Back in February, we posted background information on the unrest in Egypt. Now, we see that the Arab Awakening, or Arab Spring*, may prove to be the most important series of social and political developments since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This past spring semester I took a class call “Geopolitics of the Middle East,” where my professor quickly and appropriately abandoned the syllabus to cover the daily events that rocked the region.
Unlike the transformation of the U.S.S.R. and its satellite regimes, the revolutions of the Arab Spring have not been tied to the fate of a superpower. In my class, we struggled to keep track of the grassroots movements, each with their unique manifestations that reflected national and regional contexts. My National Geographic Atlas of the Middle East served as an excellent base of information on cultural, economic, and natural features of the region (Okay, I’m biased because I work here, but this really is a most useful book!). But, like all printed maps, it was already out of date. In this post, I’ll share my favorite resources on learning and teaching about this complicated region.
Unlike students following the fall of the Soviet Union back in the early 1990s, however, we had access to the Internet, beloved packager and presenter of information. Maps, time lines, and other visualizations emerged as my best way to chart the current events in West Asia and North Africa. Below, I’ve posted links to the resources that I found useful for my own understanding of the uprisings. Most of them are updated daily and could be used by young adults (beware of graphic, yet honest, photographs).
● A timeline from The Guardian which indexes the newspaper’s coverage of major events over a clever 3D interactive surface
● A timeline from PBS, also an article index, is less interactive but has more accessible photos than The Guardian.
● A choropleth map from The Guardian lets you see photos and articles by clicking on a country.
● A similar map of Washington Post coverage, which lacks a legend (and hey, Washington Post cartographers, why is Saudi Arabia permanently grey on you map?).
● I use these customizable blank maps to study
● A humorous and artistic map of the Arab Spring
*I once heard NYT reporter David E. Sanger say that “Spring” in this context is a largely Western-centric term (probably a reference to the Prague Spring), because it carries a different set of meanings in MENA (Middle East North Africa) than in Europe and North America, due to its sub-tropic climate. Spring in Tunisia isn’t like Spring in Tennessee. However, even MENA revolutionaries incorporate “Spring” into their rhetoric, such as in this quote of a Tunisian poem:
Hey you, the unfair tyrants… [….]
Wait, don’t let the spring, the clearness of the sky and the shine of the morning light fool you…
-Abdul Qasim Al Shabi, from To the Tyrants of the World.
Perhaps more significant than Sanger’s geographical objection to the term “Arab Spring,” we should keep in mind that the first part, Arab, is problematic as well, and not let it obscure the importance of Kurdish, Jewish, and other minorities also woven into the fabric of these struggles and also invested in their outcomes.
**West Asia is a better term for the “Middle East” (synonyms: Near East, Orient, the Levant) which defines the region in terms of its location on the continent, instead of in relation to Europe, which is a bit… Eurocentric. It’s like calling North Africa the Near South. It doesn’t make any sense.
-Cedar Attanasio for My Wonderful World