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World Views: UN Recognition of Palestine, Fatema Shokr on the Arab Spring (Nov 30, 2012)

Editor’s Note: To hear an additional story by Fatema Shokr about the use of carbonated beverages to relieve the effects of tear gas, click “Part #2” at the bottom of this page.

On Thursday, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to recognize a Palestinian state.

The resolution upgrading the Palestinians' status to a nonmember observer state at the United Nations was approved by a more than two-thirds majority of the 193-member world body. The vote was 138-9, with 41 abstaining. Both the United States and Israel voted against the recognition.

Comparative politics expert Rebecca Cruise said previous attempts by the Palestinians to receive official statehood status a member of the U.N. were blocked by the Security Council, specifically the United States.

"The state word is incredibly important here," Cruise said. "So, having the word 'state' in that definition of an ‘observer state’ is symbolic. No, they're not a member of the U.N. No, they're not a state, per se, but it is significant."

Suzette Grillot, the interim dean of the University of Oklahoma's College of International Studies, says some analysts believe this move by the Palestinians to come into statehood through a so-called "back door" method.

"Israel's argument has been there's no such thing as a Palestinian nation, or a Palestinian," said Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "That's the argument the Palestinians are trying to overturn. And that's where getting this written into international law gives them purchase then, to engage [in] what Israelis have called 'lawfare' - a legal form of warfare to try to get a hunk of Palestine for their national home."

Anger against Egypt's Islamist president was once again on display in the streets of Cairo this week, where huge crowds have been denouncing a draft constitution approved overnight by allies of President Mohammed Morsi.

Fatema Shokr is a visiting lecture in OU’s Arabic Flagship Program, and participated in Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution in 2011 from her home in Alexandria.

“I believe we can reach democracy,” Shokr said. “But if we feel disappointed and start to decide no, it's not going to work. We're not going to see democracy there; I think we will lose our revolution.”

In addition to protesting on the streets, Shokr’s role in the revolution involved sharing information through various social media sites.

“Facebook in Egypt, I believe, is very different than Facebook here, or any other place,” Shokr said. “Facebook has been, and still is, a main way of communication, and describing or giving your opinion about politics, and religion, and what's happening. “

Although she spent this semester in Norman, Shokr remains engaged and informed about events taking place in her home country.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On how the protesters used social media to facilitate the revolution

If it wasn't for Facebook, we wouldn't have a revolution. It started on Facebook, and it didn't start in 2011, or 2010. It started [in] maybe 2008. People on social communication websites like Facebook started to talk about what is going on, and people started to agree on protesting on that day, in that place, and it worked. So time after time it worked, and we started to believe that this was a very good way to collect each other together, or be together, to have a youth discussion to make a change, so we decided we have to go on the streets. When we went on [the] streets, it was maybe the first time I'd seen this person, or that person. I didn't see them before, but I knew they were going because we were on the [Facebook] page, and wrote, "I am coming."

On her surprise at the increasing role women played in the protests

There were many women in the streets all the time during the revolution, which was really dangerous. It wasn't very safe to go out and demonstrate and protest, but I really like it for more than one reason. The most important reason for me is that now women think, no, they believe, that women can have a great role in change. Women are not a special case, that they can't make a change, because when we started, or when we decided to demonstrate and make a massive, or a great change, it was women and men at the same time, and we all had the same role. So, yeah, women believe in themselves more now. Men believe in women more now, and it denies the idea of a male-dominated society.

On the role activists can play going forward

What they can do now, and what they're really doing now, is to keep sharing information and keep discussing what is going on, and keep talking, and expressing our ideas to make sure that people know what's good for Egypt. Like I have said before, when the revolution started some people started to persuade Egyptians that revolution is not the best thing. The enlightenment role, sharing the information really helped to deny this idea, and bring up the idea that revolution is the best. So, keep enlightening people and keep sharing information and discussing everything together, I think this a great role we should keep.

FULL INTERVIEW:

SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Fatema Shokr, welcome to World Views.

FATEMA SHOKR: Thank you.

GRILLOT: So you're here teaching Arabic. How did you get involved in the Flagship program, and what is your experience so far living in Norman, and Oklahoma, in America for the first time as a Muslim woman from the Middle East?

SHOKR: So, first of all, I got involved with [the] Flagship program back in Egypt. I started there as a language partner, [where] I have a friend or an American student and I try to help her or him with their Arabic, and how to get around and know the country. Later on, I started teaching there, and I really liked it. I felt teaching Arabic wasn't just about teaching language. It was about interacting, introducing culture, and getting to know the other culture and personality. I felt this was about getting rid of stereotypes, and getting real. Later on, [the] University of Oklahoma [asked me] "Would you like to come and teach here for the fall semester?" I was like, "Oh my gosh! It's my first time to travel and I'm going to America." I was really excited. About me here, as a Muslim girl from the Middle East? I like it. People here are nice. They're good with me. They're very welcoming, so I don't feel like I find [a] problem to go out in the street, come here, act/interact and be among people, so it has been good so far.

GRILLOT: That is really great to here. I want to pick up on something you said though, Fatema. You said that language is a way in which we get to know each other's culture, which I think is absolutely true no matter what language you study, but you said language exchanges are also a way to get rid of stereotypes. Is that the same thing? Sharing culture is also getting rid of stereotypes, or what do you mean exactly by getting rid of stereotypes by studying language?

SHOKR: Well, what I mean by getting of stereotypes is that there have always been stereotypes when people in the East think about Americans, or people in the West, and people in the West think about Egyptians, or people in the Middle East. So sometimes people in the Middle East think of Americans like invaders. They think of occupation, or English occupation in Egypt at the time, which was true, but the truth is more than this. There is a lot to know about other people than just occupation and invasion and politics. So people in the Middle East, when they think about Americans or people from the West, they all think about politics. It doesn't surprise me when I find that, but we have more than politics in our life. We have social lives, we have culture, we have traditions, so getting rid of the stereotype of a terrorist person, and invader person, politics, and just get to know the social life that we have on this side, and on the other side. I think this is what I mean by stereotype, if that makes sense.

GRILLOT: So language exchanges actually expose one another to a sense of humanity.

SHOKR: Yeah.

GRILLOT: And the fact that we may speak another language. We may come from another place, but we're still human beings, and share more in common than there is that divides us.

SHOKR: Yeah, I agree.

REBECCA CRUISE: You mentioned politics and culture, and being from Egypt, obviously your country has undergone a significant transition in both politics, culture perhaps, and some other things in the last year and a half or so, and you played an important role in that, or a part in that. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what it was like being in Egypt during that time, and what you did for the revolution.

SHOKR: Well, what I really liked about our revolution in Egypt - it wasn't about me, or him, or her, or about a special party. It was all of us working together. The most important role that I think we have played is sharing information and enlightenment. When the revolution erupted, and people started to demonstrate on [the] streets, some other people started to try to persuade people that revolution is not the best solution for Egypt. [That] those who are in the streets have a kind of foreign agenda, and have American aims, and [are] motivated even by people from even Israel. So, we had a great role, all of us, not me, or just my friend, we all together tried to share information and to share in the demonstrations and protest on the streets...

CRUISE: And this was a revolution that was, in many ways, fought via communications. Via Facebook, Twitter, new forms of technology. How did that work?

SHOKR: Well, if it wasn't for Facebook, we wouldn't have a revolution. It started on Facebook, and it didn't start in 2011, or 2010. It started [in] maybe 2008. People on social communication websites like Facebook started to talk about what is going on, and people started to agree on protesting on that day, in that place, and it worked. So time after time it worked, and we started to believe that this was a very good way to collect each other together, or be together, to have a youth discussion to make a change, so we decided we have to go on the streets. When we went on [the] streets, it was maybe the first time I'd seen this person, or that person. I didn't see them before, but I knew they were going because we were on the [Facebook] page, and wrote, "I am coming." Facebook in Egypt, I believe, is very different than Facebook here, or any other place. Facebook has been, and still is, a main way of communication, and describing or giving your opinion about politics, and religion, and what's happening. It's not just communicating and sharing personal information and feeling, and "Oh my God, it was a great day!" Yeah, we do that too, but all the time you'll find comments on my wall, or my friends' walls, about politics, religion, everything.

GRILLOT: But did it also perhaps give you - what I'm hearing from you, perhaps, is that it gave you some comfort knowing that you weren't alone. I think this is what social media does, right? It provides some feedback in an electronic way that your thoughts aren't just yours. There are others who think the same things, and when you said, "I wasn't going to be the only one there in the square, I knew other people were coming because I saw it on Facebook," that this provided you some sense of comfort, and confidence, that this was a collective effort.

SHOKR: Yeah, it made us feel comfortable, like I'm not alone, and my friend is not alone, and that other guy and that other girl are not alone, but it also gave us a reason to do it. Why do we have to protest? People started to say because of this, because of that, and we rarely shared ideas. So sharing ideas was really beneficial for us, because if I have only one reason to demonstrate and protest, a thousand other people have a thousand other reasons, and it really encouraged us, because when you feel you are in a group and are all together, you feel brave. But when you feel like it's just me, and I'm alone, you don't feel brave enough to do anything.

GRILLOT: Yeah, how do you make a revolution one person at a time? That's what this tool is really helpful for. Those of us who were watching from a distance - watching the Arab Spring and your revolution in Egypt - we kind of marveled at the fact that women were playing such a significant role in the protesting and in the organizing. In fact, some of the images we saw - very quickly going from multiple men in the square, to men and women, and children in the square - so what are your thoughts about the ways in which women participated in this very public event in an Arab country?

SHOKR: Well, for me, it really surprised me. There were many women in the streets all the time during the revolution, which was really dangerous. It wasn't very safe to go out and demonstrate and protest, but I really like it for more than one reason. The most important reason for me is that now women think, no, they believe, that women can have a great role in change. Women are not a special case, that they can't make a change, because when we started, or when we decided to demonstrate and make a massive, or a great change, it was women and men at the same time, and we all had the same role. So, yeah, women believe in themselves more now. Men believe in women more now, and it denies the idea of a male-dominated society.

CRUISE: So we all watched this going on over here, and it's been now about a year and a half, so what's the situation in Egypt now? We've heard some concerns, and I'm wondering what role the activists of the revolution can continue to play to ensure that Egypt moves forward towards democracy. What concerns do you have, or hopes do you have for Egypt moving forward?

SHOKR: Well, for me, the roles activist should keep doing even after the revolution is enlightenment. When those young people went on the streets, and started to demonstrate and protest, they didn't have political aims. They just wanted freedom, justice, equality, and democracy. So what they can do now, and what they're really doing now, is to keep sharing information and keep discussing what is going on, and keep talking, and expressing our ideas to make sure that people know what's good for Egypt. Like I have said before, when the revolution started some people started to persuade Egyptians that revolution is not the best thing. The enlightenment role, sharing the information really helped to deny this idea and bring up the idea that revolution is the best. So, keep enlightening people and keep sharing information and discussing everything together, I think this a great role we should keep. Even if it seems like a small role...

CRUISE: You have to keep active in this revolution, it's an ongoing process.

SHOKR: Yeah, it's an ongoing process. It didn't end.

GRILLOT: Do you think Egypt will ultimately solidify as a democratic country?

SHOKR: Well, I believe it will, but you can't create democracy in one day. Mubarak was deposed in one day, but now we have a situation where at that time, we didn't have a president, and we wanted to turn to democracy. I believe we are moving forward toward our aim.

GRILLOT: And for the region too, the Middle Eastern region would you think that? I mean, we aren't likely to see one form of democracy in the region any more than we see necessarily one form of democracy around the world, as you've mentioned. So what are your thoughts about the entire region? It's not just Egypt that has been affected by the Arab Spring; it's across the entire region. So what are your thoughts and hopes for the Middle East?

SHOKR: Well, my hope is to reach democracy and justice and freedom because we deserve it. People in the Middle East really deserve it. But what I see, and what is happening, I think we have many obstacles in our way to reach democracy and freedom and justice. So just by working on getting over, or moving on, I believe we can reach democracy. But if we feel disappointed and start to decide no, it's not going to work. We're not going to see democracy there; I think we will lose our revolution.

GRILLOT: Well Fatema, thank you so much for being with us on World Views today.

SHOKR: Oh my gosh, thank you!

Copyright © 2012 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.



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