Hamid Dabashi, Bassam Haddad Discuss Arab Spring

By Adas, Jane | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 2011 | Go to article overview

Hamid Dabashi, Bassam Haddad Discuss Arab Spring


Adas, Jane, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Professors Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University and Bassam Haddad of George Mason University spoke about the uprisings in the Arab world at Alwan for the Arts on June 8. In Dabashi's view, the Arab Spring is part of a global movement to overcome inherited, colonially manufactured barriers. Whether in Arab countries, or in Zimbabwe, Kashmir or Iran, Dabashi identified three social groups as critical for all the current political struggles: labor unions to stop the World Bank from micromanaging economies; student assemblies, because young people are the majority in most of these countries; and women's rights groups, because such important issues shouldn't be left to men.

Within the Arab world, Dabashi noted, uprisings are happening in both pro- and anti-Western countries, among Shi'i and Sunni majority populations, and are not wedded to particular ideologies, such as Arab nationalism or the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor are any of them identified with a strong personality, as was the case with Mossadegh in Iran or Nasser in Egypt. Rather, Dabashi concluded, the Arab Spring is an unfolding and open-ended "retrieval of our multifaceted culture."

Haddad agreed that in a political sense there is a global revolution that essentially constitutes a popular rejection of neo-liberalism. Cynics may dismiss "people power" as romantic and naïve, but Haddad maintains that is exactly what is most significant: unprecedented mass gatherings opening a space for the public to advance its interests. Even if a regime falls quickly, it takes time to build anew, he pointed out, adding that he is comfortable with the chaos in the interim, so long as there is home-grown collective action and no grand schemes.

The particulars are also important, Haddad said. He focused on Syria, a country that has endured 40 years of repressive rule in a sum-zero game, where the state gains at the expense of the people and proximity to power matters more than sectarianism. Haddad suggested that the mobilization in Syria was triggered externally, and perhaps prematurely. Because of the lack of credible, independently verified information, he noted, we don't know what the opposition is made of, other than that it is mostly rural and not well co-coordinated. The majority of Syrians, remembering the coups and countercoups of the 1950s & '60s, are more afraid of a vacuum than of the regime. However, he added, it is possible that the state might cross a threshold of violence that would overcome people's fear-but no one knows where that would be.

Prof. David Kretzmer on Israeli Democracy and Occupation

David Kretzmer, professor emeritus of international law at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a founding member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, spoke about "Israel's democracy in the shadow of the occupation" at the New York office of the New Israel Fund on June 17.

Kretzmer mentioned that in other venues, when he has pointed out that Israel has been an occupying power for more than two-thirds of its existence with no end in sight, he often gets the indignant response, "How dare you talk about 'occupation?'" The fact remains, he insisted, that of the subjects under Israeli control, 35 percent do not have a vote in the political structure. Therefore he has doubts about whether it is still legitimate to regard Israel as a democracy. Kretzmer recognizes that there is a debate about the status of Gaza: the international community considers it still occupied, while the Israeli government and High Court say it is not. "But even so," he said, "Israel has tremendous influence over every aspect of life in Gaza."

Within Israel, Kretzmer sees a dangerous deterioration of civil liberties. Supporters of Israel's settlement project are attempting to totally delegitimize any support for getting out of the West Bank, including projects funded by the New Israel Fund. Such attitudes, he warned, exist deep within Israel's political structure, including the Ministry of Education. …

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