The End of the Beginning

There’s no end in sight for what Arabs have embarked on this year but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling, and the Carnegie Middle East Center‘s annual greeting card nicely captures the energy and spirit of 2011 and the great hopes for 2012.

I recently interviewed the Libyan professor, columnist and speaker Mansour El-Kikhia and he told me:

I don’t really think it’s an Arab spring per se. I think it’s a global spring. If it was an Arab spring it certainly has spread…Maybe Arabs should pat themselves on the back and say ‘We did something for the world.’

I’ll raise my glass to that and to the varied news sources that keep me informed (and amused), as much as ever in this last week:

On Carnegie‘s website, Muhammad Faour and Marwan Muasher call for the education of students who know from “a very early age what it means to be citizens who learn how to think, seek and produce knowledge, question, and innovate rather than be subjects of the state who are taught what to think and how to behave.”

Over at The New York Review of Books, Yasmine El Rashidi points to a new clarity as to the ongoing political reorientation in Egypt, and Christopher de Bellaigue marks the end, in Iraq, of “a century of ill-judged invasions, coups, and other attempts by western powers to manipulate events in the Middle East.”

The Economist recalls the colorful history of a café that has, for more than 100 years now, been a “sanctuary for observers of Egyptian public life” and that may yet enjoy a second act in step with the revolution.

And thanks to the Arabist for linking to Sandmonkey’s latest “rant,” which exemplifies the inclination toward self-reflection that seems hard-wired into the human calendar come the dark days of December. The Egyptian revolution, he writes, suffers from confusing the Symbol and the Cause:

For example, the case of Khaled Said was not about Khaled Said himself, it was about Police brutality and lack of accountability towards those who are paid to protect us and instead have no problem killing us. The cause was to end this, not to try the murderers of Khaled Said. But instead of focusing on that cause, we focused on the symbol, and we ignored the cause. Police killing without accountability still happens to this day, but The killers of Khaled Said received a verdict, so Justice is served. The same goes for Alaa, who wanted- through his bravery- to give the cause of stopping the military trials for civilians the push and international pressure it needed, but instead, and in spite of his intentions, ended up becoming the Symbol that everyone rallies around, ignoring the cause. All got jubilant when Alaa got transferred to a civilian court, all the while, more than 12,000 other Egyptians are still serving year-long sentences they received in military trials that took on average 15-20 minutes for the entire trial. The Symbol and the Cause.

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