Mariam looked up at me. I’ll never forget what she said next. It was as if she poured all of her frustration, all of her betrayal, all of her pain, into this one question:
“Do you mean to tell me you still believe? After all of this, you still believe in an Arab Spring?”
I’ll never forget how she said that. I said, “Yes.” And she looked at me like I was crazy. I never got to explain. I’ll try to do so now.
There are three reasons why I maintain my confidence despite all the catastrophes. The first reason is that 2011 happened. It was a dream. It was an illusion. Millions of young Arabs really did take to the streets demanding liberty, and dignity, and justice. Something green and fresh and beautiful appeared and captured the world’s imagination. It wasn’t a mirage. We really do exist.
We’re not a minority, either. We only appear to be a minority because we’re not organized; we’re not on the menu. When the only options presented are black or white, it does not mean that red or green or blue are a minority. When the only options presented are religious authoritarianism or nationalistic fascism, it does not mean that a third option doesn’t exist. It’s just not on the menu. Our historical responsibility right now is to put ourselves on the menu.
The second reason I am confident is that the friendships that arose since 2011 cannot be unmade. The online scene isn’t “virtual,” ladies and gentlemen. No, it’s all too real. The ideas are real, the friendships are real. Many of us activists have never met face to face — but we talk almost daily about things we care very deeply about. We’re a family. These friendships are forever. Martin Luther King once said, “Those who want peace must organize as effectively as those who want war.” I’m going to adapt this gem as follows: “Those who want liberty must organize as effectively as those who want tyranny.” These online friendships can form the nucleus for an intellectual movement as we work together on campaigns, projects, and books.
The third, and perhaps most important reason why I remain confident, is that the old order, the Arab , has, for all its cruelty and deep pockets, no vision or hope to offer beyond sectarianism, demagoguery, and jingoism. It lives on borrowed time supported by mass hysteria; it’s unsustainable. It will bring no stability or growth.
More importantly, they have a dirty little secret. They’re afraid of us. They’re not afraid of those with guns; after all, they have bigger guns. But they’re afraid of those with ideas.