An Arab Spring That Wasn’t

by Joshua Foust on 5/27/2011 · 2 comments

Puzzling story in Time about the mild protests in Georgia over the last week:

An Uprising in the Caucasus, but No Arab Spring in Georgia

By Thursday afternoon, it was hard to recognize the voice of Nino Burjanadze, the Georgian opposition leader, who normally speaks as though she has a bullhorn built into her throat. The night before, she had led a street protest meant to overthrow President Mikheil Saakashvili, her former ally turned political nemesis. But riot police had moved in with tear gas and rubber bullets, beating scores of people and arresting hundreds, and the would-be revolution failed. Holed up in her office the next day, Burjanadze fielded calls and waited for the police to knock on the door. “There’s practically no one here,” she said in an exhausted whisper. “Everyone has already been arrested.”

Mind you, this “uprising” consisted of a few thousand protesters in the streets of Batumi and Tblisi over a few days—hardly earth-shattering, especially when compared with actual crisis events like the 2007 riots, or the two months of protests in 2009. I daresay Simon Schuster is massively inflating the importance of these protests. And what’s with the comparison to the Arab Spring? That’s stupid. Georgians are not Arabs, and to even weakly imply they’re related is stupid.

This Nino Burjanadze figure is fascinating, though. After Eduard Shevardnadze was ousted in the original Arab Spring Uprising Against Tyranny—in 2003 before everything on the planet was a reflection of Tahrir Square but was instead a “color” revolution—Mrs. Burjanadze briefly took over the Presidency (Shevardnadze was her mentor), then fell into line under Saakashvili once he won the followup election. Since the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, she’s become an increasingly vocal critic of Saakashvili’s regime, often siding with Moscow against Tblisi to critique her government.

Now that in and of itself is not a sign of anything beyond her position within Georgian politics and her seeming ideological fluidity in trying to remain important and influential. And siding with Russia can be controversial for a prominent Georgian figure, which might explain why Saakashvili has fallen back on his old habit of declaring everyone he dislikes as working for the KGB.

Mrs. Burjanadze was able to get, at the most, 5,000 or so people into the street. While that’s probably newsworthy, it’s hardly an uprising. In 2009 Georgians were protesting in such numbers and over such a period of time that I wondered if the international community was developing revolution fatigue. The most recent round of protests do not even hold a candle in the wind to the 2009 riots, or the 2003 movement that toppled Shevardnadze.

Imagine if, every time the Tea Party in the U.S. held a protest, foreign journalists referenced the Arab Spring and wondered if an “uprising” was being quashed by the time it fizzled out. Not only would there be a lot of laughter—imagine the faces of Tea Party activists being compared to Muslim Arabs!—everyone would, rightly, see such a portrayal as stupid. In 2002 and 2003, literally millions of people took the streets of Washington, DC and London to express their opposition to the pending war in Iraq and to demand the resignation of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. No one serious called those uprisings or wondered about the stability of the regimes (or the well being of the protest leaders).

Georgia, however, is different. There, a 2,000 person march—which probably can’t even be heard a block or two away, much less affect the government—represents an UPRISING JUST LIKE THE ARAB SPRING. Give me a break, Time, and please—quit insulting us with your terrible coverage.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 2 comments }

Josh Shahryar May 27, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Good call. Also, notice how the three main color revolutions have backtraced? First the Orange, then, the Tulip and now the Rose is having some issues?

The Student May 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I think it’s part of a media obsession with presenting a “narrative.” The various Middle Eastern revolutions practically wrote their own narrative, so news organizations jump on anything (like a 5,000-person protest in Georgia) that they can tenuously connect to the revolutionary narrative. What’s better than an Arab Spring? A world-wide spring!

Also, your Tea Party analogy is quite funny because I remember at least one or two idiots in US cable news comparing the protests in the Middle East to the Tea Party protests. I wish I could remember who, but I remember Jon Stewart blasting them for the comparison.

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