The Little Dictionary of the Arab Spring

From my latest WIP book ‘The Little Dictionary of the Arab Spring” 😀
“ASS: Acronym. Stands for Arab Spring Superstar. May refer to a person from Arab origin, not necessarily living in the Arab world, under 35, who achieved fame after the “Arab Spring”, a wave of demonstrations and riots that began in Tunisia in December 2010. Generally, a blogger, activist and/or a founder of a non-profit who plays the role of spokesperson for the Arab Youth in international media and gatherings.
As great attention was drawn to the Arab region starting in 2011, journalists, think tanks, embassies and event organizers – probably out of embarrassment to have only senior experts discussing a movement led by youth – started looking for young speakers who: i) are Arabs or of Arab origin ii) are indirectly or directly known to them iii) played a minimal role in the demonstrations and hence can speak about them with some credibility iv) preferably speak English well v) have a simple and uncontroversial message to tell (usually around entrepreneurship and job creation) and vi) preferably female.
A successful ASS generally maintains a delicate balance that serves the moderator or the journalist and other counterparties by ticking the following boxes: “Arab youth voice”, moderate Islam, women’s empowerment, while keeping a “neutral” political view and triumphant optimism, providing very limited insight for anyone familiar with the regional matters (and serious about it).
ASS is the ultimate success story for any donors who aim at leadership development and youth empowerment in the region. By bringing an ASS on stage and showcasing his/her ambitions (of course, no real achievement yet at such an early stage), a donor can prove some progress on a very difficult ground that is very hard to change: millions of unhappy, unemployed and unskilled youth- the effects of decades of poor governance, dogmatism and marginalization.
Many donors can share the same ASS, some being affiliated with numerous fellowships at once. To be noted that most journalists and conference organizers call each other to find guest and experts, based on the “who do you know” approach (“who do you know that can speak about….?”) translating into the “usual suspects” phenomenon whereby you find the same speakers about the same topic in most conferences. While these small number of ASSes become increasingly comfortable with media appearance and accumulate numerous international awards–some even reaching the peace Nobel Prize nomination list—they remain completely unknown among their own people. ASSes thereby serve as the subtle and quite unconscious manufacturing of Arab Spring Idols for a Western audience thriving for young Arab models who can speak their language, seem to share their values, tell them a positive narrative and reassure them about the future of an otherwise very troubled region.
It is hard to pinpoint when the downfall of the ASSes began. The initial election results by the end of 2011 and 2012, giving an overwhelming victory to religious and super conservative parties in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, already raised some doubts on the representativeness of the ASSes. With the fall into chaos of many states, and a general fatigue of “the power to the youth “narrative, ASSes slowly faded away to be replaced by those who eventually possess the real power and can really shape things on a systemic basis: experienced politicians and/or head of militias.
It is equally hard to understand the motives of ASSes. Did they overestimate their weight, outreach and power? Probably, some of them genuinely believed, since they were in the right place at the right time, that they could tap into those conferences and networks for the benefit of their home countries, supported by the revolutionary zeitgeist and the sudden international attention.
What now? Some returned to a more humble level of civil involvement, some moved to a more stable and conventional career path, some are in jail. They are now 6 years older, most of them married with kids. They are a bit more cynical, a bit less interesting. The smartest ones – thanks to the international endorsement and other fellowships – were able to move to Western countries and occupy high positions in international organizations, paradoxically achieving the dream of any young Arab they pretended to represent: getting the hell out.”

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