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ICSR BLOG SERIES Part 4: Atkin Fellow Perspectives on the Arab Spring

06/07/2011

The Arab world, it seems, has woken from a long slumber. It was long overdue. As it stretches its arms the revolutions’ ramifications are, yet, unclear. A young Tunisian man’s desperation led to an unraveling of a political energy that the world had long thought dead in the Arab street. His livelihood, a vegetable cart, was confiscated from him when he failed to show a permit. When he protested, he was allegedly struck by a government employee. Injustice was inflicted upon the poor young man, who was slapped instead of being saluted for his efforts to live a simple decent life.  He was denied respect in his own country. In his desperation, Mohammed Bouazizi horrifyingly set himself on fire, and little did he know his lone act would spark lights across the region. He hit a cord.

As Bin Ali fell, Mubarak soon followed leaving the Middle East and the world reeling back in amazement. Libya’s fate is still uncertain. There have been clashes in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria to name a few. Nevertheless, this is no domino effect. Despite similar outcomes, Egypt and Tunisia rid themselves of their leaders because of different circumstances. Most significantly, the revolutions were citizen-led. Educated, hopeful and determined, they were persistent peaceful protestors. They called for change, they requested respect. They did not subscribe to any ideology but nationalism.

It is high time for internal political spring cleaning in the Arab world and the Middle East, and one which should also extend to the West Bank and Israel. As Arab nations look introspectively at what they must do to bring about positive change inwardly, the question of the Arab-Israeli conflict should not be forgotten.

Yesterday, the political wave reached the shores of Tel Aviv as an “Israeli Peace Initiative” was announced by a number of prominent Israeli leaders including a former director of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security services. It aims to reignite peace in the region by garnering domestic public support to re-engage with the Palestinians and calls for a two-state solution. It acknowledges and speaks to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which calls for the withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a mutually agreed settlement to the refugee problem in return for the full recognition of Israel and normalisation of relations with all Arab countries. The Israeli government is currently looking at the proposal reportedly “with interest”.

What is clear though, is that be it a new dawn, spring or summer; change is knocking at the door to create a warmer political climate in the Middle East. A climate that makes room for more participation, for everyone, whatever hurdles there may be. The opportunity to produce peace must not be missed and it is imperative that it be enacted upon now. We all have a responsibility to ensure that peace is achieved and that it is one that embraces all countries in the region. The most important responsibility ahead of us is the responsibility to respect one another, despite our differences.  Let us hope that it be a revolution of respect which ushers in a new era onto the Middle East.