Will London Olympics influence Arab Spring?

If you check this article it is about athletes who were part of of the Arab Spring and will attend the London Olympics.

Question:

The Arab spring is still evolving, some countries are in the process of transition and the future is uncertain.  It is hardly an important factor, but would you say that the successes of athletes can somehow inspire the societies in the MENA region, or who can inspire them?

Answers:

Jeffrey VanDenBerg, Associate Professor of Political Science, Drury University

It is hard to know the possible political or social effects of athletes from the Arab Spring participating in the Olympics. Certainly they are a source of tremendous national pride, and this pride has blossomed in many Arab countries during and since the uprisings.  So, yes, these athletes will surely inspire societies in the MENA, but toward what political and social ends is unclear.  If some of the athletes perform particularly well, and use their successes as a platform to communicate explicitly political messages (for example, exhorting their countrymen to continue to push for democratic reforms), then their influence could be significant. As the case of Tunisia shows, once the dictator is removed, it is harder to maintain social momentum for the less dramatic (but absolutely essential) work of building democratic institutions, rule of law, and a democratic political culture. In  this way, social mobilization, inspired by athletes or others, is important to ensure the democratic transitions take root.

Wayne White, Policy Expert, Washington’s Middle East Policy Council

Team sports especially are major national passions in most all Arab countries–particularly, of course, with respect to football (American soccer). Some of the countries affected by the Arab Spring do not appear to be participating in football at the London Summer Games. A significant exception is Egypt, for example, and Egyptians will follow their team’s fortunes avidly, and successes would be an exciting and at least temporarily unifying factor. Many of the sports involving single contestants will not have nearly that sort of national appeal. Some, in fact, could be divisive, such as women’s wrestling in countries that already have transitioned to a new and more Islamist government, such as in Tunisia. Moreover, in some instances, as with Libya, participation this year appears to be rather limited, which is unfortunate in light of the lack of post-Qadhafi unity. Finally, in the case of Syria, where in many cases the participants would likely be viewed as being associated with the highly unpopular Assad regime that is in the midst of unusually brutal suppression of its reformist opposition, the London Olympics will have very little impact on the distressing internal scene.

Individual sports would not be nearly as closely followed (with the possible exception of male track and field competitions); the attention more likely would come after medals were won in those individual cases. And it goes without say, that the reverse of what I said about Syria will be true in all those countries with new governments: greater pride in athletic achievement because it would be less tainted by association with an authoritarian regime. Egypt, however, in that context, is a bit of a tougher call because, aside from Morsi’s election, what many Egyptians now view as a Mubarak-like military junta still holds sway over Egyptian politics, and the economic situation in the country has continue to deteriorate.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Research Fellow, Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science

People across the world are inspired by sporting successes and by sporting heroes who can transcend political, social, and cultural boundaries. The Olympic Games hold a place in the popular imagination like no other sporting event, and millions of sports fans throughout the Middle East and North Africa will be eagerly following the fortunes of their sports men and women. Their successes can provide moments of great happiness and even hope to a region beset by upheaval and unsure of the transition to come. For countries like Libya, the sight of the team walking into the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony under the flag of the new, free Libya will be inspirational, and allow for a moment of quiet pride in their overthrow of dictatorship.

Andrea TetiLecturer, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen

I think for those who never identified with their respective regimes there will be a baseline of personal and national pride that they represent peoples who have or are trying to rid themselves of the yoke of oppression. Within that, there will of course be the same range of concerns about post-uprising politics as with the general population: some will be sceptical of the new regimes, others more sceptical of the alternative. So the answer will be different from case to case, country to country and individual to individual – as the processes of protest were/are. Perhaps one can generalise that in those countries like Tunisia and Yemen – where there is a transition process, however flawed – athletes are more likely to feel they are riding a wave of euphoria. For others, particularly female athletes from the Gulf, there must be mixed feelings of pride for being their countries’ first female representatives, and perhaps concern that such a claim could be used to paper over the harsh repression of protest movements.

Then of course there are the athletes who aren’t at the Olympics at all, such as those Bahraini competitors who were arrested and often tortured as a result of their participation in or support for their country’s uprisings. Despite the Olympics Charter’s commitment to sport as a human right, there have always been participating countries whose regimes are notorious violators of those rights – but perhaps this time there is added poignancy given the fact that countries like Bahrain or Syria have been allowed to participate while some athletes and their languish in jail, or are being tortured or killed for ‘crimes’ of conscience.

James Denselow, Writer on Middle East politics and security issues

The Iraqi football side showed that sport can act as a unifying force that can bring fractured societies together.

While the exclusion of senior Syrian Olympic officials is a reminder of their country’s exclusion from the international community, newly democratic countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia can use the games as a source of new found national pride.

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