Why the Arab Spring went wrong

When Egyptians were flooding to Tahrir Square, I was fascinated with the Arab Spring. Like many others, I too wrote in praise of the movement at the time. Then an experienced Turkish diplomat warned me. “Do not reach for quick conclusions” he told me, “things always start good in the Middle East, with high hopes and good intentions, but let me tell you about the people here: They mess up sooner or later. They cannot break from their past.” He was right. They just messed up big time. In the second act, it all became messier in Egypt, Libya, Syria and now Iraq. The Arab Spring has gone wrong.

Here is my first take for today: There is no structural break with the past. That past is still there and haunting them. So nothing unusual yet on the southern front, I have to say.  The age-old dysfunction of the region is still alive and kicking. They live in the past and think that is normal.

Think about the region now. There are two types of countries: the ones that achieved a structural break from the past and the one that cannot. Turkey is in the first group. Iraq and Syria are in the second. At the beginning of the last century, aspirations were similar in all the major urban centers of the Ottoman Empire. Be it Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad or Istanbul. Yet the epistemological break happened only on the Bosphorus. We started with a clean structural break from the past and they could not. It was an epistemological break a-la-Bachelard, if you ask me – a break with the whole pattern and the frame of reference of the old and the construction of a new order with a totally new frame of reference. Why is Turkey still the only country with a civil code in this region? That is the epistemological break for you. It was, it has to be...

Continue reading on: