Robin Wright Hopeful about Middle East
After visiting 23 countries over the course of several years and drawing on her extensive knowledge of the region, veteran Washington Post reporter Robin Wright emerged feeling hopeful about the future of the Middle East, she told an Occidental audience March 27.
“A culture of change is emerging that redefines the political atmosphere there,” Wright, a foreign correspondent for 35 years and author of the new book, Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East, said as part of the Diplomacy and World Affairs Department’s Brown Bag Series.
Convinced that the United States and its allies entered the war in Iraq based on a strategy shaped by “a group of Iraqi exiles who had no sense of the dynamics of the region,” Wright set out to provide what she regards as a more accurate characterization of the region and its diverse peoples.
Wright was inspired by 2005’s “Arab Spring” – the moniker for a resurgence of reform and political activism in the Middle East. During her travels, she sought out the “Lech Walesas and Nelson Mandelas” of the region – people who are willing to stand up for human rights despite the potential punishments, even death. She found many, although people whose faces we would never recognize as we would Mandela’s.
“I am struck by how ignorant we are about that part of the world,” said Wright. “They know more about us than we know about them. We look at Middle Eastern countries in terms of our interests there.”
Wright found a “soccer mom” in Egypt who had been apathetic about politics until she saw pictures of female protestors in Cairo being harassed and hurt by “government-sanctioned thugs.” She acted on her anger and created a group called Shayfeen, or “We’re Watching You,” to warn the Egyptian government that they would be exposed for human rights violations and election fraud. The group also set up a website through which citizens can file complaints against the government.
Syria’s Riad al Turk, who is referred to by some as “the Nelson Mandela” of the region, was inspiring to Wright. Turk was arrested many times for protesting against the Syrian government. He was held in a cell the size of an elevator with no window and no toilet for 18 years. When he was finally released, he immediately began protesting and, again, was jailed.
Wright suggested that the United States can repair its relations with the region by working hard at diplomacy and restructuring our foreign aid policy. Educating young people and giving them alternatives to violence is key, Wright says. “There’s a real danger when people feel alienated. People will turn to extremism when those fighting for democracy and human rights are exiled or imprisoned.”
The event was organized by the Office of Global Affairs and the Diplomacy and World Affairs Department. More information is available at: http://www.robinwright.net/