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article imageMarwan Bishara on the Arab Spring

By Ken Hanly     Aug 1, 2012 in World
Washington - Marwan Bishara is senior political analyst for Al Jazeera (English). He also hosts a program called "Empire" that examines the agendas of great powers. He talks of his book "The Invisible Arab" in the video. His talk is half an hour of the video.
The video has no embed feature so here is the link.
Bishara taught international relations at the American University of Paris. He has written extensively on politics particularly U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. In the video he discusses his new book "The Invisible Arab". Bishara has published in The New York TImes, The Guardian, Le Monde, and many other well known newspapers. "The Invisible Arab" has received considerable praise. For example Publisher's Weekly says: "Bishara…provides a compelling and spirited history of the modern Arab nation, from colonial liberation to the recent revolutions….Fast-paced, impassioned, and eloquent."
Bishara uses a clever analogy that derives from his experience in filling out an airline assessment on his flight from Doha in Qatar to Washington D.C. He thinks that some journalistic assessments of the Arab Spring follow the same type of formula. There is the initial starting point then the progress with stopovers etc. and then the arrival at the destination. In the Arab Spring assessment the destination would be something akin to western liberal democracies. Many accounts of the Arab Spring Bishara thinks are overly simplistic in part because what is going on in the Middle East is often not even noticed in the west. This brings us to the topic of the Invisible Arab.
The Arab is invisible in that what is happening and growing in the Middle East is not noticed because only certain events attract media attention. Events relating to energy may merit an article. Terrorist attacks or threats will also generate attention. Finally events related to Israel and its security will also stand out. However the conditions within Middle East countries that were developing the preconditions for the Arab Spring went unobserved for the most part. As well as this external invisibility there was an internal invisibility.
Even the people within countries subject to the Arab Spring often did not observe what was happening. The main causes of this were censorship of any news of opposition and control of the media by the Middle Eastern regimes involved.
One of the key features in developing a common Arab consciousness as Bishara sees it was satellite TV. This medium provided a means through Arabic broadcasting independent of the existing regimes to express the common consciousness that was developing. While many in the west saw the Arab Spring primarily as a youth movement dedicated to promoting liberal democracies Bishara points out that the situation is much more complicated. Islamists for example are a powerful and important part of what is developing. Indeed in countries such as Egypt the youthful protesters who wish something akin to western liberal democracy in Egypt are obviously a minority.
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