Good Reads: When to shelve 'Arab Spring' jargon, and China's 'little emperors'

With so many North African rebellions falling short of their goals, has the term 'Arab Spring' lost its usefulness? And since when did China's young people become obsessed with 'lifestyle' issues?

By , Staff Writer

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    Protesters gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Nov. 28. Shaking off years of political apathy, Egyptians on Monday began voting in their nation's first parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak's ouster, a giant step toward what many in the country hope will be a democratic Egypt after decades of dictatorship.
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One of the services that newspapers still provide is in telling readers when the conventional wisdom they take for granted is wrong. Today’s Good Reads focuses on a number of stories that challenge an educated reader's conventional notions about everything from the “Arab Spring” to the intimidating work ethic of today’s Chinese youth.

As Egyptians vote today in their first parliamentary elections since the Arab Spring movement, there are calls to finally shelve that shorthand phrase, “Arab Spring.”

The objection is not merely about calendars. Yes, it is November, a month generally associated with autumn in the northern hemisphere. The real problem with Arab Spring, according to some analysts, is that it suggests that the task of revolution is complete, finished, khallas. And as Foreign Policy’s David J. Rothkopf and the Monitor’s Dan Murphy point out, the collection of street rebellions that sparked across North Africa is only in the beginning phases of transforming their societies from autocracies controlled by corrupt elites. Even calling them the “2011 Rebellions” might be wildly optimistic.

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IN PICTURES: Tahrir Square clashes

Mr. Rothkopf puts it well here:

In every place, entrenched elites squirm and dig in their heels and try to cling to the privileges and the economic bounties they have controlled for so many decades.

It's no longer Spring, nor is it even Summer any more. And while the reforms sought by brave protesters throughout the region hold the promise of rebirth that made the term Arab Spring so apt, this torturous process will clearly go on not just through the Winter to come, but for years and years. To expect otherwise is to be unrealistic. To hope for the swift transformations that came to Eastern Europe two decades ago will only bring disappointment.

So while there is no question that Very Big Men were swept from power in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and that some Very Big Men are quaking in their Florsheims in Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and even in Syria, the overall structure of power throughout the Middle East has largely remained the same. Democracy is not a spring fashion; it’s a lifetime of duties and responsibilities and occasional pleasures.

Another piece of conventional wisdom that appears to be grossly simplified is that China is set to take over the world, relying on state-run industries and the hard-working and obedient population to push older, flabbier, and richer nations out of business. Frankly, the older, flabbier countries are doing a pretty good job of doing that themselves, and as the Monitor’s Peter Ford writes, many of today’s younger generation in China are not as willing to put aside their personal aspirations for the good of the group as their parents were.

Some are even contemplating “naked resignation,” which means quitting one’s job without having the security of another job already lined up.

“Such a casual attitude to the workplace would have been unthinkable in China just five years ago,” Ford writes. But now, there’s a generational shift of mindset among those aged 25 to 35, who have confidence and financial security and an aversion to being told what to do.

"These 'little emperors' live for themselves," Mr. Hong adds, using the familiar epithet for products of China's one-child policy. "They find it hard to bow to the demands of the group" and are less willing to put up with a job they don't like just because they are supposed to.

Less noticed by news organizations are the presidential and parliamentary elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have begun today notwithstanding bouts of violence and logistical challenges. Despite being home to a war in the late 1990s that may have killed as many as 5 million people, and despite being the source of incredible mineral wealth, Congo just doesn’t get the press attention that North Africa and other hotspots get.

But keep a watchful eye on this election, because Congo’s future is directly tied up with peace throughout central and southern Africa. The BBC, Al Jazeera, The New York Times, and a few other organizations have staff correspondents there, and the Monitor will be covering this election and the results, which are expected to be announced several weeks later. 

Click here to read today's Monitor report on why so much is at stake as Congo goes to the polls.

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