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Five Myths About the Arab Spring: Fouad Ajami

January 20, 2012

Many people in the United States firmly believe the US is a major player in the Egyptian uprising and Arab Spring.

As an anthropologist, US national interests are not one of the primary things I concern myself with when thinking about the Egyptian revolution or the wider set of social protests, uprisings and civil wars commonly labeled the “Arab Spring.”

But journalists can’t get away from that question, and neither can most of my International Studies students.

US national interests frame four out of five of Fouad Ajami’s “Five Myths About the Arab Spring” published Jan. 12 in the Washington Post. It’s useful, because it helps remind me of how differently most people perceive the Arab world apart from the lenses through which I see it.

In order, Ajami’s five myths are:

  1. Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech helped inspire the Arab Spring.
  2. These are Facebook and Twitter revolutions.
  3. The Obama administration threw Hosni Mubarak under the bus.
  4. Saddam Hussein’s fall in Iraq inspired the Arab Spring.
  5. The rebellions will further damage prospects for the Arab-Israeli peace process.

If you don’t think these are myths, check out the Post here for Ajami’s arguments.

A myth is an authoritative symbolic narrative that appears uniquely true, sometimes self-evidently true, from some culturally-shaped perspective. These particular myths are shaped by a US-perspective that sees the US as central to world events, exceptional in its national character, and takes for granted that US national interests should be the first concern of people trying to understand what is going on in the world–especially those who wish to act in it.

Ajami, of course, is using myth in a different way, to refer to widely held beliefs about the world that are not factually true.

These two perspectives are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, things that are factually untrue but firmly believed reveal much about the world views of those who hold them.

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