Arab Myths and Realities

The unrest sweeping the Middle East caught most people by surprise – both inside and outside the region. Indeed, the wave of protest has fundamentally upended at least five conventional beliefs about the Arab world.

WASHINGTON, DC – With Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in Egypt – widely considered to have one of the region’s most stable regimes until only recently – and Colonel Muammar Qaddafi clinging to power in Libya, there is no clear end in sight to the turmoil sweeping across the Arab world. Protests have already toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt, leaving other Arab countries faced with widespread discontent.

The unrest caught most people by surprise – both inside and outside the region – and has fundamentally upended at least five conventional beliefs about the Arab world.

Arabs don’t go into the street. Before the protests began in Egypt and Tunisia, many people argued that there was no real urgency to political reform, and that those who were calling for change did not understand the public mood – things weren’t as bad as the dissidents made them out to be. This line of thinking led governments to believe that Arabs would not demonstrate in large numbers and demand change. In each country, rapid reform was seen as detrimental to national interests.

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