America and the Arab Spring 

Dr. Reza Aslan
Aslan Media Initiatives

July 20,2011 Interview Synopsis

Dr. Reza Aslan believes that the Arab Spring “most definitely” represents a tectonic shift for the Middle East because it has given the region a third option beyond Islamic fundamentalism or secular autocracy. While the international community previously feared that increased political participation in the Middle East would lead to religious extremism and violence, it has now been shown to promote democracy instead. Dr. Aslan also noted that the success of ousting Mubarak and Ben Ali was a “death knell” for jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, saying that both they and Islamist factions like the Muslim Brotherhood were “caught sleeping” by the wave of peaceful protests.

Dr. Aslan spoke about how gradual changes in Islam, and to some extent Arab society in general, have been leading up to the reforms supported by the Arab Spring for nearly one hundred years. Trends towards individualization have led the younger generation to be less communally focused than their parents. Even more importantly, traditional venues of debate about the compatibility of Islam and democracy (such as those featuring scholars from al-Azhar University or political figures from the Muslim Brotherhood) have been “completely ignored” by the youth, who increasingly choose to reject archaic authority in favor of greater access to the outside world via media and globalization.

Dr. Aslan proposed that the U.S. government re-think how it conducts diplomacy and business with the region on the whole in light of the Arab Spring. He said that reliance on “leader to leader” diplomacy is now a defunct model, and communication between NGOs will become increasingly important as the provision of aid from one government to another is viewed as inefficient and ineffective. Dr. Aslan also said that policy decisions by the United States now must take into account the opinions, thoughts, and feelings of the Arab Street as governments ideally become more responsive to their citizens.