Will The Arab Spring See The Summer?

Originally published on May 14, 2011 10:00 am
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Rami, thanks for being back with us.

RAMI KHOURI: Always a pleasure.

SIMON: What do you see ahead for Syria?

KHOURI: Tense days, lots of trouble and probably not an easy way out of this situation for the government. I think both the government and the protesters have crossed several red lines. It's very hard to go back and make amends after such immense violence is used and such massive protests are up all over the country. So I think they can probably hold on for, you know, a year or two years, but I think the end is in sight, as it is for most of the regimes around the Arab world. A couple of generations of security states have had their run and it's over. And like the Prague Spring, of course, you know, happened in '68 and then it was crushed and then solidarity in Poland in '80, 1980 and 10 years later, the whole Soviet empire came down. So, you know, these springs sometimes don't immediately turn into summer, they sometimes go into winter and then a couple of years later they succeed.

SIMON: Was the West wrong to see events there as being part of some common movement or pattern?

KHOURI: Oh, there's clearly a common pattern. They're not necessarily dominoes or, you know, one linked to the other. What you have, I believe, is a spontaneous eruption of common sentiments and grievances all across the region but in very different local context. I mean Bahrain and Syria and Yemen and Egypt, each one is extremely different in terms of their living conditions, the stresses on the population, the brutality of the regime, the legitimacy of the regime. But what is common is this tremendous grievances across the region. And the important thing to understand is it's the combination of intangible political or psychological demands for freedom for liberty, for dignity, for human rights, for citizen rights that come together with the material stress of not having a job or a cost of living or no water or bad medical care, and when those two converge, watch out.

SIMON: What do you foresee for Egypt? Because they're now at the point having obviously run what amounts to a revolution. Now you have rival groups developing.

KHOURI: Well, Egypt is in the very early stages, as is Tunisia, of trying to deal with four huge challenges simultaneously: economic progress, re- legitimizing and rebuilding the whole political system, dealing with the practical issues that people have raised, fighting corruption, being treated equally, and then letting new players in society find the balance amongst themselves that creates a new government system that's credible and legitimate with its own people. So I think we have to give them time. But Egypt I think will do fine. They've been running urban societies for about 5,000 years now. They know how to do this, so they'll probably be the pacesetters in the region.

SIMON: President Obama, we're told, is expected to deliver a speech this next week in U.S. Middle East policy. Let me put you on the spot a bit. What would you like to hear?

KHOURI: Well, I'll tell you what I wouldn't like hear. I don't want him to tell me how much he loves Islam. I don't want him to tell me about the wonders of democracy. And I don't want him to tell me about how great rule of law of democratic government is. I mean we don't need that kind of simplistic preaching. What we want to hear from Obama, I believe, is that the United States will unequivocally, firmly and enthusiastically support any group of people seeking freedom and democracy and human rights, and to keep pressuring autocratic regimes. And not to do it for us, but to live with the legitimate governments that emerge, if they're Islamists, if they're Arab nationalists. Because in the end, legitimacy is about the most important thing that counts in terms of people dealing with each other. That's what we'd like to hear, I think, from Obama.

SIMON: Rami Khouri is a columnist for the Beirut newspaper the Daily Star and the director of Issam Fares Public Policy Institute at American University of Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.