America and the Arab Spring 

Dr. Aaron Lobel
President and Chairman of the Board
America Abroad Media

July 8, 2011 Interview Synopsis

Dr. Aaron Lobel described the Western media as “typically superficial” in covering the Arab Spring, particularly with regards to Tunisia, which he said was virtually ignored. He acknowledged the role of both new and old media in facilitating the revolutions, and was most impressed by pan-Arab satellite TV’s ability to spread the word about protests. Dr. Lobel raised the interesting point that it is unclear how media have redefined the lines concerning what constitutes acceptable authoritarian behavior; while Assad could not recreate his father’s 1982 Hama massacre without international outrage, he can clearly still violently oppress his people to some extent with no retribution.

Dr. Lobel said that the most positive effect of the Arab Spring was that it facilitated a significant attitude change for the people of the Middle East, indicating “less blaming others for their problems and more taking their destiny into their own hands.”  He believes that the varied responses of the United States government demonstrated two points. The first was an inherent clash over patience as a strategy, which occurred between the Obama Administration and the news media. The second was the clear effect of the United States being “overstretched,” demonstrated by its limited capacity to function as a leader in the Libyan military operations.

Dr. Lobel believes that the Arab Spring presents a significant opportunity for the growth of NGO activity in the Middle East, saying that civil society organizations that had been working for years to lay the foundation of the revolution have not yet received enough attention or praise. He said that there is always a “demand for Americans” if not necessarily the American government, leading him to be optimistic about the potential for involvement in the ongoing and post-Arab Spring society. Dr. Lobel believes that NGOs should use this opportunity take up the task of public diplomacy in the Arab World and help build American credibility.