The Arab Spring at William & Mary

The Arab world has witnessed a series of political upheavals this past year which would have been difficult to imagine in past years. The events have affected the faculty and students of the Arabic section in many different ways. Several students found themselves in Egypt or Syria as the revolutions were getting underway, and had to end their programs early, sometimes even before they started. Several faculty members also found themselves in the middle of rapidly unfolding events in Tunisia and Egypt. Prof. Chadia Mansour was visiting family in Tunisia over winter break just as the demonstrators took over the streets in Tunis and other cities, and she found herself on herself on a plane headed back to the US just as Ben Ali was headed out on a plane himself. Our Arabic language house tutor, Hagar Eltarabishy, was one of the multitudes who took to Tahrir Square in Cairo last spring, participating in demonstrations which led to the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Shukran ya Hagar!

The revolutionary events have had an effect also on the way that some of our Arabic classes have been taught. Prof. Eisele’s Arabic 308 class in Spring 2011 included a review and discussion of the latest news of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, which happened to dovetail with many of the readings from both the classical period and the modern period, which dealt with the notions of tyranny and injustice quite often. This semester his Arabic 303 Media Arabic class devoted much time and class discussion to the revolutions and their aftermath, and included many news reports and documentaries on the events themselves.

Prof. Chadia Mansour has been especially active in this regard. She is an active tweeter and blogger on the subject of the Tunisian revolution, and is currently teaching a special topics course on the subject of the Arab spring. Her summer was taken up with research and preparations for the course, which included attending conferences about “Tunisia’s post January 14th Revolution” in al “Jahedh center” and Center of Islam and Democracy (CSID) in Tunis, where she also conducted interviews with young people on their perspectives on the Tunisian Revolution. She in turn conducted interviews with secular and Islamist activists from diverse backgrounds such as lawyers, professors, engineers , (including the well-known activist Mahdi Barhoumi who had a history of activism during and after Ben Ali regime), as well as interviews with members of internal ministry and military on the events of January 12 to the 14th and Ben Ali’s escape. As part of the course she has coordinated with activists from across the political spectrum and scheduled them as virtual guest speakers via skype in the Arab Spring class.

Prof. Mansour has also been active in setting up public forums for the William & Mary community to hear about and discuss these events, including a forum on the Tunisian Revolution, in Spring 2011, which included a guest speaker from Tunisia, Soubeika Bahri, as well as lecture and discussion by Prof. Mansour. More recently, Prof. Mansour was instrumental in bringing about the recent forum on the Libyan revolution, which included a visit by the Libyan ambassador to the United States. As she describes it: “One of my students – Malik Tatanaki- requested an independent study, and I advised him to work on the Libyan revolution since he is originally from Libya. This independent study led to the idea of holding an event on campus on Libya’s transition to democracy. Co-sponsored by the College & the charity, Libya al Hurra (“Free Libya”), Malik and I organized the event to host the First Libyan delegation at the college of William & Mary with Ambassador Al Aujali as the first Libyan official on campus on November 20th, 2011.” Following that, Chadia had a chance to try to change the perspective of Frank Shatz, a columnist for the local newspaper when she sat down with him for an interview on the topic of the Arab spring which was published in the paper on Nov. 18th.

The revolutions are far from complete, and we are following the events in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Tunisia closely and wish our Arab brothers and sisters in the streets throughout the Arab world success and peace in their struggle for democracy, social justice, and political delousing.

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