The Arab Spring is four years old today, the anniversary of the first uprising in Tunisia on December 18, 2010. This was sparked by street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who had the day before protested against harassment by the authorities — his cart of produce had been confiscated, and he had no bribe money to get it back — by setting himself on fire. By mid-January, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was out of office; a few days later, protests began in Egypt; the turmoil has now touched or convulsed over a dozen countries in the region.
In The New Middle East: The World after the Arab Spring, Paul Danahar says that Syria is “where the last act of the old Middle East” will be played out, and that while a handful of socioeconomic causes are behind the uprisings, “Religion, not nationalism or Arabism, is now the dominant force. God has returned to the Middle East.” And this has changed the historic game, for all those playing or watching:
The board on which all these new power games are being played stretches across the Middle East. The rules came from scripture and each player interprets them according to their faith. America not only does not understand the rules of the game, it can’t work out what winning might look like. So it is roaming the table looking at everyone else’s hand, offering advice on which card to play, but because it has no stake in the game nobody is really listening.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.