The Arab Uprisings: How Did We Get Here?

Thursday, March 29–
Friday, March 30, 2012

Margaret MacMillan, warden at University of Oxford's St. Antony's College and professor of history at University of Toronto, gives an overview of the Arab uprisings and discusses the historical context and political consequences surrounding the events in the region.

This session was part of a CFR symposium, Implications of the Arab Uprisings, which was made possible by the generous support of Rita E. Hauser, and organized in cooperation with University of Oxford's St. Antony's College.

RICHARD HAASS: Good evening. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. And we're very glad to have all of you here for what is now the fifth symposium in a series supported by the Hauser Foundation. The whole idea behind this, devised initially by both Rita and Guss, was that we would -- we at the Council on Foreign Relations would partner with another organization, if possible overseas, and the whole idea would allow us to collectively do a deep dive in a subject.

And as I said, this is the fifth. Last year we did one with -- well, it was with an organization from Washington, D.C., which some would say would qualify as international or foreign -- Georgetown University Center for Peace and Security Studies -- but also with the U.K. International Center for the Study of Radicalization. And we looked at the whole question of how to counter radicatlization.

And then, in previous years, we looked at organized crime in the Western Hemisphere. We looked at the impact of Iraq on future U.S. foreign policy. And we looked at the effects of climate change in Asia.

So it has been -- it has been diverse. And again, I want to thank both Rita and Gus for their generous support, intellectually and otherwise, for this series.

Now, this year's symposium is on the implications of the -- of last year's uprisings as well as this year's uprisings -- and next year's uprisings -- (laughter) -- in the Middle East. And we are thrilled to be partnering with St Antony's College, Oxford. We'd like to thank them for their support, for their participation. I want to welcome Michael Willis, who directs the Middle East Centre at St Antony's, and who worked with us, with Jim Lindsay and others, in putting together this event.

I am, as I said, thrilled to be partnering with St Antony's for two reasons. One is personal. I was extraordinarily fortunate -- and I spent three years at Oxford, and two of them were at St Antony's College. And I made good use of its library, I made better use of The Buttery and the wine cellar, and I had an extraordinary education, in large part due to one gentleman, Albert Hourani, who really -- for those of you who are scholars of the Middle East, I don't need to say any more. But I thought -- just one of the great intellects, and also one of the most decent men I've ever had the privilege of working with.

And St Antony's back then was an extraordinarily intimate environment -- this was back in the early '70s. And it really was a chance for an essentially uneducated American to come over and get, in a couple of years, a degree of history and a feel for international events that American schools which, then as in now, were often preoccupied with social science and quantitative analysis -- were just not in the business of doing. And I just feel intellectually and personally I owe a tremendous amount to this institution. And my only regret tonight is I didn't have the smarts this morning or the memory to wear my college scarf, as I was telling Margaret.

So that's one reason I'm glad. And several others of us -- including Rob Danin, who will be speaking here tomorrow -- also were lucky enough to get educated there.

And then secondly, it's hard to imagine a better partner for a symposium on the Middle East. There's just a real pool of talent at St Antony's. So we're thrilled to be doing them with us.

Our timing is good. It's roughly 15 or 16 months since Tunisia set the stage for what has been a tumultuous period in the Middle East. We've seen major transition in Egypt -- parliamentary elections took place several months ago, and presidential elections are scheduled for this June.

Tunisia, where the transition to democratic rule has perhaps been the smoothest in the region.

Libya, where a dictator is gone, but where the fate and the future of the country are very much uncertain.

And we've also seen extraordinarily troubling trajectories elsewhere, most notably Syria, where something like 8(,000) or 9(,000) people have already lost their lives. And there's no end in sight.

And also a situation like Bahrain, whose future -- I would say, whose political future is very much still a question.

But what we're going to do over tonight and tomorrow is, rather than go through all this country by country; rather, we're going to try to look at things more thematically, and take some horizontal slices to look at some of the history, the social and political currents, and the broader consequences for the region. We're going to do this analytically, and we're going to end the last session -- that's going to be prescriptive, which is essentially, OK, given all that's been said and all that's been talked about, what might make sense to do.

We're thrilled, also tonight, to have Margaret MacMillan with us. Margaret, as I expect all of you know, is the warden of St Antony's College. I wouldn't be surprised if, like the warden when I was at school, she had weekly poker games with the students. But you never know; I won't ask her that.

For me, though, it was fortunate, because Tom Friedman was at Oxford with me. And I used to tell people that I went to college on the Friedman fellowship, which was the result of our weekly games. (Laughter.) He denies it, but -- whatever. And Margaret is a historian of the first order. And her books are extraordinary reads, and they are -- but also extraordinary in their content. So it's a real treat for us to have her here.

I will go on -- or could go on, but I won't. And what we wanted to do was turn to Rita Hauser for a moment to introduce Margaret. (Applause.)

RITA HAUSER: Thank you very much, and hello to everyone. I'm glad that you're all here because I think it's going to be an extraordinary evening. I've introduced a lot of people here with great pleasure, but nothing gives me more pleasure because Margaret's my pal. And we're good friends, and we've been -- we've shared lots of things together, including many events at Oxford and at Ditchley and other such places.

I'll be very brief, because I think all of you know about Margaret. She's the warden -- or the dean, we would call it -- of St Antony's. She's a professor of international history and a very distinguished writer. At the moment, she's on leave in her native country of Canada, where she also holds a senior position at the University of Toronto.

Margaret has written wonderful books, and I can't imagine that anybody in this room hasn't read "Paris 1919." And when the events took place -- started to take place last year -- I went right to my bookshelf, pulled it off again, went to the chapters, and remembered once more how all this began. And Margaret tells her tales in such a felicitous way that when you finish reading her books -- whether it's about Nixon's historic visit to China 40 years ago, or "Paris 1919" -- you really feel you know those people, and in a way that is very hard to get from dry, written history books.

I went to school a great deal in France, and I became enamored of World War I; Margaret and I have shared a lot of stuff about that. I thought I knew Clemenceau. I thought I knew Lloyd George. But I didn't really get to know them until I read Margaret's book. And when you see the clash of these two titans in this period after World War I, when the whole world was being remade -- and how they remade it and bring (sic) us to wher we are today, you really begin to have a grasp of today's events in a singular manner.

She wrote a wonderful book about the Nixon visit to China, which was very well-received. She wrote a very little book that many of you may not have read, which I recommend, called "Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History" -- of how people use and take take the events of history to justify or unjustify all of what they do and not do.

But believe it or not, on leave -- when she told me she was in Toronto on sabattical and writing a book -- I said, Margaret, what are you writing about? And she said, I'm going to write a book on the origins of WWI. And I said, Margaret, what new can you possibly say? Well, she's going to tell you some of what is new. And I am sure her book will be more revealing than many others that preceeded it.

So with great pleasure, I introduce Margaret and Richard for a dialogue. Thank you. (Applause.)

HAASS: Well, thank you Rita. Just one or two pieces of housekeeping. If people would please turn off their cellphones and other such devices, I'd be forever grateful. And, second of all, this session is on the record -- anything you say can and will be used against you. It will live in digital space forever; permanence.

Again, welcome. We're going to talk for a few minutes and then we will open it up to you all.

You've done so much work on the World War I period. Is it fair to say that what's happening now in some ways was baked into the cake because of the post-World War I settlements, or are those people -- they're blamed for so many things; is this one of the things they can either be blamed or praised for?

MARGARET MACMILLAN: It's so difficult, and I keep changing my mind on it. I mean, it's a very good question, that -- I mean, I think the people who met in Paris did make huge mistakes in the Middle East. I mean, they behaved like 19th century imperialists. They thought that the Middle East was there to be disposed of, and they thought the people in the Middle East should have no voice in it. I mean, they treated them basically as they treated their colonial subjects in many parts of the world. And I think there was an arrogance and an assumption that they simply could carve it up.

And if you look at the boundaries of the new states that emerged -- Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq -- those boundaries were drawn -- Lebanon -- they were drawn not to suit needs on the ground, geographic or ethnic or economic or other. They were drawn to suit the foreign powers. And the trading was done in Europe, and the maps were drawn in Europe.

Having said that, though, I sometimes ask myself what could have been done with the Middle East? The Ottoman Empire had collapsed, leaving behind, with one or two exceptions, states that were in embryo. They weren't yet fully fledged. I mean, there was -- there were beginnings of a Kurdish national movement, for example, but no, really, broadly-based one. There were the beginnings of the sense of Iraqi nationalist, but yet not broadly-based. And I think in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria you probably had a more broadly-based nationalism.

So I keep asking myself what could have been done with the Middle East that would have satisfied the needs of peoples in the Middle East and given them the chance to develop the institutions which would have been stable and lasting. And that's a difficult question, I think.

HAASS: But to the extent that the borders either satisfied or frustrated nationalisms, part of what's striking to me about events of the last 16 months -- but disagree with me if you feel that way -- is that it hasn't been about nationalism. It's been about relations between citizens and their governments. It's been, if you will, uprising, intifadas, choose your words --


HAASS: == but it doesn't seem to have been in any way about border -- I haven't heard one person mention borders or relations with neighbors or what have you.

MACMILLAN: No, I think that's what's been one of the things that's so interesting and I think, in some ways, so encouraging about what's been happening in the Middle East.

I mean, if you looked at -- as we all did -- what people were saying in Tahrir Square, or what they then were saying in Syria and Lebanon. What they were saying is they wanted freedom from corruption, they wanted a society that worked, they wanted civic societies, they wanted an end to the corrupt and hierarchical regimes which were self-perpetuating. They wanted an opening of opportunities. And all of this, they -- and hardly at all, I think, were relations with Israel, for example, mentioned in what was going on in Egypt. So it was a very very interesting development. And it also, in spite of all the things that people felt -- Islam wasn't mentioned much. The Islamic parties -- some of them, and their great variety of them, of course -- and now, I think, entering into politics because they were the best organized.

But it is -- it was -- I mean, they wanted what any democratic citizen expects to have in society, I think.

HAASS: Why, though, in 2010, (20)11, (20)12? I mean, why not 10 years, 20 years, 50 years sooner. Like, what was it -- why do we think this suddenly happened? A lot of people have written about social media, about decentralized technologies. I mean, is that -- and there's then the counterargument that that's probably overblown. I mean, what's your sense of why now, not before, why not 10 or 20 years from now?

MACMILLAN: Well, I think -- it doesn't -- it happens, but it, in fact, if you look at it, the roots go back further. I think, with all revolution, there may be a precipitating event. I mean, you never -- the timing of revolutions is always difficult to predict. But I think you have things building up underground. I mean, there's a sense of frustration over the years with their own regimes, a sense that they were missing out. I mean -- you -- was it 2001, the Arab Development Report?

HAASS: The -- (inaudible) -- like I was saying -- yeah, it was around then.

MACMILLAN: It was -- it was something around --



HAASS: It compromised between us --

MACMILLAN: Yeah. OK. I'm a Canadian; I like being in the middle here. (Laughter.)

But I think that there was this deep sense that something is not working in our societies. And a lot of people were commenting on it. And I think there was -- I mean, in Egypt there were groups organizing themselves several years ago. And the same thing was happening in Tunisia. And of course, the experts are here, and they can tell us tomorrow.

But it seems to me that it was ripe for change and for protest. And it took precipitating events -- rather like France in 1789 or Russia in 1917 -- you know, the roots go back further.

HAASS: Even if, though, this isn't about borders and nationalism, or Israel or anything else, can the Great Powers -- can the roots of the modern Middle East in any way be held accountable for the lack of civil society, the lack of democracy? I mean, the fact that, here it is, 2010 (sic) -- this is in many ways the least open part of the world, both economically and politically. To what does one attribute that?

MACMILLAN: I think the interference of outside powers -- I mean, in the 19th century it was the British and the French, and in the 20th century, after the Second World War, it was the United States and, to a lesser extent, the Soviet Union. They intervened in Middle Eastern politics very much for their own interests. And so they propped up regimes and encouraged regimes which would deliver what they wanted, whether it was security, whether it was treaties, whether it was oil. And I think they helped to perpetuate a sclerotic and rigid system.

And so I do think the outside world can be blamed. Not for everything. I think, that again, is to deny agency to people in the Middle East. I mean, I think there were people in the Middle East who also participated in propping up these regimes. But I think to understand what's going on, I think we do need to remember just how much the Middle East feel it has been manipulated and used by the outside world. I think that's a very strong factor in the way in which people in the Middle East react to --

HAASS: It that real, or it that just sort of a convenient bit of play-the-victim?

MACMILLAN: No, I don't think it is play-the-victim. And they have been the victim. And I think they have very good reason to feel that they have -- they have been treated as negligible by the outside world; they've been parceled -- they were parceled up, they've had regimes thrown, overthrown. I mean, for a long time, the outside world -- British, French, Americans -- had terrific impact in the Middle East. They made and broke regimes.

And I think that has helped to lead to the sense of frustration. The people in the Middle East feel that they have not had a say in their own fates. So I do think it's important, actually.

HAASS: Taking in events now, though. Maybe this in some ways anticipates the last session tomorrow, the prescriptive session. I'm struck by how little outsiders seem to be influencing the pace and direction of events. That -- do you know -- you know, the administration is often criticizing the American administration for what it says or doesn't say -- does or doesn't do.

But again, my own sense is they're not turning a lot of knobs and they're not pulling a lot of strings.

MACMILLAN: Yeah. Well, I think that's what's so interesting about what's happening. And I absolutely agree, and I think this is something that's come from the ground up. And it is very much indigenous to the Middle East. I mean, some of the terms they use are terms which are familiar around the world. But I don't think those are particularly Western terms; I think they're terms that -- they're talking in terms of rights, which I think are universal.

No, I think this is -- this is -- I mean, in fact, one of the encouraging things that's happened in the Middle East, that it seems to me that people there are saying, this is what we want. It doesn't mean that outsiders won't play a part.

I mean, I think the United States and, generally, the West has been quite clever because they have not rushed in to interfere. But they have offered help. And sometimes it all hasn't -- you know, it's got into trouble, as it did in Egypt. But I do think it is wise of the West to offer help and not be surprised if it's turned down.

HAASS: Do you generally -- a lot a of look at tumultuous political events in your writings. We're obviously in the midst of some tumultuous political events.

When -- just listening to you now, you sounded -- how do I put it -- slightly more upbeat than I sound when I talk about it. And I'm just curious. So you look at what's happened over the last year, 15 months. It's still early days; you play baseball in Canada, we'd say it's probably the first or second inning, in some ways. And I don't know if you're a Toronto Blue Jays fan or what. But when you look at things, do you discern patterns yet, or dots, where you say, gee, that's sort of encouraging -- either by what's happened or what you haven't seen?

MACMILLAN: I think -- I mean, I think the nature of revolutions -- I mean, I would call these revolutions rather than uprisings. Uprising sounds like it's against a legitimate government. And I think these are revolutions within society -- social revolutions and political revolutions. And particularly in Egypt -- I would argue this -- and in Tunisia.

And I think what you're seeing is -- I think there's been an enormously important psychological barrier broken. I mean, the sense of despair, I think, that many in the Middle East had, that we can never change our own fate, that we can never affect what happens, we always make a mess of it. I mean, I think -- you know, this is gone. I mean, I think that there's been a tremendous hopefulness, that we can actually change.

But having said that, I mean, the trouble with revolutions is they're unpredictable, and you never know whether -- I'm not trying to get out of saying what I think might happen, but I think you can't tell, and the groups that are the most organized in revolutionary situations often are able to impose their will. I mean, I think we should be thankful that so far they don't seem to be a group like the Bolsheviks, in the Middle East. I mean, there seem to be a number of groups competing.

And that's -- revolutions are messy, and I think we have to expect that. I don't think we're going to see anything emerging very clearly for awhile, because I think what we've seen is a breaking-up of old systems. And there will be a jockeying for power among different groups.

HAASS: But doesn't the Bolshevik analogy also highlight the fact that often the first beneficiaries of change are not the lasting beneficiaries of change?

MACMILLAN: Yeah, of course. I mean, you know, the people who so hopefully --

HAASS: The guys in Tahrir Square, for example, who were in some ways the agents -- the initial agents of change. They don't seem to be running a lot these days.

MACMILLAN: No. No. And this -- there are -- and the old forces, of course, can be very stubborn. I mean, the military in Egypt is clearly still hanging on, still trying to manipulate things, still trying to push politics in the direction they want. But they're having to compromise, which I think is interesting. They're having to compromise with other forces.

And so I am encouraged. I mean -- and I'm not as pessimistic as perhaps you are and others, that what you're seeing in the Middle East is the triumph of Islamic parties. Because I think that's a very loose term. And then many kinds of Islamic parties. And I think that what you're seeing is, they're having to compromise. I mean, I think what's happening with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is fascinating. You know, they are engaging in the political process. And they will, I think, change -- they'll have to change and compromise.

HAASS: Rita mentioned that you've written a book about China; you've obviously written about European politics -- Great Power politics. You've written a lot about the Greater Middle East. How much, when you look at these things, is there something of an ongoing debate in this country? Does the -- do you feel the particulars of culture, geography, regional history, dominate, if you will, universal forces? So when people say democracy is or is not a likely outcome in the Middle East because of these local phenomena, to what extent do you find that racist, prejudiced, ignorant? Or to what extent do you, as a historian, say, no, hold it, we may not like it but local really count a lot.

MACMILLAN: Yeah, I think of course local forces count a lot. Local histories count a lot, the balance of power in a country counts a lot.

And I think we should remember also these things take time. I mean, we tend to assume that countries should instantly become democratic. And I think how long it took our societies to become democratic -- and I would argue, are not always doing such a good job of it even now --

You know, I think when we say to other people, well, you must immediately have democracy. I mean, I think we forget how long --

I mean, if you look if you look at 19th century politics in Canada, the U.S. or Britain, it was dominated by oligarchies. It was not particularly responsive to public opinion.

HAASS: Mm-hmm. Do you think, though, historically the pace of change has quickened because of things like technology? In the old days, you'd send a note -- you know, give it to an ambassador, put him on a ship -- take him a few months to sail over, the conference would last a year, a note would come back. And now you're dealing with 24/7s, you're dealing with instant communications.

Do you think that, esentially, the pace of historical change has as a result itself quickened?

MACMILLAN: Possibly. But you know, I think we overestimate how important our communications are today. I mean, when you think of the telegraph, which speeded up communications enormously. When you think of how -- with the French Revolution, you know, the news of the French Revolution spread very quickly around Europe. I mean, I think we're so fascinated by the new social media that we tend to -- there's a danger of assuming they're more important than they really are. I mean, I think news does spread. And of course it matters that people know that revolutions have happened elsewhere. I mean, I think without Tunisia, there might not have been the same reaction and response in Egypt; without Egypt, you wouldn't have had what's now going on in Syria and Yemen and elsewhere.

So I do think it's important that people know. But -- you know, I think in the -- I think in the old days people tended to know what was happening, as well. I'm not sure that we're living -- maybe the pace is quicker. I think what's difficult is for governments, because they're now expected to respond on a dime, whereas in the old days they could take a week or two to respond and make up their minds. And now, they're expected to have an opinion on everything, which I think makes it difficult -- of course, then they put their foot in their mouths half the time. (Laughter.)

HAASS: I'm shocked to hear that. And it's good I'm sitting down. (Laughter.)

You mentioned before the fact that, from your point of view, that one of the things you're seeing are the locals sort of saying, we're going to be in charge of our own fate. Much more -- we're not going to let these Great Powers --

What about the in-between powers? The Turkeys, the Irans and others. Do you see -- I mean, are we going through a period where the new outside forces in the Middle East may be less the Europeans and the Americans and, obviously, the Russians, and much more the Turks, the Iranians, even the Saudis?

MACMILLAN: I think so. I mean, I think the neighborhood's is going to matter a lot. And the Turks have obviously been playing a very important role in the Middle East. They've been taking, I think, considerable responsibility. I mean, their reaction and actions on Syria, I think, is very interesting. It's a real departure for Turkey. I think Iran -- my sense is the Iranians were actually horrified by what happened in the Middle East. I mean, their first reaction was this was all a CIA plot, I think. And then they rather slowly that perhaps they'd better welcome it. And of course, the last thing they want is a revolution happening anywhere near them. I mean, they've so far suppressed their own Green Revolution.

HAASS: Yes, that's a demonstration -- in fact, I expect they do not -- they do not welcome --

What's your sense of why the traditional monarchies have fared better than self-defined monarchies, shall I say?

MACMILLAN: Well, it seems to me that traditional monarchies have actually done -- I mean, I'm thinking of the English example. They have, step by step, conceeded constitutional government. I think, in Morocco, the king has moved a considerable way to sharing power. And I think the same thing has happened in Jordan. Whereas I think with these sort of self-perpetuating oligarchs, they're not very good at doing that, and possibly because they think -- are aware that they're new and they're aware that they've seized power illegitimately.

And I think if you are a traditional monarchy, you can at least claim some sort of authority as a monarch. It may make it easier to make concessions. And the Moroccan royal family has actually been in power for quite a long time. And the Jordanian royal family has now had several generations.

HAASS: I could go on, but I'm going to show uncharacteristic self-restraint. There's too -- I look out, and there's so much talent -- there's always talent, there's considerable talent in this room tonight in knowledge of the Middle East, of history and so forth. So what I'd like to do is open it up. We've got roughly half an hour. If people would wait for a microphone. You know the rules: stand up, let us know who you are; be succinct and ask a question, or at least raise your voice at the end and make believe you've asked one. (Laughter.)


Q: Jeff Laurenti, with The Century Foundation. Dr. Macmillan, we did have a period, a half-century ago, of Arab uprisings or a pan-Arab movement, starting with the deposing of King Farouk in Egypt. And it quickly assumed, for Washington at least, a very uncomfortable pan-Arab nationalist character. And we were trying to stall, or suppress, many of these. But many of the places that were set up -- Iraq, Syria and whatever -- came under military rule, promoting this kind of seemingly-popular, Arab masses kind of politics. Christian minorities felt they were a part of it.

And yet it became sclerotic, and this is what is now collapsing across much of the Middle East.

Well, what do you see as being the difference between the kind of citizen desires -- the passions that move people in all those Arab states in the mid-'50s from today? And why should we expect or hope things will come out differently in this wave?

MACMILLAN: Well, if I'm being optimistic, what I'm hoping is that you have a more educated and a more urbanized population. I mean, there have been significant social changes in the Middle East, and I think there may be a base now for a more democratic and participatory politics. And I think at the end of the Second World War, apart from the monarchies, the real powers you had were the military. And you didn't have -- and there were political parties, but they often didn't have a mass base.

And I think -- if -- and I want to be hopeful about it, and I may be wrong, but I think what you're seeing now is more underpinnings for a successful -- it may not be a fully democratic government, but it may be a sort of, you know, an authoritarian government with participation. I mean, if you take the Turkish model, Turkey under Ataturk -- and he was an exceptional person -- but it did move gradually in the direction of greater participation. And I would argue is now pretty much a functioning democracy, whether or not you like the particular policies of this government.

I think -- one of the interesting things, I think, is that the pan-Arab rhetoric seems to have almost totally disappeared. And I'm wondering if that is because it was so unsuccessful. I mean, the United Arab Republic was a disaster, really. The Syrians loathed it, the Egyptians got fed up with it, you know.

So that -- I think you don't get much of that rhetoric. And it may be that -- the other thing is that, funnily enough, once borders are established, no matter how illegitimate, over generations they tend to create a sense of community. I mean, my own country, Canada, is a completely artificial construction. But over the years we've come to think of ourselves as Canadians.

And I suppose -- I mean, Iraq is a difficult issue because I think what you're seeing in Iraq is a low-grade civil war, a sectarian war. And I -- but there was the potential in Iraq to have an Iraqi nationalism. I mean, it may come again; I'm less optimistic about Iraq than other countries.

But it may be that people in what are artificial creations are now thinking -- because of the passage of time, thinking of themselves more as Syrians than as pan-Arabs. And the Egyptians have always fluctuated. And the Egyptians seem to me to have gone from -- you know, they tend to go from feeling very Egyptian to feeling very Arab, and back and forth. At the moment, I think they're feeling quite Egyptian. There's very -- unless I'm wrong, there's not much pan-Arab rhetoric, is there?


Q: Can I ask a question on one thing you said; I didn't -- because it seemed to be slightly inconsistent with something you said a few minutes ago, which was if you look at the Arab Human Development Reports, you see -- not just in some cases, almost regarless of literacy rates -- the quality of the education in many places was abysmal.


Q: So why do you feel that you have the social underpinnings, if you will, of something that would lead you to think that something like a more open political system is likely to blossom?

MACMILLAN: Well, literacy is clearly important. But I think that is, possibly, where the social media come in.

I mean, there are other ways of getting information, and I think the spread of Twitter, the spread of the internet. I mean, I think people, even if they aren't very well educated are now able to get information. And I think living in urban environments, you simply do get a sense of being part of a larger whole and you're more aware of what's going on.

HAASS: Great. Sure. Khalid (sp>.

Q: I wonder if you might compare and contrast Islamic nations in Southeast Asia to the Arab nations. You know, are there any lessons for Egypt from Indonesia, for example?

MACMILLAN: Yeah. That's such an interesting question, and it seems to me that, yes, I mean, the nature of Islam in Indonesia, although there have been, as we know, you know, fundamentalist sects who have caused considerable damage. But it seems to me to be an Islam which people are comfortable with. It's a tolerant Islam and it seems to be able to encompass different strands of Islam.

And that may reflect the different history of Indonesia, but I would say the Islamic states of Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, I suppose, you really have to count, seem to me to have -- we can all think of exceptions, but it seems to me they have somehow managed to incorporate Islam into the country without a great deal of strain.

And I do think that's interesting. I think they've had -- they've had different histories, and that may help to explain it. And I -- but, you know, I'm still not sure -- and again, my colleagues will know much more than I will -- how important Islam is as an organizing force in the Middle East. I mean, it's clearly in some ways -- I think, the growth of religious fervor is perhaps a reaction to modernity, and we see religious fundamentalism -- well, I mean, we see it in the United States and Canada as well. I mean, a tendency to go back to what looks like a simpler creed to try and deal with the modern world.

I mean, I don't think it's a successful way of dealing with the modern world, but it's an understandable way. And it may be that -- I mean, when people talk about Islam in the Middle East, it covers a great many different things. It covers a sense of frustration about the way in which society has developed, it seems to me, to reflect an unease with the way in which the modern world is developing.

I mean, it's a way of finding certainty and surety or it's a way of trying to build on traditions to deal with the modern world. I mean, there are so many strands. And it may be that, in Egypt, for example, that you begin -- you do develop a sort of encompassing state which takes Islam perhaps very much as its motivating force. But that Islam will not be a particular strand, but a broader-based Islam incorporating many, as you get in Indonesia.

I mean, it seems to me that Indonesia and Malaysia have both somehow successfully managed to deal with Islam in that political world, but also to allow a discussion about it, which I think is important. But I'm not sure that's answered your question, but it's a very interesting one.

HAASS: Steven? Wait for --

Q: (Off mic) -- Steven Blank (sp). One of the dangers of history is we know how it works out, so everything seems so inevitable. But if you go back to the 1940s and '50s, in Libya and Egypt, in Iraq and Iran, you have regimes which are not democratic but they're Westernizing, they're modernizing, they're connected, they are concerned about education.


Q: They -- you have a burgeoning middle class -- again, very secular, educated, connected -- you might say cosmopolitan. So the question is is this moment simply an ephemeral -- emphemera on the onrushing stream of inevitability or, in fact, did something happen, something dramatic happen to reverse this trend which was very clear in this -- in this moment to lead an entirely different direction?

MACMILLAN: I -- are you talking about the present or are you talking about the '50s?

Q: Well, I'm talking about -- sorry, I think in the '40s, '50s, into the '60s, you have quite different regimes in these countries.


Q: They're not Islamic regimes, they're modernizing, Westernizing. Again, they may not be democratic, but they're connected.


Q: They're cosmopolitan. They want to be part of the bigger world, and they're certainly not Islamic -- they're not religious.


Q: And then something happens, either because these were not deeply rooted enough --


Q: -- or because events happened that changed it. But if you put your head back into Iraq in the 1950s or Iran in the '50s or Egypt in the '50s or Libya in the '50s, these were essentially, we would say, modernizing, Westernizing, beginning states that we recognized.

MACMILLAN: Yeah. I mean, I'm wondering -- and again, I think my colleagues know much more about this than I do -- but I'm wondering if they failed -- you said they were connected and they were connected to each other and they were connected to a wider world, but were they connected to their own people and were they dealing with the aspirations and concerns of their own people.

I mean, I think -- I'm thinking of the shahs of Iran, which was moving very, very quickly to modernize but which caused real concern and unease among people. I mean, if you ignore the traditions of the people and if you say we're just going to move right ahead, we're going to, you know, forget about the past, I think you'll build up trouble for yourself because a lot of people will feel that this is not the way that they want to develop their world.

And I suppose what didn't help also in the '50s and '60s and even the '40s was what was going on in the Middle East was very much caught up with the Cold War. And so regimes were seen very much as being propped up or supported by one power or another, I mean, until the end of the '50s, mostly by the British and the United States.

And I don't think that would've helped their legitimacy in the eyes of their own people. They were seen as serving the will of outside masters and buying weapons from them and having their offices and their armies and having them trained. And I think that probably -- you know, I think it -- you cannot have a strongly-rooted regime unless it has roots in the society. And I think what you got was -- were regimes that depended far too much on being connected to the outside world and also too much on their military. And we all know what happens when you get the military involved in politics, it's usually not a good thing.

HAASS: Sure. Katie?

Q: Margaret --


Q: -- (off mic) -- Martin. Margaret, we are observing the greatest humanitarian crisis of the so-called Arab Spring unfolding as we speak; I'm referring to Syria. And the world seems more or less helpless in observing this.

What do you see as the endgame there? And can Assad hold on? And if, as seems likely, he will not hold on to power, what is likely to follow?

MACMILLAN: Well, I mean, you know, I wouldn't have -- six months ago, I would have said he was doomed and it seemed to be such a broadly based movement. And when Turkey turned against him, I thought he -- you know, he's probably had it. And the outside world -- and even now, he's hanging on and he seems to have cracked down with such brutality, as his father did in his own time, you know. And you can -- you can unfortunately, get on for a long time with sheer brutality. I mean, you think of the old Soviet Union, you know, where it kept its hold on Eastern Europe by sending in the tanks.

And, you know, we think in the end that won't work, but it can work for a long time. And it may be that he will hang on. He's also got the support of Iran who, of course, don't want to lose their only ally, their main ally, in the Middle East. The alternative -- one alternative will be civil war. I mean, that's what I think is so horrifying about what's going on in Syria. The divisions.

But, I mean, Marwa Daoudy, who's here, knows much more than I do and she'll be talking about it tomorrow. But, I mean, it seems to me the divisions within Syria have been exacerbated by what's gone on, and it may be that the government has been deliberately playing them up. I mean, it's been certainly telling the Christians and the alawites that they're in trouble if the regime goes. And, you know, nobody I think knows for sure who's been setting off some of the bombs and who's been doing some of the things that have been happening.

But it is quite possible that the government is deliberately trying to drive wedges between the different elements in Syrian society. And I think, you know, the terrifying prospect for Syria is that it will become something like Iraq, sort of low-grade sectarian war or even more open sectarian war which, of course, will be bad.

I mean, it's bad enough, I think, for the neighbors having Iraq in the -- and of course, dreadful for Iraq. But, I mean, it's -- Iraq is by no means a stable, settled question. I mean, we've all tended to forget about Iraq, but every week, there's another bomb, 43 people are killed, the people were being driven out of neighborhoods. I mean, there's clearly a sort of ethnic cleansing going on there, and I think Syria could well become another such country which, of course, is terrifying for Syria's neighbors because it will spill over, I would've thought, into Lebanon again.

It's not going to be good for Israel. It's already spilling over into Turkey's -- you know, in Turkish territory. So I think -- I think Syria, I find, very, very depressing and gloomy. I mean, it is one case where if one, possibly the whole world, not just the great powers far away, but the locals as well, such as Turkey could get together, they might actually make a difference.

And one thing is -- I mean, if we want to try and think positively, the Chinese and the Russians are no longer being quite as obstructive, which is possibly a faint sign of hope. But I think on this one, I'm probably more of a pessimist.

HAASS: What about the -- if you look at some of the experiences in Europe where regimes either held on. So if you look at the mid-19th century --


HAASS: -- and you saw regimes that recovered their nerve.


HAASS: I mean, it's interesting. Gadhafi held on -- ultimately was only defeated by external involvement. The regime in Bahrain has held on. The regimes in Egypt and Tunisia gave up without a fight --


HAASS: -- effectively. Syria -- and one of the lessons of history you could argue is regimes that don't lose their nerve and maintain a degree of solidarity --


HAASS: -- persevere.

MACMILLAN: Yeah. Yeah. And if they're prepared to go to the ultimate, which is what's been happening in Syria -- they're prepared to shell their own people, destroy their own people, torture their own people or shoot schoolchildren. I mean, I think if -- I mean, if we're thinking of history, 1848 in Europe --

HAASS: That's what I'm thinking, yeah.

MACMILLAN: -- yeah, springtime of peoples and the prison doors closed again or whatever metaphor you want to use. So it -- no, I mean, I think revolutions don't always work.

HAASS: Sure. Carl.

Q: Thank you.

HAASS: Carl, will you introduce yourself?

Q: Carl Myer (sp>. I'm just wondering if you're not letting off the architects of the Paris Peace Conference a little easy. (Laughter.) I'm thinking of three examples: the enlargement of Lebanon to incorporate a big Muslim population; two, the adding of Mosul to the new state of Iraq for its oil; and three, the encouragement of Venizelos on the Asia-Minor dream of greater -- of a greater Greece.

MACMILLAN: Yeah. Oh, I think all of those were -- well, the acception of Mosul, I might disagree with you about. But I think the greater Lebanon was a mistake which we're still paying -- or the Middle East is still paying the penalty for.

Syria has never forgiven or forgotten. You could also add the Baltha (ph) declaration, which left an insoluable problem by promising the same piece of land to two different peoples. And I think, again, this is something that goes on to the present day.

On Mosul, again, it's difficult to know what do, but you could argue that the three provinces of the Ottoman Empire, the one around Basra, the one around Baghdad and the one around Mosul, could fit together even though their peoples are ethnically different. They had been ruled from the -- they had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire, but I -- as I understand it, the Baghdad Province was always seen as the center of -- rather more important than the other two. And had you left Mosul as a little independent country, it would've been, I think, unstable. It was deeply ethnically divided.

Setting up a Kurdistan, I think, would have probably not worked. It had too many enemies and I don't think the Kurds were ready at that point for self-government. And you did get -- I mean, this was, I think, the whole point about artificial boundaries sometimes working. You did get the development of a national feeling in Iraq, and there were priorities which said in the '30s and '40s to be Iraqi is to be neither Kurd, Shi'a, Sunni, Assyrian or whatever. It is to be all of the above -- you know, to be an Iraqi is to be a people who share all these different ethnicities and religions.

Now, that hasn't happened. It could've happened, I think. It didn't. No -- but I agree. But, I mean, I think the attitude of the peacemakers in Paris was one of contemptuous indifference, you know. And they often didn't know what they were doing. It did not help, I think, that the United States withdrew -- you know, the -- I mean, the one victory the United States got was that these new countries being carved out should be ruled as mandates, and there was at least a nod, if nothing more, in the mandates, that you should rule for the benefit of the people and the mandates rather than for the benefit of the mandatory power and that one day, they would be able to -- you prepare them to stand on their own feet.

But the United States, for various reasons -- I think, partly because President Woodrow Wilson was so sick and partly because it was the reaction against getting involved in the first World War -- withdrew from involvement in the Middle East. And so the power which at that stage would have been dispassionate and detached and could, I think, have made a difference, wasn't participating.

I mean, later on, the United States became engaged and then its interests came into play. But at that point, the United States had very little interest in the Middle East, and I think it could have a force -- you know, a positive force.

HAASS: Let the record show that I offered Mr. Frumkin (sp) a chance to comment and he turned me down. (Scattered laughter.)


Q: Nick Platt, Asia Society. This is a straight history question. The Ottomans ran Iraq as three different provinces, something that Les Gelb never hesitates to point out for us. How did they run Syria? How was Syria governed under the Ottomans?

MACMILLAN: I'm trying to remember. Was it one (Vilis ?) I think, was it --

HAASS: Why don't we give Marwa the microphone for a second. We'll make this point --

MACMILLAN: Yes. I think it was one -- it was one province, wasn't it? Yeah.

HAASS: Want to say something about it? How they ran it?

MARWA DAOUDY: Run administratively? Is that the question? What was the status. It was part of the Ottoman Empire as a province with some semi-autonomy but local autonomy still run by the Ottoman Empire, but they sort of delegated local ownership for minor issues. But I would say it was still heavily centralized by the Ottoman Empire.


HAASS: Sort of the approach of Manhattan towards Queens. (Laughter.) Sure.

Q: Thank you. I'm Alan Hyman (sp). I also spent a wonderful year in Oxford, so I'm grateful for that experience.

For the last six decades, Arab politicians have tried -- and royalty have tried to convince their people that their misery was due to the place of Israel in their -- in that community of nations. What has the Arab Revolution meant to that idea?

MACMILLAN: Well, it may be too early to tell, but it seems to me that the way in which -- the conspicuous absence of Israel in the demonstrations and in the (demands ?) suggest to me that Israel is no longer a unifying factor.

I mean, there's obviously Arabs who feel very strongly about the presence of Israel, but it's no longer something that can be used as an excuse to ignore other ills in the Arab world. I mean, the parallel I always think of is apartheid in South Africa, where year after year the Organization of African States would get together -- Organization of African Unity -- would get together and condemn apartheid and not bother to condemn the many tyrants who were doing dreadful things elsewhere in Africa. And I think this has actually been a very healthy development.

I mean, Israel is still an issue which Middle East governments are going to have to deal with. They're still going to have to try and come to some sort of, if they can, come to some sort of understanding with Israel. But Israel is no longer shorthand or an excuse for everything else.

And I think this is actually a very healthy development. It seems to me -- again, it's what I was saying earlier that a very important psychological barrier that has been broken that -- to me, the people who are demonstrating are saying we're going to run our own governments, we're going to say what we want. Now, they may not get that, but it seems to me they are demanding it and they're taking responsibility for their own governments.

And they're no longer -- I mean, I think there's still a great hostility because of -- for historical reasons to the meddling of the West in the Middle East. And I think that is not something that's going to go away very quickly. But it seems to me that the West has not been blamed for everything.

I mean, I thought it was very striking that as some of these regimes were collapsing, they tried to blame it on the CIA or various -- or the British. I mean, the British MI -- is it MI-6 -- must've been thrilled because they were suddenly given enormous power -- (scattered laughter) -- to do all these things. But it seemed to me that this was not -- this was something that desperate regimes were using, and it wasn't something that people in the streets were saying. And I think -- you know, this seemed to me a very healthy development.

Q: Just say that -- if that fault line is not as prominent or pronounced, what about the Sunni-Shi'a one, either as a fault line within states or between them?

MACMILLAN: Well, I think it's something people make a lot of, and it seems to me that it may be something that has been created by political leaders for their own purposes. I mean, rather -- as you've got in Bosnia, where Muslims and Orthodox and Catholics had lived together, actually, in many cases, in considerable harmony. But you all get political leaders who will use it.

I mean, as I understand it, in many countries, the divisions between Sunni and Shi'a were not particularly great. Religiously, they are different, but, I mean, you often had people -- you'd have family members, some of whom would become Shi'a and some who would become Sunni. And I do think there's been a use of this by local political leaders to gain power, as, you know, some unscrupulous political leaders will use religious issues, as we know, to try and gain power.

And I think -- it's unfortunate because once such divisions are created, people begin to identify themselves as members of these communities. And, I mean, you would've had a lot of people who would not have identified themselves primarily as Sunni or Shi'a, but unfortunately, once it becomes a matter of life or death, then you'd begin to cling to your own communities and you're forced into it, which I think is tragic.

HAASS: Sure. Right up your side, second row.

Q: Colette Mazzucelli. I thank you also for your hospitality at Oxford.

My question relates to, as a historian, your appreciation of, perhaps, what Vali Nasr analyzes in "Forces of Fortune," the rise potentially over time of a Muslim middle class and the implications of that, particularly for societal security in the Middle East.

MACMILLAN: Yeah. Well, I think -- yeah, and I think the middle class can be both a force of stability and also a revolutionary force. I think it depends -- I mean, I think what, as I understand in Egypt -- I mean, what a lot of the middle class got frustrated about and their children got frustrated about was that, no matter how -- and it's true of other countries in the Middle East -- no matter how hard you worked and how well you did at school, it still was connections, that it was a society where promotion was always going to be blocked. And I think there was tremendous frustration.

But you also -- you know, you have -- I mean, a middle class is an economic term and a social term, but it -- middle classes can go in various ways. And middle classes in a number of countries can be extremely conservative, you know. And I think --

Q: (Off mic.)


Q: (Off mic) in Iran.

MACMILLAN: Yeah, exactly, which is extremely conservative and -- so, you know, I think the middle class is a fairly -- it's growing and many people are only new to the middle class. So I think time will tell. This is a -- very -- much -- very much an historian's answer, but they always like time. It helps us. But it's a very interesting question, and I think -- I think it will have to be seen how, from generation to generation. But, you know, the -- I think -- you think of the change in so many Middle Eastern countries, it's been very rapid.

And I think just absorbing that change puts tremendous strain on society. People move from villages -- from a particular kind of life into cities where there's another kind of life. Yes, there are more opportunities but there's also a fear of losing something that makes you who you are.

HAASS: You're a historian. After the fall of the Wall in 1989, there was a lot of criticism of a lot of the people involved in the field that they missed it coming. Do you feel that Middle Eastern experts essentially should be judged fairly harshly? (Scattered laughter.)


HAASS: With the exception of St Antony's --

(Cross talk.)

MACMILLAN: Yes. No -- well, it's as -- what I said earlier, it's difficult to predict when a revolution will happen. You can see the reasons why it might happen, but it takes a precipitating event. I do think a lot of -- and I would include myself in this -- I mean, I think a lot of people who read and looked about the Middle East didn't see what was happening. I think -- you get used to things, don't you? You get used to analyzing things in a particular way, and it's comfortable and you just don't think about it.

And it was the same thing with Eastern Europe. I mean, people thought, oh, those regimes, well, they've been around, they'll be around forever. And suddenly, they just collapsed like a house of cards.


Q: Is this on? Yeah, Ron Tiersky is my name. You mentioned the psychological aspect of what happened before. I'd like to follow that up. In the interviews that were done from Tahrir Square and other places, one of the things that I heard over and over again was individuals saying -- talking about a feeling of dignity, a demand for dignity. And this had to do with, I think, breaking through the fear --


Q: -- that they had of living in police states. And my question has to do with that. That -- the courage to do that could be either indigenous somehow, or it could come from outside. Would you say that the -- that the example that might have had a lot of influence in this was more the fruit vendor in Tunisia or what happened in Iraq a straight line from Baghdad to Cairo? Or what happened in Iran, which fewer people talk about as a possible source of, you know, the courage to break through?

MACMILLAN: It's very interesting. I mean, clearly what happens in one place affects what happens in another, and our knowledge of that happening. I would've thought what happened in Iran would have had less influence, partly because Iran is not Arab.

HAASS: So when you say what happened in Iran, you mean what happened with the Green Revolution or do you mean what -- since 1979.

Q: (Off mic.)

MACMILLAN: Green. Yeah, thank you. But I -- you know, I'm not sure how much the Arab Middle East looks at Iran as a source of emulation. And the fact in Iran that the Green Revolution seems to have been blocked so far. If anything would have discouraged people, thinking there was no point -- you know, even in Iran, when they won a majority in the election, the authorities still fiddled it and took it away from them.

I don't think Iraq -- Iraq would've been, I think, a counterexample. Iraq would be an example of what happens when an authoritarian government is overthrown, you end up with this hideous situation.

I do think what happened in Tunisia was highly important, and I think people were intensely aware of it in the Middle East and elsewhere. But I think that series of events that was set off -- and the bankrupt -- I mean, I always think of the children's story, the Hans Christian Anderson story, "The Emperor Has No Clothes." You know, it's that moment when you say, yes. I mean, they just flim-flam people and they don't deserve to be in power.

And I do think -- I mean, it was a -- not a major factor, but it was an important factor. When WikiLeaks revealed the details of the Tunisian ruling family's corruptness and the greed and the vulgarity. I mean, I think it was a sort of sense, you know, who are these people and why should they be ruling over us.

HAASS: Well, it hasn't hurt the Syrian leadership as much. (Laughter.)

MACMILLAN: Not yet. No. Well, it might -- you know, I do think these things add up, and the fact that she's, you know -- and I do believe in the authenticity of those e-mails; they sound too realistic. I mean, that she's worrying about a pair of crystal-embedded shoes, you know, that cost thousands of dollars, while people all around are being shot.

So I do think there's an important psychological thing, and I think knowledge that it's happened somewhere else can give you courage. I mean, it's the same -- 1989 is very similar. And, you know, when you get -- I remember talking to people in the center of Europe, and they said, you know, when the Czechs started going mad, we thought we'd better do something, you know, because the Czechs are nice and quiet and they don't do this sort of thing, you know. (Laughter.) So we really felt we had to.

And it does -- I mean, there is a domino effect, I think, and people do -- I mean, that's where the knowledge is important and that's where -- I mean, I don't think twittering in itself makes revolution, but the knowledge that is spread through Twitter is enormously important, I think. And you know other people are doing it and they -- it succeeded. And you suddenly -- you have some hope. And it reaches this interesting sort of critical mass where -- and I was in Cairo last April, and people were still sort of reeling from what happened.

And I met sort of sedate university professors like me, and they said, I can't believe I did it, but I went down to Tahrir Square every night. It was just the most exciting thing that's ever happened in my life. And there is a sort of collective thing that happens when you do it and you realize you can -- you can get out there and say these things and you can make fun of people; you know, the making fun of your rulers, I think, is very important.

HAASS: (Inaudible.) OK, one last question, then I've got -- go ahead, Herb.

Q: Herbert Levin (sp). Isn't there a role for the Europeans and the Americans in this process, or should we just hang back and watch them kill each other?

MACMILLAN: Well, if you put it like that -- (laughter) -- the -- I think we should be very careful. You know, I think we have a long and rather dishonorable record of interfering in developments in much of the world. And I think when -- and I think we also have to be careful how we do it. I mean, I think when we come in and say rather smugly we know all about democracy and we all know -- we know about how to run uncorrupt systems, I mean, I think, you know, it can be galling and rather irritating, particularly when, you know, we also have our own problems.

I mean, I think a certain humility is good here. I think there are humanitarian reasons to hope that people won't kill each other, and I think there are reasons why we should try and do what we can. I mean, I'm impressed with the work of the NGOs like Freedom House, for example, who seem to me have been very careful in how they've gone in. And very sensible.

I mean, I have -- again, when I was in Cairo, I bumped into someone I know from Freedom House. And he said we're just here to talk and see if there's anything we can do, and we're not telling people what to do, we just want to -- can we be helpful. And I do think that is the way to go. I think we can't go in and tell people what to do. It is arrogant, and I think it would backfire.

And it is appalling to watch people killing each other, but can we -- humanitarian intervention is a tricky business and it doesn't always work and we sometimes make things worse. And so I don't know how we -- I mean, I think putting pressure on sanctions and trying to put pressure on regimes. I mean, whether the fact that, you know, the Assads can no longer go to Europe, whether this will begin to close the circle around them.

But I think -- I think we should be careful what we do because we can sometimes produce the very reaction we don't want.

HAASS: So I can't resist now a last question. Why did World War I happen? (Laughter.)

MACMILLAN: It's -- oh, you -- right. It's very simple. I can tell you in five words. It was all a mistake. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Just -- we won't tell (AJP Taylor ?) that.

Margaret, thank you for this. And thank you for the magnificent books you write. And thank you for running this extraordinary college at this extraordinary university.

MACMILLAN: Well, thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)







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