At the Heart of the Arab Revolts: A Search for Dignity

By Marquand, Robert | The Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

At the Heart of the Arab Revolts: A Search for Dignity

Marquand, Robert, The Christian Science Monitor

When Muammar Qaddafi recently asked Libyans to rely on his 'moral authority,' an ever more sophisticated Arab generation widely read the request as an insult to their intelligence.

Historians are still sorting out the French Revolution, let alone the end of the Soviet empire in the 1990s. The Arab revolutions, sparked by the self-immolation of an educated young Tunisian vegetable vendor, are only two months old. The panoply of causes - from unemployment to social media, to deep repression - have barely been plumbed.

But taking a page from the "people's historians," ordinary Tunisians, Libyans, and Egyptians themselves describe the heart of this moment as a revolution for dignity.

On the Facebook page "I am Arab," on countless blogs, on posters from Cairo's Tahrir Square, they are saying: "We can be our own heroes," a "new memory" of liberty has been created, and a "genuine uprising of the people for the people" can be wrought by "rediscovering courage."

" 'We the people' has come to the Middle East," says Lebanon- born Kamir Emile Bitar, an analyst at the Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies in Paris. "For 40 years, Arabs have been governed by buffoons ... they see the red carpet rolled out for visiting Western democrats who lecture on human rights when it suits them. Eating bread is no longer enough. They want bread, liberty, and dignity. Is that too much to ask?"

The Arab cry for dignity is so understood as the e=mc2 of the uprising that Libya's Muammar Qaddafi tried to steal the script, telling a youth rally Feb. 25 that "Life without dignity is useless."

Hillary Clinton grabbed that script back in Geneva Feb. 28, calling for Mr. Qaddafi to leave "now, without further violence or delay" at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. The US secretary of State described the Arab moment succinctly: "We see in their struggles a universal yearning for dignity and respect. And they remind us that the power of human dignity is always underestimated until the day it finally prevails.... This moment belongs to the people, particularly the young people, of the Middle East."

A reminder of the power of human rights

Human rights has so long been a stranger at the gates in the Arab world that the West may now owe thanks to the Arab people for reminding the world of its importance.

It is, to be sure, early days. Fighting in Libya and worry in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia shows how fraught and unscripted revolutions are. But the Arab uprising has upended aspects of realpolitik, which for decades dictated Western support for autocrats as the answer to fears of chaos, political Islam, and tides of Arab emigres.

Yet as the Economist magazine noted, "after the wave of secular uprisings, it is the cynics who seem out of touch, and the idealists have turned out to be the realists....Hard-headed students of realpolitik like to think that only they see the world as it truly is, and that those who pursue human rights .

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

At the Heart of the Arab Revolts: A Search for Dignity


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?