The Rebellion of the Young: Volker Perthes on the Arab Spring

Analysis, posted 08.12.2012, from Germany, in:
The Rebellion of the Young: Volker Perthes on the Arab Spring (Photo: DW)

The German Institute for International and Security Affairs is an independent research establishment funded by the Office of the Federal Chancellor. One of its tasks is to advise the government. After the start of the Arab Spring last year, many Middle East experts were criticized for having failed to foresee the uprisings and for emphasizing instead the stability of the existing authoritarian regimes. The media and the public wanted to know why no one had forecast the outbreak of a protest movement that stretched from Tunis to Sanaa.

Perthes, a political scientist, is not just one of the best German experts on the Middle East and on Syria in particular, he is also a commentator on current events who is much in demand in the media. In his book, he analyzes and gives a structure to what has happened, divides up the revolutionary events into typical phases and describes similarities as well as differences in the region.

He doesn't try to give the impression that he was there himself, preferring to provide background information and analysis. Perthes offers a wide-ranging view of the whole Arab world and includes in his picture countries on the periphery, like Sudan, or countries that at least seem to be immune to change, like the Gulf states.

A considerable amount of the book is taken up with his recommendations for German and European policy, which is no surprise, considering his status as the head of one of Germany's most important think tanks.

No more "wall of fear"

Perthes sees the Arab uprisings as, above all, the rebellion of the younger generation against the authority of the old. Out of fear, the older generation was prepared to accept things that the young are no longer prepared to put up with. The "wall of fear" has fallen for them, and this change in attitude can no longer be reversed – even if the political process of achieving democratic conditions is a tedious and difficult one and there are many setbacks to be overcome.

To illustrate this, he cites an interesting example from Syria that was reported in the Saudi newspaper Sharq al Awsat: according to the report, when the protests against Assad began in the city of Homs, the older, pious people tried in vain "to stop the young ones from joining a protest demonstration after Friday prayers in the grand Khalid bin Walid mosque." But the young people wouldn't be put off. It is as a result of examples like this that Perthes sees the Arab revolution as a youthful, non-ideological uprising against authority in state and society.

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Review by Claudia Mende; Translated by Michael Lawton

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