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Professor urges 'wait-and-see approach' on Arab Spring

Great Decisions lecture series focuses on pressing global issues

POSTED: January 24, 2012 1:25 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Victoria Hightower, an assistant professor of history at North Georgia College & State University, discusses the topic of Middle East realignment Monday evening at the Gainesville Civic Center during the university's Great Decisions lecture series.

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In a time when much of the Middle East is in a seemingly constant state of change, North Georgia College & State University provided an opportunity for clarification and discussion.

The first of an eight-week lecture series called Great Decisions focused on Middle East realignment and was led by Victoria Hightower, assistant professor of history at NGCSU.

"As you know, many of the 22 countries that make up the Middle East have been rocked by revolution and revolts which have changed not only the nature of rule but also the rulers themselves," Hightower said in front of an audience of more than 60 people.

This is the third year the college has held the Great Decisions lecture series. The topics are chosen by the Foreign Policy Association based on which global issues are most pressing.

In regards to the Middle East, Hightower suggests taking a "wait-and-see approach." She admits the approach may be uncomfortable but said that it is the best course of action at this point.

"Revolutions take time to develop and we must give these countries time to work out their political issues," Hightower said.

Hightower began the lecture by explaining the historical situations that molded the Arab Spring. She said the focus should be on the populations that make up the nations when trying to determine which way the revolutions are going to go.

"It is the particularities of each country that determine the ultimate outcome in these next few years. This is why I think constituencies are so important," Hightower said.

Hightower explained that the revolutions that make up the Arab Spring resulted from a climate of socioeconomic dissatisfaction in Egypt and Tunisia particularly.

"The constituencies that stimulated the protests were these overeducated and underemployed and downwardly mobile members of the former middle class. They were brought up to desire more and they found their goals increasingly constrained by their elders, by their government and by their society," Hightower explained.

She also noted the role of women in these protests, citing a woman who was beaten in the street and a group of Egyptian women who beat young men in the street when they were told to dress more modestly.

"Women have been active in all of these protest movements in direct contradiction to the stereotype of the oppressed Muslim woman," Hightower said.

She said the involvement of women in these revolutions is cause for "cautious optimism." Women have historically been involved in revolutions but have been brushed aside shortly after. The difference today, she said, is that women are very aware of the past and aren't willing to let that happen to them.

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen are entering the second phase of their revolutions, Hightower said. The revolutions have taken place, the governments have been overthrown and now they must determine what comes next.

Hightower said that though it may seem like the decisions should be made quickly, particularly in the modern age, these things take time. For example, the social revolutions that began in the U.S. in the 1960s are still continuing in this country today.

"Revolutions take time; they are not accomplished quickly," Hightower said.

 



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