The Arab Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall

The Arab Spring might as easily be called the Arab Summer, Winter, or Fall. Watching some news stations in the US, you find one commentator after another trying to define exactly in what season the Arab countries are. As Egypt convulses, Turkey trembles, and Syria, well Syria just dissolves, in the face protestations from the public,  America  searches for labels. It is as if America is the clinician and the Middle Eastern countries the patients. Perhaps, the U.S. should employ clinically appropriate labels, in place of astronomical/temporal terms, i.e., Turkey is borderline personality, Egypt bipolar, and well Syria is everything else.

In America labeling is a critical part of the culture providing the population with an illusion of understanding. If the U.S. can just tag Egypt with the correct season, all would be well. However, pathology requires more than a label, it requires a treatment plan.

It is entertaining to watch  commentators who during the Arab Spring were filled with optimism  try to rationalize their predictions as situations deteriorate, as if they were practitioners trying to rationalize a missed diagnosis. (Remember also, how Assad was  predicted to fall 1 year ago, 6 months ago, 3 months ago, etc.). In that case, contrary to prognosis, the patient is still thriving. Labels give us a sense that we understand, a sense of security, when in reality because we have failed to dig deeper into a situation, we actually have no clue whatsoever.

Democracy is another label  thrown around quite a bit in the U.S. If there was one label you would think  America would get right, it would be democracy! However, the U.S. penchant for labeling countries in the Middle East as democratic often is misguided.Whether it be Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, or Egypt, signs of a true evolving democracy are few and far between. Those who take a more cautious, qualified view of the Middle East, understand that Democracy is a process, and not a one time event. A free election of a best organized party in a country where the competing parties and perspective are poorly organized or articulated, provides little hope that the election itself will signify a change in the political culture. Moreover, when within the first year in office, the  victorious party consolidates its power, placing the opposition at a further disadvantage, the trajectory is unlikely not to eventuate in a democratic culture.

Labeling should be less of an obsession. Intervention (cognitive  and humanistic) is in order. The U.S. should be engaging with Egypt (for the opportunity now exists there) the way it engaged with Russia when they threw off their bonds of tyranny.  The U.S. was on the ground in Russia with expert teams helping them to shape documents, which would assure the free exchange of ideas, protect human rights, and allow for systematic elections, etc.  The U.S. cannot be held accountable for any back sliding in Russia for political processes are dynamic, but the basic principles that are the underpinnings of democracy have seemed to have held.

Rather than focusing on labeling,  America should be assisting whoever is in charge in Egypt to change the political culture. Evidence is in the streets that this patient would appreciates constructive aid. The symptoms are there, the patient wants to get healthy. Teams should be preparing to aid the process. Teams who understand both core democratic values and  Egyptian culture, should be fashioning a long-term intervention that is agreeable to the participants, which can nurse the production of documents that will firm up the core of values and principles. As in any therapeutic process, part of its effectiveness  rests on a financial commitment to get well. Indeed, the U.S., has a financial relationship with Egypt that can serve as leverage and an incentive to engage. Certainly, if those demonstrating against Morsi, truly want a more open democratic society that supports inclusiveness, they would welcome a long-standing and meaningful nursing of democratic values. The U.S.  should take an interest in helping them secure the kind of guarantees that will preserve democratic values.So stop labeling and start thinking about how to really engage. Patients do not recover because they have been labeled, they recover as a result of a slow analytic, systematic, and supportive approach-my bet is to heal governments and the societies that are begging for a new chance, a similar approach is  warranted.



About the Author
Seth Greenberg was born in NYC and currently lives in NJ and Jerusalem (half-time in each location); He is a professor of Psychology, having held endowed Chairs at both Union College and Carleton College; He is published in areas of attention, memory, reading, face recognition with a number of Israeli co-authors; He has children and grandchildren in the US and Israel; and he leads student term abroad programs in Israel and hosted Shabbat dinners on campus.
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