Unfinished Revolutions

CNN Dialogue at Emory on the 'Arab Spring' highlights the role of public activists

By Mary Loftus

fierce hope: Activists, bloggers, and ordinary citizens have risked their lives protesting oppressive regimes, says Bahraini journalist Lamees Dhaif, above.

Ann Borden

As demonstrations and uprisings spread across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, and other Arabian countries, many who joined the protests paid the ultimate cost.

But are these countries, even the ones where regimes were ousted and rulers forced from power, any closer to stability and freedom?

That was the primary question posed at the fourth of the CNN Dialogues, “The ‘Arab Spring’: A Path to Democracy?” at Glenn Memorial auditorium in early February.

Hosted by Hala Gorani, a CNN anchor who has covered the protests in Syria, the panelists included Bahraini journalist Lamees Dhaif, Syrian dissident Ahed Al Hendi, CNN international correspondent Nic Robertson, Emory Associate Professor of Political Science Carrie Wickham, and Egyptian activist and blogger Dalia Ziada.

The program, a partnership between CNN, Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study for Race and Difference, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, opened with dramatic coverage of the protests, from both CNN and amateur YouTube videos.

Ziada, who unsuccessfully ran for a parliament seat in Egypt’s last election, described current conditions in her homeland. “We don’t know where everything’s headed; there is autocracy, corruption, and lack of order,” she said. “Was it worth it? Of course. I don’t regret a single moment, a single action that has been taken. [The uprising] is changing the history of the whole region.”

Young people, Ziada said, are using the powerful tools of social media to mobilize and find support for the cause. “We’ll reach the free world that we dream of,” she said.

“We know this is our right, and we have to work for it,” agreed Dhaif, who believes that because the government of Bahrain is a United States ally, protesters are not getting the support from the US that they’ve received in other countries. “You have to bet on the people.”

Wickham said successful transitions in countries like Egypt will require public accountability and transparency.

“Corruption thrives in the shadows,” she said, adding that it is “absolutely vital” to make the economy and jobs the top priority.

“Unemployment is at a ten-year high. So many Egyptians live on two dollars a day or less,” she said. “These real-life, day-to-day hardships must be addressed, but no one group can address this alone.”

Al Hendi, who fled Syria four years ago after being arrested and tortured as a student there, now works for CyberDissidents.org in New York.

“For Syrian protestors it just gets worse, the regime’s response is increasing day by day, they have rockets and tanks,” he said. “The Russians are supporting the army, but the [protestors] are not getting any kind of weapons from anywhere.”

Despite this, Al Hendi said, “We have been able to push open the gates of oppression. Activists, not politicians.”

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