Rami Khouri and Professor Stephen Walt
Rami Khouri, "Arab Spring: From Citizen Revolts to National Reconfiguration"
September 26, 2012
Author: Krysten Hartman, Program Coordinator, Middle East Initiative
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Middle East Initiative
It was difficult for even the most cynical to leave Rami Khouri’s lecture this week at the Middle East Initiative without even a glimmer of hope that all will eventually be well in the Middle East. Khouri, a Palestinian-Jordanian and U.S. citizen, is the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, and has written extensively on the Arab Spring. On Wednesday, September 20, Khouri delivered his lecture, “Arab Spring: From Citizen Revolts to National Reconfiguration,” to Harvard students, faculty and members of the community. The syndicated journalist shed light on the causes and repercussions of what he described as the “bewildering array of events” that have characterized the Arab world over the past twenty months. During his remarks, Khouri maintained a positive outlook that the revolutions are for the good of the region and the world, helping to establish more robust states where citizens have a true sense of self-determination and sovereignty.
In his lecture, Khouri skillfully peeled back the dense layers of the shifts happening in the Arab world, both as a whole and within individual countries. Structuring his remarks around the new and meaningful changes in the Middle East, Khouri intimated the most important advances in the region are the establishment of “new legitimacies,” while the most exciting are the “new rules” coming into play. Along with these, we have seen new accountabilities, new actions, new institutions, new balances and new relationships developing as citizens strive toward building a legitimate state that protects and respects its people.
By new legitimacies, Khouri referred to the legitimacy of the exercise of power, of the institutions of the state, of the principles of statehood and of the policies and values of statehood. Without these, Khouri argued, there will never be legitimacy in statehood itself, and there certainly cannot be legitimacy for the citizens of the states in question.. Interestingly, the civilians, many of whom are taking on new roles as actors whose opinions and ideas matter, are the ones shaping these new legitimacies.
In his discussion of the new rules in the Arab world, Khouri was referring to the negotiations underway that are attempting to redefine the “big-picture” ideas surrounding what a country stands for and the values of its citizens. The establishment of constitutions in Egypt and Tunisia has been particularly exciting, because this marks the first time citizen actors have the sense that their grievances are heard and their votes count. The new actors on the stage, namely those vying for power, are responding to this fresh wave of self-determination by catering to the demands of the people and changing their positions to be in harmony with what the voters want. Khouri pointed out that the behavior of these political actors is now reminiscent to most others in the international arena, where pandering seems to be the norm.
Loathe to generalize about the region, Khouri did note a theme that rings true through most of the protests in the Arab world—a theme that he said Western media outlets have been curiously avoiding. Many outside observers have been quick to condemn the revolutions that have swept the region for failing to achieve swift transitions to a better and stronger state. Instead, Khouri suggested, the rest of the world should realize and respect that individuals within these countries are grappling with issues such as suffrage and the role of women and Islam’s intersection with the government for the first time in their histories, and thus be more cautious in their criticisms.
As individuals from Morocco to Syria to Yemen, and everywhere in between, fight tirelessly to establish a state that reflects who they are as citizens of their countries, Khouri’s final insight reminded us that in the United States, Americans achieved independence in 1776, yet it wasn’t for another 150 years that they really began to address the then-controversial issues of equal rights or women’s suffrage. France and other European nations were marked by similar trajectories. Change takes time, and we must remain sanguine, as does Khouri, that those on a quest for independence in the Middle East will be successful in working to build legitimate states shaped, at long last, by their own people.
For more information about this publication please contact the Middle East Initiative at (617) 495-5963.
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