This is the transcript for the Empire episode The evolution of Arab revolutions (Thursday, April 21, 2011).

Narrator:

Six upheavels in five months have rocked the Arab world. Thanks to a new generation of revolutionaries - in Egypt. And some are resisting. Others are fighting back to keep their power. At any cost. As the Arab Spring heats up ... 

Voice of man: 

Twenty three years are enough. We need him out.
 
Narrator:

We ask ... How long? How costly? And how real is the promised change?

Marwan Bishara:

This is Empire.
 
Hello and welcome to Empire. I am Marwan Bishara.  

The Arab revolution is still going strong despite setbacks. Fear has switched sides. Undeterred by violence and oppression the people are on the march. Autocrats are on the defensive. Interviews in Egypt the revolution has been relative peacefully. The ruling families and associates have fled or been put on trial for corruption and other criminal charges. Their infamous internal security apparatus has been closed down. Their long governing party is banned. And their properties confiscated. But in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain the situation has deteriorated into widespread violent confrontations leading to outright war and for military intervention as the regime will stop at nothing to resist change. But change is inevitable and there is no turning back. Why? Well it's rather straight forward.
 
Marwan Bishara:

For more than half a century the Arab world has lived under a cloud. From Algeria to Yemen dictators and autocrats grabbed and held on to power enforcing their will on their long suffering people declaring states of emergency that lasted decades. Human rights were ignored as jails filled up with political prisoners. And torture was common place. Governments have shut down independent newspapers, arrested journalists and blocked TV stations. With 50 per cent of the population living in poverty and young unemployment rampant, something had to give.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Joining me to discuss the evolution of the Arab revolution are Doctor Rabab El Mahdi professor of Political Science at the American University of Cairo and editor of Egypt, Moment of Change. And Christopher Dickey, author and the Middle East Editor of Newsweek. And Patrick Seale, or rather Doctor Patrick Seale, author of The Struggle for Arab Independence among others. But first we recall the beginnings of the Arab spring and the role of the youth in making it all happen.
 
Narrator:

In a land of many tribes, another has emerged. A new Arab from a miracle generation. 
 
Nada Dhaif:

A student force is managed by thousands of youths march spring.
 
Narrator:

There are a hundred and eighty million young Arabs across the region with common goals and common language.
 
Translation for Mohamed Arafat:

These demonstrations were a result of people's anger at regimes founded upon oppression, desperation in justice and lack of freedom.

Narrator: 

Armed with laptops and mobile phones.
 
Arab Young Man:

Get all the news. We can chat together, all communication. 
 
Narrator: 

This generation transcends deserts and seas, united by youthful energy and passion for political reform. The catalyst was Tunisia where millions of young people rose up against a dictator who had ruled for their entire lives.  

That was the spark that the miracle generation needed. And it spread like wildfire.
 
Translation of Ahmed Maher:

In Egypt the revolution was not a surprise. It had been an accumulation of work. We kept in touch with the young people of Tunisia via Facebook and that was needed, the spark to move the people.
 
Narrator: 

Preparing, organising, motivating, on the web and on the street.
 
Mohamed Adel:

We have to make sure our activists know what to do in the street. One group will be in charge of the square, another will show people where the water and blankets are. Others will arrange first aid.
 
Male activist:

Our aim is democracy and freedom for this country. It's great to see that now all the people have managed to get rid of the existing fear and loss of hope
 
Narrator:

But the revolution isn't over. The old guard is still calling the shots.
 
Amal Sharaf:

I realised that it was not the end. It was just the beginning.

Narrator: 

In Egypt and throughout the region the young are networking, sharing tips on how to overthrow their oppressors. 
 
Translation for Mohamed Arafat:

The Tunisians sent us a manual of how to deal with armoured vehicles, with tear gas bombs, with electric shot batons, police cordons and so on. They suggested with start our demonstrations at night as the security forces would be exhausted. There were protestors who would come to Egypt from Libya to relay what was taking place in their country and seek our advice.
 
Narrator: 

Young libyans are fighting to overthrow a despot who has crushed them for decades. 
 
Translation:

All the party has done is scare us but we are not afraid anymore.
 
Narrator: 

And in Jordan the youth are challenging the monarchy. 
 
Across the Red Sea in Yemen political change is all that matters to the 80 million people under 30.
 
Translation for Tawakkol Karmam:

Yemen was founded in 1990 as a democratic state. Year on year it is turning into a dictatorship. I am part of a peaceful youth students revolution.

Translation for Marwan El-Sufi:

We want to get an education. We want to put an end to unemployment, poverty and illiteracy. 

Narrator:

Young Yemenis learnt valuable lessons from their brothers and sisters in Tahrir Square.

Translation:

We searched everyone coming in to stop them from bringing in weapons.
 
Narrator:

But not everyone has given up their weapons. President Saleh is gunning down dozens of his own people.
 
Subtitle:

Peaceful! Peaceful!
 
Narrator: 

In Bahrain the young are protesting and dying for change. And in Syria demonstrators took to the streets when the regime imprisoned teenagers. Teenagers that were murdered by their own regime quasing their dreams of freedom. Murdered by their own regime, quashing their dreams of freedom. The young are determined and fearless, prepared to pay the bloody price for change.

Ali Abdulemam:

I have to admit it, I was generation when we started; we couldn't get into that limit. We were not brave so much like these people. I have to remove my cap respecting them. This are a new generation to enter the generation.

Marwan Bishara:

Rabab as we've seen in the report, there's no doubt that youth have led this movement in the Arab world. But how much has it become a cliché, a sort of a media construct rather than a political construct?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

It's absolutely a construct. The problem is that the construct does not only stop at making it, you know, a youth revolution but the youth is being constructed along a quintessential middle class line. So all the people that we saw, a lot of them are people I know personally and good friends, but they represent a particular class that has this access to the internet, specific forms of education and training. And those are actually the minority. Those people have been active for at least the past five years.
 
Marwan Bishara:

But for some were the middle class youth leading?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Because what made this a so called revolution was not about those activists. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

Why do you say so called revolution? You don't think it is a revolution.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

I don't think, I don't think it's a revolution yet. I think we're looking at very strong uprisings. Revolutions in the making. But revolution as we've known it assumes structural change that we haven't seen yet in any of the Arab countries.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Chris mass mobilisation for radical change and that sounds a revolution to me.
 
Christopher Dickey:

I think in common part this is really a revolution. You have a huge generational change but it's also true that the so called leaders of this, their icons more than they are leaders. And the leadership of this revolution has been developing for a long, long time. I mean for at least ten years you've had labour movements, you've had professional associations, you've had protests, you've had the language of the street taking shape which was vital to what happened in January and February. But it was not going to have that mass effect until you got those middle class kids and Facebook and all those elements coming into play. Tunisia, technology and then this foundation of protests that have been developing for the last ten years or so.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

But I need to disagree with this because in a revolution you would assume the revolutionaries take over power and this is something that we haven't seen. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

The fact that the ruling party has been banned, the fact that internal security organs all have been dismantled, the fact that the ruling families are either on the run or on trial, that certainly is a beginning of a revolution, no?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Beginning I would definitely say it's a revolution in the making but you don't have revolutions where the leadership of the new regime is not with the revolutionaries and this is everywhere.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

That happens everywhere. After every revolution there's a bit of uncertainty as new forces emerge but I think what's interesting Marwan is that the motor of this revolution in almost every country which we've seen has been very much the same. It is the new middle class poor and these young people come out of these institutions whether universities or schools, and find there are no jobs for them. So it's the youth unemployment, half educated youth and yet the young people have been watching satellite television, see how other people live, seen consumerism and wanting the sort of freedoms and the economic benefits which other people have in other parts of the world. And so you get this sort of incredible explosion. So of course it's a revolution. It's overthrowing several dictators already. Threatened others. Spreading right across but of course the final governments which will emerge from these revolutions, we don't yet know.
 
Marwan Bishara:

So we know there are a force of nature if you will.  And we know that there's social forces and causes for the upheaval but are they unified?
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Are they unified? Fortunately not. The whole point about these revolution is that it's a multi layered, multi

stranded revolution.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Chris you just came back from Egypt. The fact that they don't have one single ideology, the fact that they do come from all strands and all political orientations, is that an advantage or a disadvantage for the revolution?
 
Christopher Dickey:

I think in Egypt it's an advantage because I don't think that you have a strong ideological current that's going to dominate this uprising or this developing revolution. And I think the army's role has been interesting because it rescued the leadership or the quasi leadership of the revolution when they pushed Mubarak back to the wall he was going down and it wasn't clear what was going to replace him or how he could be replaced or what the way out of it was. The army stepped in and the army, a lot of us thought it, okay it's not really a revolution at all, it's a coup d'état. But the army has turned out to be more flexible than we expected. 
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

It was neutral.
 
Christopher Dickey:

Well it wasn't entirely neutral and it hasn't been a bunch of good guys all the time and they've done some pretty bad things. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

And they certainly have been procrastinating.
 
Christopher Dickey:

Well they've been procrastinating, well, well not, they're not procrastinating as much as some people like Mohamed ElBaradei and others would like because who feel that essentially the elections are going to come on too fast and no party's going to really have a chance to organise except the ones that are already organised notably the Muslim Brotherhood. But the military is trying to find its way forward or seems to be even if it's, as one of my Egyptian friends said, even if it's like walk like an Egyptian, one step forward, two steps back sometime. You have a process that's positive.
 
Marwan Bishara:

But the same thing we've seen in Tunisia even before Egypt, what is so particular about them that had such a relatively peaceful change with the military sitting basically on the side.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

I think what we're talking about is definitely a professional established military. I think the military having been part of the regime, but a privileged part of the regime, had to save the day somehow and in doing so they were saving themselves as an establishment. Right. Because if you don't step in and take that stand that you took in Tunisia or Egypt, the next thing you know you will be falling down with the dictators.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Seeing the dictators go away as long as the military stays so.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Exactly, exactly. And that's not the case in other Arab countries. It's definitely not the case in Libya.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

And Egypt is an ancient country. Ancient institutions. It's been a country for thousands of years and that's a great advantage of course compared to countries like Yemen where after 62, they destroyed a thousand year old imamate and the revolution hasn’t settled down really since 1962. And the same with Libya's one man show. Hardly any institutions. And so everything has to be rebuilt. Whereas in Egypt they have an army, they have a bureaucracy, they have a foreign service, which is one of the best.
 
Christopher Dickey:

Well in Egypt they have a history of democratic experimentation that goes back a long way too. Yes it was under colonial domination but it was still an extensive experiment with democracy and you have the institutions. If we talk about Saudi Arabia for instance democratising Saudi Arabia, how would you do that?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

There is no tradition. 
 
Christopher Dickey:

Where's the parliament? Where are the courts? Where are the independent judicial?
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

They have other traditions for instance not necessarily the same as western traditions.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Let's talk about this for a second. Is this a movement towards change, unknown change or is it really a movement towards democracy?
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

It's not necessarily a movement toward democracy on the western model. You know, with parliaments, elections.
 
Marwan Bishara:

You don't think there's going to be parliaments or elections in Egypt, Tunisia and probably other places?
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well possibly. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

There are already are elections.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well not necessarily in the Gulf or in the monarchies you see. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

Is this going to be democratic change or something else?
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well democratic change involves many things. It involves for example, an electoral law which everybody believes in. It requires a number of political parties, well established political parties able to compete properly with each other, not perhaps dominated by one very powerful party. It needs an independent judiciary so people can go. It means that people can choose the people they want to represent them in power.
 
Marwan Bishara:

And you don't see the signs now with the prosecutor general in Tunisia and Egypt, putting all the elites on trial. The fact that they are creating new political parties in various parts, not only in Tunisia and Egypt but other places.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well they've begun by dissolving the major party, after all the National Democratic Party that's been dissolved. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

Yes.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Somebody has to take its place. Now the Muslim Brothers are still there. Perhaps the largest single like a big NGO with hundreds of thousands of people. Well is it going to convert itself into a powerful political party and perhaps seize power.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Let's talk about this, elephant and the big elephant in the room. How substantial would we think the Islamist element is going to be in the future of Egypt and these other of course?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

I think first of all we have to understand that this revolution was not, there wasn't any dominant political force that would eventually would know it would eventually take the lead. Right. Unlike Iran or in other places. So the Muslim Brotherhood did not play a huge role. The other thing we have to understand when we talk about political Islam there are different trends there. So it's not the Islamist on one side and the secular forces on one side. That's a very simplistic way of understanding things.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Do you think there's a revolution within the Islamist movement?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Because you have different trends within political Islam in Egypt competing with each other, calling for different things and some of them actually are ready to align with parts of the secular forces.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Is this a generational question that the younger brotherhood are?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Again it's not generational. I mean we need to get out of this box of thinking along the lines of young, old, internet, no internet, traditional, modern. We've seen competition within that camp of the political Islam, within the camp of the seculars, we've seen alliances been built between some parts of the Islamist forces and the seculars. And I think the dividing line should be between those who want another system and I mean with another system, I don't only mean our political procedural elements but also economic and social system. And those who are for the ancien regime if you may or the old regime.
 
Christopher Dickey:

A lot of people in the west see this as hugely problematic. The whole idea that's developing in Egypt that liberal economy, the free market economy, is a bad idea for Egypt. That it resulted in crony capitalism and therefore the whole notion is very negative. A lot of people, or especially a lot of Americans, who will say you know, look Egypt had its problems but it had this huge youth bulge, has huge unemployment problems and at least it had an economy that was growing six, seven per cent a year even in 2008, 2009, at the height of a global recession. So that was a good thing. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

But the distribution of wealth wasn't exactly there.
 
Christopher Dickey:

The distribution of wealth was not good but on the other hand wealth was being created. You may well have a situation now where no wealth is being created, where the economy essentially is going to flat line. And where you have instead of creating a few hundred thousand jobs, you have a million more people unemployed in the next couple of months. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

The problem so far if you've noticed, if you look at the region, you'll see that the rulers, the autocrats, the old generation, has been pursuing let's call it the Beijing consensus meaning ...
 
Christopher Dickey:

Clearly that was the idea. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

But the problem is that the younger generation of dictators, their sons and daughters, haven been pursuing the Washington consensus  which is complete privatisation of state assets, complete corruptions and nepotism and so on and so forth. So something got to give. There has to be a third model. Perhaps an Arab new Egyptian model.
 
Christopher Dickey:

Well that would be a really interesting idea but it seems to me that what you see a lot of in Egypt is a kind of a return, a kind of a longing to return to Arab socialism. A kind of a long not to develop a new model but to go back to an old model that seemed to people more reliable. I think there is this feeling that things were so unfair that basically the government should intervene a lot more than it used to do.
 
Marwan Bishara:

But is there an alternative to market economy. Is it even conceivable?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

It's definitely conceivable and I think the longing that Chris was talking about is not of that Arab socialism per say but it’s a longing for a moment where there was a certain level of equity, there was a certain level of, a sense of possibility that you know, you can be someone else. You can do something else.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

The trouble is though and you see there is no magic wand in these relatively poor countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, even Syria. The surge of population, however great the growth, you know, six or seven percent, cannot keep up with this huge surge of population. When Nasser took power as you know there were 18 million Egyptians. Four decades later 84 million increasing by about a million a year. You have to run to stand still. You see. So the Arab countries I believe, the oil rich Arab countries with this huge sovereign wealth funds, have to chip in.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

We're not talking about poverty. We're talking about impoverishment. We're talking about strong problems of distribution that we haven’t seen even under Sadat let alone Nasser.
 
Marwan Bishara:

So what you're saying is that youth are not exactly the biggest disaster when in fact they could be the best potential for building a nation.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Of course. Of course. You need to have a different understanding of what kind of developmental model you want to put across.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

A new developmental model will work if you have fertility rates which go through the roof. 
 
Christopher Seale:

I think everybody was saying this, there's this youth bulge, there's this unemployment problem, but I don't think before these revolutions anybody understood how well connected this new generation was to each other and to the rest of the world. And it's not just the internet. It's also satellite television. And it's not just wanting things. It's about understanding things. I mean under Nasser, under Sadat, in the early years of Mubarak, Egypt was in very many ways, an isolated society. People lived within the closed world of Egypt. You didn't have television from outside. You couldn't communicate with outside. 
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

And Egyptians didn't travel.
 
Christopher Dickey:

And Egyptians didn't travel. All that has changed. And all of its changed in Egypt and its changed in just about every other country in the Arab world.
 
Marwan Bishara:
But even when we talked about the first awakening back in the beginning of the twentieth century. 
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Can you not use the word awakening because I'm very allergic to that word. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

And why is that?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

I mean it's assumes as if we were sleeping.
 
Marwan Bishara:

But you were dormant 
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

They called it that but absolutely the wrong reading, not only of history but even of current events. We're talking about a region that was very active with a second Intifada in 2000. Again very active with the American invasion of Iraq. Sweeping demonstrations 2006 with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and then because the war and in between you had Kefaya in Egypt, the pro democracy movement. You had the same, similar movement in Yemen in 2005. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

Certainly there has been an evolution before the revolution. 
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:
Yeah but we weren't dormant. Okay. The fact that you weren't looking doesn’t mean that it didn't happen. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

We want to talk about the commonality and the differences among these Arab countries but when we come back from a quick news break.

Part two
 
Marwan Bishara:

Welcome back. There's been lots of discussion about the role of social media in the evolution of the Arab revolution. And we've done our share of it here at Empire. But it has been the combination of social media and satellite media that has led to the information revolution and connected the Arab speaking region like never before. And no other network has been essential to this discussion as our own Al Jazeera. Once the Arab regimes lost control of information it was only a question of time for them to lose control of the people. 

Translation:

This is blatant interference in Yemeni affairs. What the Qatari initiative offered and what Al Jazeera is coming up with is rejected.
 
Translation:

They always fall into the same trap. They try to distort the clear facts. They lie and then they believe their lies.
 
Translation

Do not believe those satellite channels. Those dogs. 
 
Narrator:

If the first casualty of war is truth that explains why regimes clinging to power always aim their fury at the media.
 
FOREIGN SUBTITLE:
AL JAZEERA IS FILTH!
 
Narrator:

So it's no surprise then in each of these revolutions heavy handed tactics have been employed to try and control what the media sees and what it's allowed to show.
 
Shaheera Amin, former deputy director, Nile Television:

I had a live show and I was told to speak about you know, foreigners fermenting unrest specifically Iran and Israel.  

Narrator:

And if you can't control the message you can always just try to switch it off.
 
Presenter:

Okay listen I just want to tell you that it seems that police are knocking on our door..
 
Narrator:

At the end of January, Egyptian authorities pulled the plug on Al Jazeera in an unsuccessful bid to knock it off air. The same methods used on internet servers and mobile phone providers. This pattern is being repeated every time protestors take to the streets demanding change. Reporters from around the world have been routinely harassed, detained and news agencies disrupted. All the while the official message becoming more and more absurd.
 
Translation:

There are more than three million pro-Mubarak demonstrators here. Every street in Egypt now has a demonstration in favour of Papa Mubarak. 
 
Narrator:

This so called eye witness going on to insist those calling for change had in fact been trained by an unusual alliance of the cia, the mossad and the muslim brotherhood.
 
Narrator:

A claim the protestors themselves found hilarious.
 
Male protestor:

I love Mr Bush. Bush is good. 
 
Shaheera Amin:

It was very clear to me that people on the streets were dismissing state media coverage as propaganda especially when I went to Tahrir and I saw the level of anger. People were genuinely very angry at state TV for the lies that they were spreading.
 
Narrator:

And just as the regimes have their tactics the people on the streets have theirs as well. The Lebanon state controlled message has been revealed as a sham, protestors simply ignore it. 
 
Hugh Miles, the author of Al Jazeera

Revolutionaries will use any tool that they can in order to achieve their goal.  And I think it's fair to say that Al Jazeera is one of those tools that revolutionaries will try and reach for because it is the most influential, non state actor in the Middle East.

Narrator:

So what we're seeing is protestors improvising new ways of circumventing state controlled means of communication. If there's one vital element to this concept it’s the fact that technology is an extremely powerful amplifier.  
 
Hugh Miles:

What would happen is youths in Tunisia for example would film things with their mobile phone and they would upload it to a video sharing website and then Al Jazeera would find it and then they would broadcast this. 
 
Narrator: 

However there is a risk satellite channels like Al Jazeera face right now and that is in taking too much credit for shaping these events. Their true value in these revolutions lies not in opinion or criticism but as a means of increasing exposure. And for these protestors exposure is everything. 
 
Narrator: 

That's the kind of influence which used to frighten the west.
 
Donald Rumsfeld, former US defense secretary:

What Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate, and in excusable.

Narrator: 

Now the west is beginning to catch up.
 
Hilary Clinton, US secretary of state:

Where you've got a set of global networks that Al Jazeera has been the leader in, that are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes and like it or hate it, it is really effective.
 
Narrator:

But before the media gets too pleased with itself the reality is that right now the job is only half done.
 
Shaheera Amin:

Very important for people to see what is happening in their countries but also in other countries. It's their basic right to information. They should not be denied this basic right.
 
Hugh Miles:

At the moment the media in the post revolutionary Arab countries like Egypt and Tunisia has an extremely important role because society generally is depending on the media in the absence of an opposition to hold those in power to account.
 
Marwan Bishara:

So Rabab the question of satellite Arab media aside from the social media, it certainly had a major affect in connecting the Arab world together. This domino effect in Tunisia, followed by Egypt, followed by other countries. The kind of social questions we discussed are actually common to other countries as well but what we've seen over the last six months, five months, is an Arab evolution, revolution and so on. How important is that?
 
Professor Rabab El-Mahdi, American University, Cairo

I think the TV, the satellite channels were extremely important. Much more important as a tool than the so called social media. Because this is something that no matter where you are, what your class is, whether you have access, you can see it. You can see it in a coffee shop, you can see it everywhere. But I think what was extremely important is that it was a tool to show people that you know, sort of yes we can. And I think a key thing was the Egyptians, regular Egyptians who were not active or anything, saw Tunisia televised. The revolution televised. That was key.
 
Marwan Bishara:

So in fact the satellite effect is by default not necessarily by design now, Chris?
 
Christopher Dickey, Middle East editor, The Daily Beast:

Well it's just a reality that has to be coped with these days and I think it's a very positive thing. I think Al Jazeera and other Arab language sites have helped resurrect a sense of Arab identity, collective Arab identity that’s very strong. That really had been sort of subsumed beneath the Islamist trend earlier.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

I agree with that.
 
Christopher Dickey:

And I think that's very, very striking. And I think it's interesting you know, as we talk about these dynamics if we ...
 
Marwan Bishara:

So you think there's strength in that?
 
Christopher Dickey:

Oh I do think there's strength in that. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

... in that understanding.
 
Christopher Dickey:

And I think that it's, I think it's an interesting contrast with Iran for instance, where you had the same dynamic where you had uploading of video, uploading of photographs, coming back on outside Persian service television but that doesn’t have the following in Iran that Al Jazeera has in the Arab world or other Arab language satellite networks have in the Arab world. So I think it really is a revolutionary phenomenon whether it was designed that way or not.
 
Dr Patrick Seale, author of Asad of Syria:

It's a unifying factor. You see the Arabs now are much closer together and know more about what's going on in various Arab countries than ever before. It's a little bit, you know, in Nasser's voice of the Arabs, played that role a little bit, although it was largely propaganda but at least everybody listened to it. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

So Pan-Arabism now is satellite.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well absolutely. It's a new form of Pan-Arabism.
 
Marwan Bishara:

So while this is, and you've been observing this region for a long time, so while this presumably is a positive development that satellite media is helping people break national barriers and dictatorial barriers, it's still being looked upon and in reality unfortunately on the ground, it's still becoming or unfolding into separate different cases.
 
Dr Patrick Seale

Well it's inevitable. You know, every Arab country is different from every other. And yet they are all learning from each other and they know much more about each other than they ever did before. You know, it's always struck me that when Nasser for example, united with Syria in 1958, he'd never been to Syria. He united with a country he'd never seen. It's an astonishing thought. Very few Egyptians had gone outside of the Nile Valley. Whereas now of course there are more than a million in Libya, there are lots and lots in the Gulf and elsewhere. So there's been a sort of great movement, great unifying movement which I think the Arabs will develop a collective voice and perhaps a collective power which they haven’t had for a long time.
 
Christopher Dickey:

I think that you can have a growing sense of collective identity which will become maybe a framework for discussions.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Yes.
 
Christopher Dickey:

But all politics is local and I think the local factors in each one of these countries are hugely powerful.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Except for foreign policy. That's not local.
 
Raba El Mahdi:

I think though we're not talking about a dichotomy here. Definitely there's the local specifics of each situation that has to do not only with the society but also with how the regime is structured, how the state came about. But we're talking about common trends, the independent state was a common trend in the sixties and the seventies. The new liberal state was a common trend in the eighties and the nineties. And I think what we're looking at here is the more democratic state becoming a trend. Even in places where the revolution in the making was crushed. I cannot see that Bahrain or Oman are going to escape this despite all what happened without having to introduce much more foundational reforms.
 
Christopher Dickey:

I think one of the really striking things is the way we've seen suddenly the Arab world move out of the post colonial construct. It seems to me that even a year ago any time we talked about any kind of collective identity in the Arab world or even the Muslim world, we would have been talking about occupation and the fight against occupation and words for national liberation. And all of that is driving forces. That seems really peripheral to what’s going on now because it's a generation, because of this generational change. The generation that is now pushing all of this is a generation that had no direct colonial experience of occupation.
 
Marwan Bishara:

If we had for generation, the liberation generation, post colonialism that helped liberate, the defeated generation of the sixties and the seventies, the lost generations of the eighties and the nineties, today we definitely are seeing a numerical sort of generation. But is it picking up from the fifties generation that we spoke about earlier?
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well I think that foreign pressures and occupations are still being much with the Arab world. After all it was only the other day that we had the first Gulf war of 1991, half a million American troops in Saudi Arabia. We've created after all al Qaeda, after a will. Then you had the end of the occupation of Iraq which as you know, one of the great crowns of our time.
 
Marwan Bishara:

But let's look at this Patrick. The question of Iraq. 
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Yes.
 
Marwan Bishara:

How could it be in any sort of imagination, be compared with Libya?  Everyone knows that with the foreign intervention in Libya, it’s not going to have the same future as Iraq or in anywhere else because of the Arab will.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

I hope not. I mean in Iraq the thing was a catastrophe. The destruction of a major Arab country. Four or five million people driven out. Those refugees wanted space in their own country.
 
Marwan Bishara:

But I mean it's becoming much more difficult with a more responsive democratic free Arab world for Arab leaders to become clients to Western domination. 
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Of course but I mean that's what we hope to see in Egypt. We hope to see an end to that complicity with Israel which Mubarak after all practised for so many years.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Talk about Syria as well. Since you are the mister expert here and you're on the question of Syria.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well you see in Syria the fact that I think Bashar al Assad's mind has been formed by the many crisis he's had to confront. You see he had barely come to power when you got George Bush's global war on terror. Then you got the invasion of Iraq. And he knew very well that if the Americans had been successful in Iraq he'd have been blown away. Then you got the 2005 crisis in Lebanon. Again where he was forced out of Lebanon, France and United States tried to overthrow his regime. His mind was marked by that. Then of course you had the invasion of Lebanon in 2006. Invasion of Gaza, 2008 and 9. So his whole mind and policies have been focused on foreign threats. And in a hostile environment of that sort the security services become very strong. Very, very strong.  And that's something he inherited from his father. So he was focused on external crisis at the expense of reforms
 
Marwan Bishara:

So there seems to be never a good time to reform after 11 years of power.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well I think he knew and he understood now that he has to reform. It's perhaps a bit late.
 
Christopher Dickey:

You know, look Patrick said something that is very striking to me. He said the Gulf War of 1991 was just yesterday. Well no it wasn't just yesterday, it was 20 years ago Patrick. I mean half the population of Yemen was not born 20 years ago.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Only to have the constant reminders of it.
 
Christopher Dickey:

You have the constant reminders of it. But who's doing the reminding? Who's doing the reminding? Look at even Mubarak he may have been perfectly complicit with Israel in terms of crushing Gaza but he also was playing a game domestically in which you were going to be investigated by the mukhabbarat if you went to Israel. I mean that was what the cold peace was about. Convincing the Egyptians that Israel was still the enemy and the issue.
 
Marwan Bishara:

But apparently, it's not, it wasn't enough.
 
Christopher Dickey:

I think Israel is so irrelevant to what's going on. I think it's just not central at all.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

How can you say that?
 
Christopher Dickey:

I think Israel may have a lot of concerns about this but I think in terms of the push, in terms of the yes a lot of the organisers have organised for perhaps to help Palestinian or anti occupation maybe but I think it is absolutely irrelevant to the youth movement that we’re seeing.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Do you not think that youth movement was pretty much critical if not condemning of all Israeli practices?
 
Christopher Dickey:

Israel has been used as an excuse by the regimes so often to cover up all their failings. Even Mubarak used Israel as an excuse. That I think that ultimately that's not the issue for people. I think there may be huge problems ahead for Israel and that’s a different discussion because it won’t have reliable dictators to play its game. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

Actually I would love to go into a discussion. So within the neighbourhood we have these three emerging powers. If you looked at the situation back in Autumn 2010 you would find a complete absence of the Arabs but the emergence of Israel, the emergence of Iran and certainly the emergence of Turkey. How would you rate the effect of what's going on in the Arab world on the foreign policy of Turkey, Iran, and Israel?
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well certainly Turkey has emerged as a major player and a beneficent player. And a player which is attempting to resolve conflicts which has used its trade and its economy to improve relations. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

Look at Syria isn't it Ankara looking at Syria as if it's part of its own area of influence rather than part of the Arab landscape.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well I mean Turkey is a very important player.  It's help Syria a great deal. It's relieved perhaps a slightly suffocating relationship with Iran. It's created a no visa zone between Turkey and Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. And it's advised President Bashar to adopt democracy on the Turkish model.
 
Marwan Bishara:

How about Iran, they just not opened after 30 years, their Embassy in Cairo?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

It's very clear that the shift we’re seeing is definitely a shift towards a different foreign policy that looks at Turkey and Iran as allies and not Israel and the US.
 
Marwan Bishara:

And as allies or just as neighbours where you have to have a good neighbourhood relation as well?
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

As allies as opposed to the ...
 
Christopher Dickey:

Well not impossible is it.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Exactly. Exactly. The way the old regime. And I think this is very positive in a sense. You're looking at a region where people matter to an extent that they cannot be ruled the way they were internally and they cannot be seen by outside powers the way they were. And I think this is going to colour foreign policy throughout the region whether you have the regimes change or not.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Back to your point Chris, about Iran and Israel. I see Iran and Israel probably being the two greatest losers in the region from a democratic freer Arab world. What's your take?
 
Christopher Dickey:

Israel had structured its policies based on the idea that it didn't need any real peace with its neighbours, it needed peace with the dictators who were ruling its neighbours. And I think that that is going to come back to haunt it in a serious way. If only in terms of inner stability. Then there's a question of what we'll see, what sort of inspiration for the Palestinians will come from this greater new Arabism that we’re talking about. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

And for the Iranians?
 
Christopher Dickey:

And for the Iranians well first of all Arabism is a threat. If that's real, then that's a real threat to the Iranians because with their mindset it's problematic but also and it will tend to marginalise them, when they had seemed only a few months ago to be on a real roll. They've tried to identify with these revolutions but here’s where the real problem is. They can't identify with these revolutions because everybody knows what they did to their own similar uprising in 2009. Everybody understands that the Iranian regime may not be an Arab regime but it's next door and what it looks like, democracy aside, is just another bunch of old guys telling young people what not to do. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

Some people have been arguing, warning, that perhaps the Arabs will go the Iranian way, Ayatollah's ways, and some people have been arguing that they will probably go the Turkish way, the more let’s call it Islam light way. Is there a third way? Is there an Egyptian and Tunisian and Arab way?
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Iran is a great power in the region. It controls the whole of the northern coast of the Gulf. It has two million people at university. It has great oil and gas reserves. You can't keep it down. A huge mistake to try and demonise it and exclude it from the region. A huge mistake. Iran has to be brought into the security architecture of the Gulf, not excluded for there to be peace in that region for one thing. So I mean Iran and Iraq both now under Shiite leadership. A formidable block. And will have a great influence in the region. Of course the other terrible problems ...
 
Marwan Bishara:

But is that very sectarian fears, whichever you would like to call it, that also has haunted the question of Bahrain and the Bahraini struggle for freedom from monarchy.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

No question about it.  Sectarian demons have been released by the Iraq war.  And so the Shia-Suni split is unfortunately one of the problems in the region. But I think it's terribly important to separate the religious aspect of it from the geopolitical aspect of it.
 
Marwan Bishara:

But isn't that the whole question of the Arab upheavals, uprisings, revolutions, is the fact that for once people are going beyond the larger call, leanings, beyond sectarian underpinnings into something perhaps newer.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

I hope so.
 
Marwan Bishara:

For the region at least.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

Also fed through those dictatorships. So when we were talking about Bahrain for example, we're not talking about you know, the Sunni-Shia strive full stop. We're talking about a monarchy that belongs to the Sunni which is a minority impoverishing, using dictatorship, oppressing of the majority of Shia. So again we're talking about sectarianism in oppression in a way.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Just speaking about the sectarians and the idea that they discovered that the Egyptian security was involved in the burning of the church in Egypt, in order to help inflame sectarian violence.
 
Rabab El-Mahdi:

That's no coincidence. How did Bashar and his dad maintain their power? Again using the mosaic of the Syrian society ethinicity sect. And I think this for the first few years, maybe several years, will prove to be very problematic. But I think on looking at longer trends we're going to see sectarianism being dealt with in a very different way.
 
Marwan Bishara:

Momentum. Libya getting complicated, Syria getting complicated, Yemen they're making it ever more complicated. How did you see the momentum of change towards freer Arab region?
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

I think one has to say that in the region as a whole the early months of euphoria, of happiness, have given way to a different mood now. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

Sobering.
 
Dr Patrick Seale:

Well grimmer, more brutal mood in many countries because some of the autocrats, some of the dictators, have dug their heels in and are fighting back. 
 
Christopher Dickey:

Well I think it's been slowed down by Libya particularly. And I think that people like Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen and to some extent even Bashar al Assad in Syria, sort of learned a lesson from Gaddafi that you can hold in. You can hold on and you can keep the world a bay and keep your own people at bay.
 
Marwan Bishara:

And if Gaddafi falls? 
 
Christopher Dickey:

But then I think you're going to see a resurgence of momentum. I think you absolutely will. I think Gaddafi coming down is going to be vital to the momentum of the revolution. Not to the long term revolution but to the momentum of the revolution. The question I have is what happens in Tripoli to his supporters? Do we see a relatively benevolent new regime taking over or do we see it just start to exact the same kind of retribution and violence that supposedly it was fighting against in the first place which has certainly been a pattern we've seen elsewhere in Africa.
 
Marwan Bishara:

But we haven't seen it in Tunisia or Egypt.
 
Christopher Dickey;

No but they were mercifully short. The longer you force people to fight the more the hardliners and the radicals and the extremists come to the fore because they’re the ones with the endurance. 
 
Marwan Bishara:

Gentlemen, Rabab, thank you for joining Empire. And I will be back with a lost thought.

POSTSCRIPT
 
Marwan Bishara:

Nothing has captured the authenticity and spontaneity of the Arab awakening like the personal songs, slogans and signs displayed in the liberate public squares of the Arab world. As the free individuals they've longed to be, Arabs of all ages, gender and backgrounds express their anger and frustration uncensored, unfiltered, unedited. In the end it too ingenuous homemade signs inspired by Arab popular culture, humour, not bitterness, emotions, not empty slogans, personal touch, not political [INAUDIBLE] to be truly subversive. If as one key observer once noticed, every joke is a tiny revolution, the Arab, notably the Egyptian awakening was revolutionary even before it succeeded.  And that's the way it goes.  

Write to me with your observations or visit our website. Until next time.

Source: Al Jazeera