The Arab Spring: Progress toward a culture of peace?


In his analysis of the Arab spring on CPNN, the journalist John Mayton concludes that the Egyptian revolution “can, through a culture of peace, set a precedent not only for their own country but for the whole region.” Even further, we ask in the discussion question “Can the Arab Spring inspire democratic movements around the world?”

Let us consider this in some detail, looking at the eight program areas of the culture of peace.

1. Democratic participation. This is at the center of the Arab revolutions, as emphasized in the analyses by the President of Tunisia Moncef Marzouki and the Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Ismail Serageldin with participation by all the people and elections that involve ballots not bullerts. As pointed out in the book review by Janet Hudgins, the struggle for democracy in the Arab states is part of an even more global movement in recent decades.

2. Human rights. In the long run this is crucial, as stated in the annual report of Human Rights Watch: “The willingness of new governments to respect rights will determine whether those uprisings give birth to genuine democracy or simply spawn authoritarianism in new forms.” So far there is progress, but, as they point out, “creation of a rights-respecting state can be painstaking work that requires building effective institutions of governance, establishing independent courts, creating professional police, and resisting the temptation of majorities to disregard human rights and the rule of law.” In his analysis, Serageldin indicates that progress is being made through respect of the rule of law and the recognition that one must negotiate and arrive at compromise solutions.

3. Education for peace and non-violence. Despite the ongoing violence in many countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen,, the Arab spring has provided a rich education for peace and non-violence. This is the first quality of the Arab spring mentioned by Ismail Serageldin in his analysis, and recent CPNN articles tell about initiatives for non-violence in Yemen and Palestine, two of the countries that are suffering the most from violence.

4. Tolerance and solidarity. There is a struggle with the intolerance of radical Islam, just as there are struggles with Zionism and Christian fundamentalism elsewhere in the world, but they are countered by many initiatives for religious tolerance and solidarity such as those mentioned recently in CPNN from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and the countries of the Sahel including Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Muritania and Algeria. And slowly, despite the emphasis on violence by the commercial media, the world is learning that there are currents within Islam that promote a culture of peace, as described by Mustafa Cherif for the practice of Ramadan.

5. Equality between women and men. The analyses in CPNN such as those by Serageldin, El Tahawy and Munn and Cleminshaw indicate that women have played a crucial role in the leadership of the Arab spring. ¬†Although there is a long way yet to go before women gain full equality, it is said that their activism has planted a “seed that will grow into greater demand.” It is significant that Tunisia is the host for the first World Social Forum in the Arab world and that the rights of women is the highest priority on the agenda.

6. Free flow of information. The fact that the authoritarian regimes in the Arab states have tried desperately to limit access to the Internet and cell phones bears witness to the fact that the free flow of information has been essential to the Arab spring. As Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and others have explained in CPNN, the young generation is motivated to learn and share the truth and they cannot be stopped from communicating it. As described by Serageldin the revolution in Egypt was accomplished by youth armed only with cell phones and IPADs.

7. Disarmament and security. The Arab Spring has revealed the impotence of armed force. Mubarak in Egypt, Ghadafi in Libya, and now Assad in Syria have been unable to maintain power through their military force. And, at the same time, the United States and their European allies have also been unable to impose their will through military intervention, first in Libya, and now (at least so far) in Syria. Although it is ignored by the media and traditional political power, it is nonviolent resistance that is becoming the true power of the people. As Ziad Medoukh says from Palestine, it is nonviolence that “not only develops human dignity, but ensures the independence and capacity of its supporters to endure retaliation and to fight against all forms of injustice.”

8. Sustainable development. Although in many respects around the world the engagement of civil society for sustainable development is the most advanced component of the movement for a culture of peace, in the case of the Arab spring, it is not at the forefront of the struggle. At the same time, however, it is my impression that the leadership of the movement of the Arab spring, both the youth and older leaders such as Marzouki and Serageldin have been shaped in part and are keenly aware of the need for sustainable development.

In summary, I think one can conclude that the Arab spring and the ongoing democratic revolutions in the Arab countries are providing an important new momentum towards a culture of peace.