Christian family from Nazareth while his father covered the United Nations debates in 1947 about the future of Palestine.
Precipitated by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in December 2010, Khouri called the series of revolutions in Arab nations the Arab Uprising, commonly referred to here as the Arab Spring.
Khouri said two causes were behind Bouazizi’s suicide and ultimately have driven the revolutions, even though each country’s uprising has been different.
In Bouazizi’s case, a police officer demanded a ride from his fruit and vegetable stand. When he objected, she took away his produce scale, “depriving him arbitrarily of his way to make a living.” Then, when Bouazizi complained to his government representative, he was turned away.
“He (Bouazizi) must have felt there was no reason to go on living,” Khouri said. Bouazizi had been denied his material needs and his political rights, the two “central dimensions that drive the uprising,” Khouri said.
The effort to reclaim dignity, freedom and political rights, rather than specific demands, are driving the Arab Uprising and “reflect the feelings of millions and millions,” Khouri said.
For the Arab world this is the “first time in history of citizen self-assertion,” Khouri said, and the “last battle of the colonial period.”
He spoke of the heightened tension and uncertainty in the region as the uprisings continue, pointing out that the new democracies are “trying to do in one or two years what it took your own country 200 years to do.”
He pointed to the birth of the United States, followed almost 100 years later by the Civil War, later still by women’s rights, and now by issues of immigration, gender issues and sexual orientation. “You’re still debating these issues,” Khouri said. “They [the new Arab democracies] are debating these issues in one year.”