America and the Arab Spring 

Dr. Shadi Hamid
Director of Research
Brookings Doha Center

July 12, 2011 Interview Synopsis

Dr. Shadi Hamid agreed that the Arab Spring represents a fundamental change in the political landscape of the Middle East because the Arab populations are no longer resigned to their fate at the hands of external forces and international actors beyond their control. He said that the Muslim historical narrative of “having once been great” is critical to understanding the Arab Spring movements—they are about more than simply democracy or freedom, because dignity is the driving motivator. The young generation organizing and protesting have grown tired of being on the “receiving end of history” and having “their sense of agency” taken from them.

Dr. Hamid believes that the successes in Tunisia and Egypt have “undermined al-Qaeda’s narrative of employing violence and terrorism for change,” but he warned that their affiliate organizations would try to rebuild credibility in places experiencing violent repression of peaceful protest. He believes that Islamist groups will make no immediate or dramatic grabs for power because their historical worldview—one very different from that of the majority of Western civilization—looks forward to the very long term. Dr. Hamid foresees a future, ultimately, where the Arab Street is able to be assertive in the international sphere as a function of more representative governments.

Dr. Hamid is concerned about the view of the United States in the rest of the world’s eyes as a result of its tempered response to the Arab Spring. He believes that the U.S. government was “behind the curve” in supporting the revolutions in every country thus far and does further damage by failing to apologize for years of supporting autocratic governments. He believes that the Obama Administration’s policy of walking a middle line between two extremes fails to please either side, and that the technocratic and pragmatic nature of U.S. policymakers hinders the adoption of a new strategic and visionary approach toward the region.