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Cautious Optimism Regarding the Arab Revolts, from an Unlikely Source

Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and a COMMENTARY contributor, has written a noteworthy piece on his optimism on the new Arab revolt.

“One has the sense that the past century’s extremism — tied to such figures as Amin al-Husseini, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ruhollah Khomeini, Yasser Arafat, and Saddam Hussein — has run its course, that populations seek something more mundane and consumable than rhetoric, rejectionism, and backwardness,” according to Pipes. While admitting that he is known for “doom-and-gloom,” Pipes goes on to say this:

But, with due hesitation, I see changes that could augur a new era, one in which infantilized Arabic speakers mature into adults. One rubs one’s eyes at this transformation, awaiting its reversal. So far, however, it has held.

Perhaps the most genial symbol of this maturation is the pattern of street demonstrators cleaning up after themselves. No longer are they wards of the state dependent on it for services; of a sudden, they are citizens with a sense of civic responsibility.

While I caution against premising foreign policies on this abrupt improvement, it would also be a mistake to discount it. The rebel movements need an opportunity to find themselves and to act as adults. Time has come to discard the soft bigotry of low expectations; speaking Arabic or Persian does not make one incapable of building democratic means to attain free ends.

Like many others, I remain quite uncertain about how these various Arab revolutions, each with its own shape and texture, will end up. (Bret Stephens has written a cautious and intelligent column on this.) But more and more people are conceding that what we’re seeing in Cairo, Benghazi, and other cities across the Arab world is amazing and encouraging. You can now count among them the eminent Daniel Pipes.



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