AMMAN – There seem to be a thousand and one interpretations of the changes sweeping across the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. One response that is often heard is a note of cautious optimism, captured in US President Barack Obama recent speech at the State Department when he referred to the “promise of the future.”
But sometimes we also hear the populist smears that have been applied to the Middle East for so long that nothing, it seems – no amount of extraordinary change – can silence them. After the successful revolts in Cairo and Tunis, the slanders abated. Soon, however, the old messages depicting the Middle East as extreme, fundamentalist, and hostile to democracy began to re-insinuate themselves in the West.
On the other hand, ordinary men and women in the West seem to feel an instinctive sympathy toward their counterparts in the Middle East and North Africa, many of whom are paying the ultimate price in fighting for their rights. These sacrifices have convinced many Westerners that the Middle East is not beyond redemption, and that the region’s people should be given a chance to enjoy the same liberty that they do.
This clash of perceptions has caught the world’s policy experts and analysts off guard. That, too, is not surprising, because the situation remains an amorphous mix of hope and destruction.