Monday, February 18, 2013

Don’t Rule Out Having Children Because You Want to Have a Career. By Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Don’t Rule Out Having Children Because You Want to Have a Career. By Anne-Marie Slaughter. The Atlantic, February 14, 2013.

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. By Anne-Marie Slaughter. By Anne-Marie Slaughter. The Atlantic, July/August 2012.

Falling birthrates: the threat and the dilemma. By Chrystia Freeland. Reuters, December 7, 2012.

The Age of Possibility. By David Brooks. New York Times, November 15, 2012.

The Rise of Post-Familialism: Humanity’s Future? By Joel Kotkin. JoelKotkin.com, October 12, 2012. Also at New Geography.

Egyptians in Mad Scramble for Dwindling Dollars. By Walter Russell Mead.

Egyptians in Mad Scramble for Dwindling Dollars. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, February 18, 2013.

More on Egypt and Morsi here.

Yair Lapid: The Southern Man and His Cosmopolitan Ghetto. By Neve Gordon.

Yair Lapid: The southern man and his cosmopolitan ghetto. By Neve Gordon. Al Jazeera English, February 12, 2013. Also find it here.

A Villa in the Jungle: The Arab Awakening through the Lens of the Israeli Media. By Neve Gordon. Middle East Law and Governance, 2011. Also find it here.

Where Have All the Real Conservatives Gone? By Scot Faulkner and Jonathan Riehl.

Where Have All the Real Conservatives Gone? By Scot Faulkner and Jonathan Riehl. History News Network, February 18, 2013.

Blues Missing the Mark on Higher Ed Reform. By Walter Russell Mead.

Blues Missing the Mark on Higher Ed Reform. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, February 18, 2013.

Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth. By Joseph Stiglitz. New York Times, February 16, 2013.

Push Now for Peace in the Middle East. By Daniel Freedman.

Push now for peace in the Middle East. By Daniel Freedman. New York Daily News, February 17, 2013.

Hamas has never been more willing to deal.

The Grand Universal Illusion. By Michael J. Totten.

The Grand Universal Illusion. By Michael J. Totten. World Affairs, February 13, 2013.

(See Morsi and Egypt here.)

Totten:

Kristof assumes the Chinese government is at least marginally interested in opening and reforming Pyongyang because he, like plenty of Americans—myself included—wish to see reform in non-democratic countries aligned with the United States. He’s projecting our own psychology onto Beijing.

This is what Professor Richard Landes calls cognitive egocentrism. “The act of empathy,” Landes explains, “can often become an act of projecting onto another ‘what I would feel if I were in their shoes,’ rather than an attempt to understand how the person with whom one is empathizing has reacted to their situation, how they read and interpret events.”

People do this sort of thing all the time. We do it to our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. It’s hard not to. We also do it to foreign people, and they do it to us.

Look at the na├»ve early predictions about the Arab Spring. Cognitive egocentrism explains at least part of it. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood was routinely described in the Western press as a party of mainstream religious conservatives who deeply believed in democracy and free markets, as if they were Egypt’s version of the Republicans in the United States. Likewise, the kids in Tahrir Square were seen as Egypt’s Democrats. Both assumptions were outrageously wide of reality.

Middle Easterners do the same thing to us. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard the American government described in hysterically phantasmagoric terms that would make even Noam Chomsky blush. A Syrian friend of mine in the United States used to describe the British and American governments as snakes (his word), not because he’s inherently anti-American but because he was raised on propaganda by the house of Assad and because for the first thirty years of his life he suffered under a regime that really was like a snake. For him, suffering under a predatory snake-like government was a perfectly normal state of affairs. He had never known anything else and assumed people everywhere were no different. (I should add that he has been here long enough now that he no longer thinks of the American government in these terms. A few months ago he even said he misses George W. Bush, something I’d sooner expect Nancy Pelosi to say.)

Plenty of the Middle East’s ridiculous anti-American conspiracy theories are produced by this sort of thinking. The Middle East is a place where real conspiracies actually happen. Military coups, palace coups, secret police, assassinations by unknown shadowy figures, election fraud, and massive official disinformation are part of the everyday scenery. Because these things are tragically normal over there, people feel helpless and paranoid. They also assume these things are normal for everyone else, that the American government (along with every other government in the world) is just as venal and corrupt and self-serving and murderous as the governments of Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, and Moammar Qaddafi. These people are projecting their own experiences of the world onto us. They assume their experiences are universal. Until recently in human history, their experiences were practically universal.

Aftermath of Revolution. By Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo.

Aftermath of Revolution. By Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo. New York Times, February 14, 2013.

(See Morsi and Egypt here.)

Albertus and Menaldo:

Less perniciously, fits and starts may prolong the transition period and present opportunities for “spoilers” to derail progress. The infighting in Libya is an example. Lastly, the adoption of nominally democratic institutions may fail to benefit the majority of citizens and even foster one-party rule, an outcome South Africa faces today.

The more promising cases from the Arab Spring, such as Tunisia and Egypt, fall into this last category. In both countries, a mix of formerly powerful elites and ascendant new elites are scrambling to game the political structure to protect their interests, meanwhile tabling policies that could otherwise benefit the majority of citizens.

In Egypt, the military has won immunity from prosecution and autonomy over its budget, while Morsi has at times reverted to Mubarak-era emergency rule to quell popular unrest. In Tunisia, the security apparatus under former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali remains entrenched in the government, while Ennahda has selectively repressed protests as it turns a blind eye to crimes perpetrated by hard-line Islamists against Tunisia’s secular middle class.

To avoid reversion to autocracy or stalled, impartial democracy, a country in Tunisia’s or Egypt’s circumstances must steer between the Scylla of outsized influence by erstwhile autocratic incumbents and the Charybdis of unconstrained new actors who seek to lock in newfound power.

As with all revolutions, to remain on a trajectory toward democracy requires continued popular pressure on all those with the capacity to hijack democratic aspirations. This suggests that street protests in these countries are far from over. In the long term, this instability may pay off in the form of democracy.