Campus, Middle East, Protests, Student Stump — December 19, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Arab Springs To No Avail

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Illustration by Amalia Rinehart

Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine

By Candace Lukasik: Among the Arab revolutions of the last year, there is one struggle for justice that has endured since 1948: The occupation of Palestine. The Arab Spring offers new hope for a shift in the Palestinian condition of dispossession, discrimination, and death.

The Arab revolutions grew out of a sustained hope for freedom. Grassroots mass mobilization was the force that inspired and executed the uprisings and continues to direct the movement. We are witnessing a shift in power from the leaders to the people. This shift demands that these rulers take heed of the will and strength of popular demand.

The mass mobilization in epicenters like Tahrir encouraged other populations in the region to follow. Citizens rose up against the Egyptian regime, which for decades stood in the way of Palestinian aspirations. Since Mubarak stepped down, Palestinians have begun to re-examine future possibilities.  The belief that the US controls Middle East politics, and that the Arab world is powerless against America and Israel, must be cast aside.

The portrayal of nonviolent, politically mobilized Arabs in the media discredits the notion of the timeless, chaotic, and underdeveloped Oriental. The Arab Spring has forged a new association between Arabs and effective political action in the minds of Westerners. This development undermines the narrative that classifies Israel as the Western beacon of democracy in an unstable region filled with Islamic and Arab radicalism. Palestinians can now be heard and respected in the context of a widespread Arab mobilization, which will also empower wider international activism in support of the Palestinian cause. The Arab revolutions rose out of repression, economic hardship, and authoritarian government. Collectively, an end to Israeli apartheid is integral to this wider struggle for liberty.

The Arab Spring demonstrates that the Middle East is not a monolith. There are competing ideas of what liberation looks like. Palestinians too are fighting oppressive forces to determine the future that they collectively envision being a part of. Palestine faces more than mere dictatorship – it is opposing an apartheid regime actively interested in displacing its indigenous population for yet further settlement. Perhaps now that Americans and others have become more receptive to Arab dissent, Palestinian cries of “Kefaya” (enough) will be received with the urgency they deserve.


By Jonathan HubermanWitnessing millions of oppressed people rise from the depths of indignity and overthrow the yoke of dictatorship has spread a contagious euphoria throughout the world. Many supporters of Israel have especially rejoiced in the Arab Spring. Would Israel finally find peace with fellow democracies that share its democratic ideals? This initial excitement has led to the sobering realization that dethroning dictators cannot single-handedly create democratic societies. For the Arab Spring to succeed and for Israel to enjoy peace, neighboring countries must become not just democratic in name, but also democratic in values.

Few Arab countries have embraced a democratic ethos, and Egypt, despite exhibiting strong reformative fervor, is a telling case. The most powerful political party in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, whose policies are anathema to the democratic values of toleration and equality. Prominent members of the party have supported domestic violence, flogging adulterers, and executing homosexuals. The chairman of the party, Muhammad Badi, in 2010 called for supporters to rise against, “the Muslim’s real enemies, not only Israel but also the United States.” How can Egypt become a flourishing democracy when these radical policies contradict the foundational philosophy of democracy? If Egypt and other countries allow extremist parties to hijack their societies, then their nascent democracies will certainly fail.

The 2006 election of Hamas in Gaza similarly shows how extremist groups often derail the development of democratic societies. Hamas limited Palestinians’ personal liberty and disrupted hopes for a just society. Hamas instituted a strict interpretation of Islamic law, enforcing a female dress code and criminalizing homosexuality. Far from promoting democratic values, Hamas distorted Islamic law by encouraging its citizens to pursue terrorism against Israel under the notion that “Jihad [is] the personal duty of every Muslim.” If Arab countries follow the example of Gaza, then the Arab Spring will be a short-lived experiment in democracy. Arab citizens must prevent extremist groups that scorn democratic values from poisoning their democratic dreams.

Israel should not be the sole democracy in the region that provides suffrage for minority citizens, ensures the freedom of speech, and protects gender equality. Once Israel’s neighbors join the family of democratic nations sharing democratic values, the Middle East will finally be able to achieve the dream of peace that has eluded it for generations.


By Nadine Mansour and Gabriella Romanos Abi Habib: One year later, the Arab revolutionary spirit perseveres. For some nations, like Tunisia, it is manifested in its first democratic elections. For others, like Syria, the revolution still seeks the toppling of yet another authoritarian leader. Overall, results of the Arab Spring don’t seem as rosy as predicted.

The various regional revolutions have given way to volatile conditions, including economic disruptions and escalating crime. The ruptured veneer of stability sustained by decades-long oppression under authoritarian leaders can only lead to a long process of experimenting with representative government. Despite this democratic fervor, there is no guarantee of democracy. This is a gray transitional period between authoritarianism and democracy often defined by a cycle where leaders may rise and then fall soon thereafter as an effect of democratic accountability and constituent disapproval. Any attempt to predict future actions is futile in such a tumultuous period with revolving-door administrations.

Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya are one step ahead of the rest in this period of democratic transition. Where the former leaders of said nations have been ousted, it is important to recognize that the greatest injustice would be to overlook the socio-economic factors that triggered such movements in the first place. Without the fundamentals of a representative government present, bureaucratic processes such as the impending Mubarak trial draw attention away from the real factors that initiated revolutionary momentum. We must remember that the goal was not just to oust dictators, but to end their unjust policies.

While in Libya the transition is just beginning, Tunisia’s recent democratic elections have formed an assembly to draft a new constitution and set dates for future elections. For the time being, Tunisia is the archetype for democratic transition for the Arab world. We hope that following Egypt’s current parliamentary elections, it will become yet another model.

As students at an American university, Turath cannot venture so far as to assume what issues require the most attention, and we do not claim to have the understanding necessary to offer ideal solutions for the complexities of the movement. What we do understand are the basic human desires for justice as demanded by Arabs, and we actively support these actors as they passionately put themselves at risk in the name of justice and a hopeful future.

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  1. Indeed Israel is an apartheid state. It is forbidden, for example, for a Jew to visit the Dome of the Rock, the fourth holiest site in Islam, even though it is the exact location of the Holy Temple, making it the holiest site in judaism. In Israel while Jews are forcibly conscripted to the army at age 18–men and women–Druzi, Bedouins, and Israeli Arabs only serve if they so choose, and many of them do so. While Israeli Arabs can live anywhere within Israel proper, Jews are forbidden from living in Gaza because of the unilateral withdrawal in 2005. While there are no Jews in the Palestinian Authority, there are 14 Arab members of the Israeli Knesset.

    No doubt the current situation is terrible for everyone involved. There needs to be a democratic Palestinian state, like the one proposed to and rejected by Yasser Arafat in 2001. The vast majority of israeli’s want this. But there also needs to be reasonable rhetoric about what is going on.

  2. I completely agree that Israel is an apartheid state, but I’m baffled by your (Jake Goldwasser’s) choice of pro-Arab examples on this issue.

    Do you seriously believe that a small minority is somehow oppressing a huge, powerful majority in Israel? Israel is an “ethnic democracy” (as much of an oxymoron as it sounds) in which Jews consist of the vast majority of the population and have complete control of government.

    At Israel’s inception, Jews owned 13.5% of land inside the Green Line. By the 1960s, they owned 90%. All 22 members of the Israeli Land Administration Board are Jewish. The 20% non-Jewish population owns 3.5% of the land. While laws were instated that outlawed discrimination against Arabs in purchasing land, another law was passed stating that communities are allowed to exclude neighbors who don’t “fit their community profile,” it’s just semantics for “you can discriminate against Arabs.”

    The Law for the Requisitioning of Land in Times of Emergency was instated in 1949 for the “defense of the state, the security of the people,” but Israel is in a constant State of Emergency, which is what allows this discrimination to legally continue — security is valued over compassion and human rights by the majority of citizens, although a fair number of professors, authors, and journalists have recently began speaking up against Israel’s ethnocracy.

    I can point you to several articles and dozens of laws passed that elaborate on how the apartheid government works very much so against non-Jews if you so desire. I’m a Chinese-American MIT student and have no Arab or Muslim affiliation whatsoever, but your comment offended me so much that I took a 15 minute break from work to respond to it even though it doesn’t really affect my life at all.

    Well, I guess it affects my life a little bit — I’m currently working in Tel Aviv at a tech company at which I’m pretty sure 100% of the employees are Jewish. Scratch that, the custodial workers are Arabs, or possibly Sudanese. Almost all the MIT students here at Israel have commented on the blatant racial divide in job opportunities — all the custodial workers/street cleaners are noticeably darker skinned — and I’m in Tel Aviv, the really liberal part of Israel. The southern part of the city is considered unsafe and dangerous, not so coincidentally it’s the Arab part of town. There’s no awy you can convince me that there’s more criminal activity there because the Arabs have just so much power that they choose to live an impoverished, lawbreaking lifestyle. Unless you think Arabs are simply predisposed to immoral behavior, in which case I’ll stop responding immediately because I’m dealing with A) a bona-fide racist and B) someone who has no knowledge of Middle Eastern history beyond the 20th century.

    The Jews at my company, and along the streets/beaches of Tel Aviv, are some of the nicest people I met, and after a week I’m already sure I’ll keep in touch (or FB friend) several. I have no ill-will towards the Jewish people whatsoever. I’m sure that my coworkers would agree that the notion that the Jews in Israel are somehow oppressed by the apartheid Arab government is laughable.

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