America and the Arab Spring 

Mr. Mohamed Elmenshawy
Director of the Languages and Regional Studies Program
Middle East Institute

June 28, 2011 Interview Synopsis

Mr. Elmenshawy said that a revolution in Egypt was unexpected up until the fall of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, but the collapse of such a strong model of the security apparatus state signaled that revolution was possible anywhere. Mr. Elmenshawy thinks that the role of social media in the Arab Spring has been somewhat exaggerated because of Egypt’s low online and literacy rates. But he explained that social media helped to break a significant barrier in Arab culture—the tradition of interacting, doing business, and forming relationships only with people that one has met in person before. Essentially, social media “started the revolution, but did not continue or end it.” 

Mr. Elmenshawy drew an interesting analogy between the Muslim Brotherhood and the American ‘Tea Party’ political movement in so far as both are attractive to largely apolitical constituencies motivated to a large degree by religious conservatism. He believes that the concern about the Brotherhood is overblown, as they have de-radicalized and become more of a civil society organization, but he did say that they will assuredly have the largest voting bloc in the new parliament. Mr. Elmenshawy expressed concern about the establishment of a sound Bill of Rights for the Egyptian people because of the state’s poor track record in that area.

Mr. Elmenshawy argued that the United States was neither too late nor too early in endorsing the Egyptian revolution; he respected the Administration’s hesitancy because it kept Mubarak from hysterically claiming ‘foreign conspiracy.’  But he warned that the United States must “align itself with the will of the people” to perpetuate good relations. He denounced civil society training programs because Egyptians see these groups as interfering in Egyptian affairs, but he strongly supported a free trade agreement for economic development. He said the people of the Middle East do not see U.S. support of dictators as playing a ‘stabilizing’ role, and emphasized that policymakers must work to redeem themselves from the policies of their predecessors.