The Corner

‘Arab Spring’: Misnomer

“Arab Spring” has taken off as the default description of the turbulence in the Middle East over the past five and a half months; Google shows 6.2 million mentions as opposed to 660,000 for “Arab Revolt” and a mere 57,000 for “Arab Upheaval.” But I never use this term, and for three reasons:

1. It’s seasonally inaccurate. The disturbances began in Tunisia on Dec. 17, 2010, at the very tail end of autumn, and the main events took place during the winter — Ben Ali’s resignation on Jan. 14, Mubarak’s resignation on Feb. 11, the start of the Yemeni disturbances on Jan. 15, the Syria ones on Jan. 26, the Bahraini and Iranian ones on Feb. 14, and the Libyan ones on Feb. 15. Spring is nearly over and nothing much has happened during the past 2+ months, just more of the same. So, to be accurate, it should be called the “Arab Winter” (which gets 88,000 mentions on Google).

2. It implies an optimism about the outcome that is unwarranted. While I note the emergence of a constructive new spirit in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, and appreciate its long-term possibilities, the short-term implications have been impoverishment and thousands of deaths, with the possibility of an Islamist breakthrough not to be discounted.

3. Demonstrations in Iran in 2011 have not reached anything like their 2009 proportions, but they did take place in late February and they have the potential to ignite — in which case their importance would overwhelm anything else taking place in the region. It’s a mistake to neglect Iran.

So no “Arab Spring” for me. (And I won’t even mention that this term distractedly makes me conjure up a desert oasis.) I prefer neutral and accurate terms like “Middle East upheavals” (87,000 mentions).

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