The promise and peril of the Arab revolution

By Helena Williams

“’It came out of nowhere because of Facebook and Google’ is not true. It was a long time coming.”

So said Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera English’s senior political analyst and author of The Invisible Arab: The promise and peril of the Arab revolution.’

In conversation with the BBC presenter and special correspondent Lyse Doucet, Bishara discussed his new book which challenges the mainstream media’s portrayal of the 2011 uprisings in the Arab world as a series of spontaneous acts sparked by the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor.

“Social media was very important, but not the reason for the revolution. [The reason] is the young people with a history of struggle.”

“These regions were open to democracy – they were only stopped because of politics and dictators,”

Bishara’s view is that the West has, until recently, perceived Arab nations as ‘invisible’ and so been unaware of the struggle that has been building up for a number of years.

“First, the inside struggle was made invisible from the rest of society by dictators who made sure those who wanted to say something could not say it. People were imprisoned, tortured, censored, kept away from the media – even sent into exile or to their death.

“Outside, they were made invisible by a media paradigm – [they were seen as] a threat to energy security, a threat to Israeli security, and a threat to national security.”

These feelings are historical, deep-rooted and inevitable, he said.

“There was a massive demand for radical change, and a break from the past was indispensable. It was a collective break that is psychological, political and mental.”

But he warned that the struggle has a long way to go yet, despite much of the western media drawing its attention away from the events which continue to unfold in the ‘Arab Spring’ countries. Predicting more violence to come, he emphasised that these revolutions do not have a specific timeline and it was impossible to tell when they would be over. But he said that he is optimistic, as this young generation has embraced pluralism.

“Arabs know their future is going to look nothing like the past. They have one foot in the past and one foot in the future.

“I see a lot of violence coming our way. But Yemenis, Egyptians, Tunisians… they want to be funny, they want to be creative, they want to be non-violent, they want to be girls and boys together in a revolution. It’s miraculous. They are the miracle generation.”

“A lot of us project the view on these revolutions, asking ‘where is the democracy?’” he added.

“It will come as it comes. We have to take them as they are. I am at least optimistic that we are breaking from the past. There are perils and pitfalls – it’s up to this new generation to move their society on the right track.”

Watch the whole event here: