Panel Lauds Nature of Arab Uprisings

Natasha Kovacs

Prof. R. Nicholas Burns (left) moderates the discussion regarding the conflict in the Middle East during a forum at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Panelists at an Institute of Politics forum on Monday praised the grassroots nature of the Arab uprisings that began earlier this year but cautioned against making premature predictions about the protests’ trajectory.

The forum, called “Inside the Arab Awakening,” brought together four international experts on the Middle East and was co-sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School Middle East Initiative.

HKS Professor R. Nicholas Burns moderated the panel and began the forum by asking whether the name “Arab Spring,” as the uprising has commonly been called in the media, was an adequate name for the movement.

Panelists agreed that “Arab Spring” was insufficient, preferring to refer to the upheaval as an “uprising” or “revolt.”

“The reason I call it [an uprising] is because I don’t think it’s just a temporary series of protests, I think it’s going to be a long struggle,” said Diana Buttu, a Dubai Initiative Research Fellow at HKS and former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization.


“There’s something that’s broader in scope that involves rising up against the status quo,” Buttu said.

From the outset of the discussion, the panelists acknowledged that the uprisings were still too recent to draw conclusions about the ultimate outcomes.

“I wouldn’t upgrade [the unrest] to a revolution just yet,” said Dr. Karim Makdisi, an associate professor at the American University of Beirut.

“Revolution, academically, is a term that needs to be developed more fully,” he said.

Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, drew historical parallels to the American Revolution to underscore the point that revolutions take a long time to result in stable changes.

“Remember, this is a long-term event. The American uprisings that began in 1775 continued ... until African Americans and later women got the vote,” Khouri said.

But he also asserted that this is undoubtedly a historic moment for both the Middle East and the rest of the world.

“I would say this is the most significant development since the birth of the modern Arab state-system. This is the first time that you have had across this region a process of self-determination created by the Arab citizens who are demanding that they have the right to form policy, define their government system, and define their national values,” Khouri said.

—Staff writer Jose A. DelReal can be reached at