Professor explains Arab Spring events in book


Thomas Allison

Guest lecturer James Gelvin delivers a lecture titled “Rethinking the Arab Uprisings One Year Later” on campus Monday evening. Gelvin was hosted by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies to discuss the causes and developments of recent protests in the Middle East.

Maja Dordevic

Uprisings in Egypt, Syria and other countries in the Middle East have inspired civil unrest throughout the world, including the Occupy Wall Street movement, said a visiting professor in a Monday talk.

UCLA history professor James Gelvin offered an overview of the 13 month span of events known as the Arab Spring revolutions and uprisings at the event sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern studies. Gelvin presented his book, titled “The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

Over the past 13 months, young people in the Middle East have staged protests for the reformation or replacement of their political systems, Gelvin said. These protests have emphasized the importance of social media in our time, he said.

Gelvin said it’s a part of the job of public historians to address these current events and explain them.

“What most Americans don’t have is an overview of these events and concepts,” Gelvin said. “It’s hard to keep exact track of the events because the media coverage shifts constantly.”

Buzzwords used in the media such as “social media revolution” and even the term “Arab Spring” itself have different meanings than those prescribed by the media, Gelvin said.

“People are looking at this as if it’s something new,” he said. “This has been going on for some time and only a historical perspective can offer an evolution of these events.”

Although these events may not affect Americans as much as issues such as the economy and health care, they will be mentioned in the presidential campaign, Gelvin said.

“If the course of these revolutions turns into something big, such as Israel bombing Iran, that’s going to have an immediate effect on the world’s and America’s politics,” he said.

Gelvin said these revolutions and uprisings are extraordinary events, and as such, their outcomes are hard to predict.

Kamran Aghaie, history associate professor and director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said the book is important because it offers a well-researched point of view on very recent events.

Aghaie said there has been a lot of coverage about the protests, including a lot of emotional and moral interpretation of what’s going on.

“This book is an analytical look from a social scientist’s and historian’s point of view, examining the systemic reasons why the revolutions happened,” Aghaie said. “It’s been a year now and it’s time to stop thinking about the romanticism of it and examine what really happened and what is yet to happen.”