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America and the Arab Spring 

Ambassador Edward "Ned" Walker
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Israel
Adjunct Scholar
Middle East Institute

July 7, 2011 Interview Synopsis

Ambassador Ned Walker is a strong proponent of the role of new media in facilitating the Arab Spring; he does not believe that the revolution in Egypt could have occurred without Facebook and Twitter serving as organizing forces for the young, disaffected, and educated population that led the protests. He also remarked that regimes were “slow to learn” from one another about how technology was undermining their rule. He expressed concern, however, that the opposition in Egypt remains far too fragmented to create any meaningful change in the system of government, and that the uncertainty wrought by perpetual protests would inhibit the growth of a democracy-nurturing middle class.

Ambassador Walker sees the downfall of Mubarak in Egypt as a military coup rather than a revolution, expecting that to be the consensus view “in twenty years.”  He believes the military will always be a strong political actor in Egypt, but in a more subtle way than in years past. Ambassador Walker pointed out that the Egyptian military controls 10% to 15% of the economy; he described it as almost a separate country, citing its independent leadership, culture, and financial infrastructure. The Ambassador said the United States could have called for Mubarak to leave immediately when it was clear the military had disowned him because they are the true focal point of the U.S.-Egyptian alliance.

Ambassador Walker predicted that the challenge of the Arab Spring moving forward is that autocrats facing significant unrest have less and less incentive to back down peacefully. He believes that institutions like the International Criminal Court make dictators more likely to die fighting for control of their states because running is “no longer an option.”  The Ambassador said the clearest way to be helpful in states like Egypt and Tunisia was by finding a way to stimulate investment in a risky environment while also working to provide jobs for young people, who are much less risk-averse than the older segments of the population.