IN HIS 1998 work Dream Palace of the Arabs, Fouad Ajami wrote, “As the world batters the modern Arab inheritance, the rhetorical need for anti-Zionism grows. But there rises, too, the recognition that it is time for the imagination to steal away from Israel and to look at the Arab reality, to behold its own view of the kind of world the Arabs want for themselves.” Whether Ajami realized it or not, these words offer an eerily prescient view—thirteen years ahead of time—of the dynamic behind the Arab Spring and its autumn and winter sequels. In country after country, Arab crowds have taken to the street for a cause more positive and all-embracing than anti-Zionism: the demand for an end to corrupt authoritarian regimes and for a greater say in their own future. What shape that future will take remains to be seen, and many basic questions have yet to be answered. Can democracy blossom overnight in societies that have always been dominated by oppressive force? If democracy does take root, can respect for minority rights survive the tyranny of a poor, ill-schooled and often intolerant majority? Would democratically elected demagogues pose even more of a threat to peace and stability in the Muslim-Arab world than old-line authoritarian regimes and monarchies with a selfish stake in maintaining the status quo and “keeping the lid on”?
Eyes and Ears of the Arab Spring
From the issue
January 4, 2012