Hiram College

In 2011, the world has seen an uprising among Arab nations – people fighting to be free of the oppression they’ve known all their lives.

Salman Shaikh, fellow at the Brookings Institution, spoke to students, faculty and staff on Sept. 29, about the role of civility in those uprisings, in his lecture “Civility and the Arab Awakening,” sponsored by the Center for Engaged Ethics.

Over the summer, the Class of 2015 read “The Complete Persepolis,” by Marjane Satrapi, as their common reading. The autobiography paints a picture of life in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, so Shaikh’s lecture touched on themes familiar to the students from the book.

Shaikh refers to the Arab awakening as a wave outcry from people in Arab nations who want to have more opportunities, and more say in their lives and existence.

“Arabs have finally been able to wake up out of the slumber of decades of destitute and authoritarianism,” he said.

Often, that destitute and authoritarianism has been imposed by the state, so “that state would have to crumble, in order to put in place something that is more reflective of the wishes of the people.”

The people uprising are generally the younger generation – which incidentally makes up 40-60 percent of the population in most Arab nations. This generation, he said, has embraced the idea of the civil protest; unfortunately they are often met with incivility, on behalf of the oppressing government.

“Civilized protests are being met by uncivilized reactions,” he said. “… The people have gone out protesting. But what are they being met by? They are being met by cannons, aircraft bombing them. You have leaders who are firing bullets and bombs against their own people in this way.”

He also discussed the United States’ and other countries’ role in the Arab uprisings, mentioning the Responsibility to Protect Act,  established at the World Summit in 2005. The Act is a set of principles discussing appropriate international intervention when a country does not protect its citizens from genocide, war cries, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. This act was the basis of the United States’ recent intervention in Libya.

Shaikh outlined the following challenges that lie ahead in transitioning Arab nations from the point they are at now to where they want to be:

  • Fostering a democratic culture once new leadership is in place.
  • Determining the role of the military in the transition process.
  • Beginning the debate of where religion fits into the government.
  • Preventing a resurgence of oppressive forces.
  • Getting the economy on-track, particularly fixing youth unemployment.
  • Managing expectations.

Shaikh said one thing he’s learned from the recent Arab awakening is that individuals can make a difference, so he encouraged those wanting to make a difference internationally to “keep that thought and work toward it.”