The Arab awakening sweeping across the Middle East is one of the epic happenings of the 21st Century. It is essentially a fight for dignity and equality.
Already the movement has shattered the status quo, which neither provided competent governance, nor reflected core aspirations of the people. It highlights the brittle character of the elites and the gap between the elite and the street, which is at the heart of the upheaval.
One factor likely to emerge is eventual lessening of US leverage in the Middle East, as evidenced by its already frayed capacity to mould events. Israel is quietly uneasy, as Syria is becoming a centre of gravity of the Arab Spring. For years, Israel was relatively comfortable in dealing with the seemingly predictable Baath regime. The vicious bloodshed unfolding in Syria may not be as easily manipulated.
The Arab Spring has multi-layered dimensions, including internal, regional, and global facets. On this issue, a lively panel discussion was convened at Hameed Nizami Press Institute of Pakistan, where I was asked to lead the discussion. A consensus emerged that the youth in Pakistan need to do more, visibly speak out, and question wrongful actions, as there was far more scope and space to do that here than elsewhere in the Muslim World.
It was noted that more courage and activism is shown in a repressive society than in more open and democratic political cultures. Dr Ahsan Akhtar Naz, head of Punjab University’s Mass Communications Department, stressed the need for improving competency, while Mr Absar Abdul Ali, head of the Press Institute, emphasised the importance of citizen journalism, in which students engage in writing more letters to the editor.
A related factor is the cultural fixation with façade, which can bring sham democracy without its substance of fair play, merit, rule of law, able governance, and sense of belonging.
The catalyst for the Arab Spring was its deep-rooted repression of popular yearning. In its wake, it has left a deep sense of humiliation and hunger for reclaiming human dignity values. Nearly 40 years ago, there was a hint of Muslim spring when King Faisal, in the aftermath of the October 1973 war, imposed an oil embargo to protest Western policies, followed by convening the historic Islamic Summit in Lahore where, for the first and only time, the global Muslim community gathered and united on a single platform. What was done before can be done now. The quest has to continue for genuine and honest leadership.
The unanimous 100-0 vote last year by the US Senate, approving new sanctions on Iran, exhibits a crushing conformity that makes a mockery of democracy - the essence of which is diversity of opinion. It seems an American awakening is needed to match the Arab awakening.
n The writer is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar.