Behind the Headlines: McBride Panel Offers Insight into Arab Spring Revolutions

To many ordinary Americans, the relatively recent Arab Spring revolutions seem nothing more than a news title—tragic stories emerging from a far-off land. But, to Mines students and faculty who experienced the revolutions in their respective countries first-hand, the upheavals prove much more than a headline.

As part of a McBride Honors course studying revolution, five panelists from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Tunisia, gathered on Oct. 16 to respectively share personal experiences regarding the recent revolutions in each country.

“Twelve members of my family have been killed. The youngest one was 13 years old sitting for breakfast with her family. She was snipped in the back of the head in front of her family. That is my relationship to the revolution,” an 18-year-old slam poet from Syria said. Names will be withheld for the safety of the panelists and their families.

According to the slam poet, the way in which news articles portray revolutions and their causes varies drastically from the way in which people directly impacted by revolutions do. “When you ask a Syrian or any one of these people what’s going on, they’re not going to be like, ‘Well, the central bank and the sociopolitical of this and that.’ No. They’re going to say, ‘They took away our freedom. They killed our children. We’re fighting back.'”

The human side of revolution seems to have been overlooked. “Most people don’t know what’s going on in the Middle East or North Africa or in Libya. If I tell someone I’m from Libya, they only know two things: oil and Gadhafi,” a Mines PhD student from Benghazi, Libya said. “They don’t know the human side. They don’t know that there are people in Libya who are starving. They don’t know there are Libyans who don’t have any means to go to a health clinic. Sadly, the conditions are ongoing.”

The human side, though, is not the only aspect of the Arab Spring Revolutions to be underemphasized in the news. The United States’ stance regarding many of the dictators that were overthrown has been glanced over as well.

“The U.S. has supported dictators and repressive leaders for a long time,” a Mines faculty member who lived through the first year of the civil war in Lebanon, which began in 1975, said. “Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted [this] openly and essentially said that we were wrong.”

However, no matter what the news emphasizes or underemphasizes, millions of people lived in constant fear during the revolutions and suffered their horrifying repercussions. “They hunted my brother and because he’s from Benghazi. They started calling him and saying where are you, we want to kill you,” the PhD student, who was in the U.S. during the Libyan revolution, said.

“If the revolution did not work out, we [would have been] prosecuted because we went out to protest what was going on back in Libya. We were very anxious and worried about our families back there because Libyans have very extended families.”

To the PhD student, the Libyan revolution boiled down to nothing more than senseless slaughter. “Now if you ask me what I think went on, I would say a brother is killing a brother. Libya is not like other countries. We are all from one faction; we are all Muslims—I think it’s the only country that has a 100 percent Muslim community. We are all on the same page; we are all from the same descent. Everyone knows everybody, literally. When you say people are fighting in Libya, you are talking about brothers and cousins killing each other, which is very tragic.”

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