Posted on February 26, 2019

Marc Lynch, one of the most widely quoted experts on Middle East politics and media, spoke at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) and questioned the way many people generalize about the Arab Spring. To the audience of students, faculty, and staff, Lynch explained that this conventional way of thinking results in categorizing the countries in the region as either successes or failures based on the leadership in each country.

“This makes no sense to me at all,” said Lynch, “because what we’ve seen are really revolutionary transformations at every level from individual to societal to international. Every country has been profoundly affected by what’s happened since 2011 whether or not the leader changed.”

Lynch, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  and the founder and director of the Project on Middle East Political Science, believes a sense of shared Arab identity and fate inspired many throughout the region to join the Arab Uprising, and it was a powerful manifestation to witness. Lynch pointed out that every single Arab country despite their differences and internal characteristics, still face the same set of competitions and have a common position.

Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q, moderated the event and opened the session by asking Lynch about his scholarly research and how to make sense of the complexity that surrounds the Arab world’s history of upheaval. In response, Lynch said that he had been researching media, youth activism, and information technology in the Middle East before the Arab Spring started in Tunisia. While most experts viewed it as an isolated event, he said that he recognized immediately that it was not a spontaneous event that would remain unique in Tunisia.

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A member of the audience asked Lynch his views on how the Arab Spring affected the different levels of society in the Middle East. Lynch said that the changes at the regional and international levels are “the most directly and obviously significant but likely to be the least enduring.” The largest effects and most enduring impacts, he stated, ultimately are felt on the individual level, like when a young activist discovers he/she can make a difference.

Lynch was also asked about the role of televised news coverage during a crisis, like the Arab Spring. In response, he noted that he personally does not see televised news providing a reasonable cross-section of information and opinions the way that it once did. He encouraged the audience to gather news and information from “an integrated media landscape” and be aware of the polarization of the media, emphasizing that hearing both sides of a story is important to understand the full scope of what is happening in any situation.

Lynch’s most recent book is “The New Arab Wars: Anarchy and Uprising in the Middle East.” A previous publication, “The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East,” has been described as “the most illuminating and, for policymakers, the most challenging” book yet written on the topic by The Economist. “Professor Lynch’s research on the Middle East offers a broad framework, not simply a country by country inventory of factors and forces that explain continuing conflicts and developments in the region,” said Dean Dennis. “He is one of the most authoritative and distinctive voices aimed at promoting scholarly and public understanding in the midst of great change,” Dennis said

Lynch has served as a member of the Content Advisory Group for NU-Q’s museum – The Media Majlis at Northwestern University in Qatar – since 2012. He is a contributing editor at the Monkey Cage blog for The Washington Post and a non-resident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He also is co-director of the Blogs and Bullets project at the United States Institute of Peace. Lynch graduated from Duke University with his BA, and received his MA and PhD in Government from Cornell University.