Emphasizing the importance of keeping the Egyptian revolution free from entrenched external and internal influences, Middle East scholar Rashid Khalidi, discussed the ongoing challenges of transition revolution in a lecture delivered at AUC on March 13.
Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and the director of the Middle East Institute at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia. A Palestinian-American and vocal advocate for the rights of Palestinians, he is a member of the National Advisory Committee of the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, and a member of the board of sponsors of The Palestine- Israel Journal. He also served as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation during the Palestinian- Israeli talks in Madrid and Washington from 1991 to 1993. His talk, "Preliminary Historical Observations on the Arab Revolutions of 2011," discussed the recent Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, their lack of precedent, and what they mean nationally, regionally, and internationally.
Khalidi was optimistic about how the social movements leading revolution redefined the representation of Arabs and Arab youth in the Western world, but worried that these revolutions are still not free from the prospect of foreign co-option. "We should never forget that this is the Middle East, the most coveted part of the world and the part of the world most penetrated by foreign occupation. It is thus vulnerable to external intervention that could distort or disturb the outcome," he said. "Nonetheless, what has happened in Cairo and Tunis has opened up the energy and dynamism of Arab Youth after being dammed up by a system and generation that has treated the youth and their ideas with contempt."
Khalidi explained that these revolutions differ from past revolutions of the modern Arab world because these revolutions were not inspired by the desire to overcome foreign occupation or "to get their flag from our capital."
According to Khalidi the revolutions were fueled by "a desire for individual and collective dignity." He said the success of these revolutions has brought about the return of this dignity, as well as freedom from the social malaise by which the leaders of authoritarian regimes had defined their people.
He also delved into the challenges ahead. "Building a workable regime will be much harder than overthrowing the regime. It is a daunting task for any new democratic regime to achieve social justice and rapid economic growth that will be necessary to provide opportunity and quality education, jobs, decent housing, and desperately needed infrastructure in Tunisia, Egypt and all the other countries where these things are lacking... Failure could also mean an attempted comeback for the forces of repression. Failure could also unleash the extreme violent minority tracks which are fueled by chaos, and which the regime used to keep people in line," he said.