Tuesday 8 October 2013

Arab Spring or Islamist Winter

On Monday 7th October, the Warwick Debating Union hosted a public debate on the motion THB that the Arab Spring has caused more harm than good. Whilst I was not organising this specific debate, I was particularly excited by its motion as it was the one that most chimed with my interests. Clearly the student body agreed, with the room packed to capacity and the live stream being watched by many, when it decided to work. Just for reference, Barak Seneer and Maria Holt proposed the motion, with Noel Brehony and Meg Munn MP in opposition and the motion did not carry, in fact it failed by quite a large majority.

The obvious points, as you would expect, came up - violence against women, the question of Political Islam and Democracy, Syria, whether the West is arrogant to assume imposition of its view of morality and system of government as right/good amongst others.

The panel, in the main, actually seemed to agree with each other on some of the major points - the failures of the governments that came in to replace the dictators; that there was a long way to go; and that women's rights were a serious issue, yet were consistent to their opposing sides of the debate. Ultimately, the debate seemed to come down to optimism beating pessimism. Seneer spoke about the lack of any indication that Liberal and Democratic forces "winning" in the region, whilst Brehony spoke of the (relative) successes in Yemen. Similarly, both Holt and Munn spoke of the awful assaults, sexual harassment and violence that women in the region were victim of and their lack of political and social rights. However, Holt stressed these facts, whilst Munn also made the point that the Arab Spring had large woman involvement in protests and calling for social and Political change and also noted the example of Tunisia whose parliament's make up is 27% woman - 5% higher than our own, according to her stats.

Perhaps we do have reason to be optimistic. No one denied the awful situation in Syria, no one denied that Political vacuums had been filled, often, with Muslim Brotherhood Islamists and extremists and no one tried to make it seem like women suddenly lived in some utopia. There was an acceptance of the cold hard facts on the ground, which ultimately made for much more credible opposition side than I initially anticipated. I, however, disagree with the majority of the students watching. I share Barack Seneer's pessimism, perhaps summed up when he answered a question by stating, "I hope you're right and I am wrong, I really do," and went on to further analyse his point about looking at the Arab Spring from a 2013 perspective and not seeing the signs that it could be a success, referencing the 'lack of seeds being planted' in the first place in reply to the generic point that you need to plant seeds for anything to grow and that takes time. Maybe in 100 years time, Barak and I will both be proven wrong. Let's hope so.

As George Will once said: "The nice thing about being a pessimist is that you are constantly either being proven right or pleasantly surprised."

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