With the Qadhafi regime dissolving in Tripoli and the revolutionary forces ready to take over the country, I keep thinking about a conversation I had in Istanbul six months ago that I think exemplifies the problem of Middle East “experts” these days.
I was just back from the uprising in Cairo and high on revolutionary fervor, but I was planning on staying in Turkey indefinitely and needed a way to make money besides flailing around trying to do freelance journalism about a country I don’t know very well at a time when everyone’s attention was focused elsewhere.
I swallowed my pride and applied for a position as a “researcher” at a company that writes reports on countries in the Global South to help capitalists in the Global North decide where to invest. (There are, for some reason, a number of firms that do this kind of research in Istanbul and I won’t name which I applied to.) With my experience in Egypt, I was going to work on their North Africa desk.
I went in for an interview with the head of their Africa division. I told him my thoughts on Egypt and Tunisia (whatever my thoughts were at that point…) and then the conversation turned to Libya. I believe that this was on February 19, two days after the protests started in Benghazi. Protests were also heating up in Bahrain and Yemen. I told this person interviewing me that I didn’t know much about Libya, but I questioned the Qadhafi regime’s stability and I thought that the revolutions were spread.
“No,” the Africa expert said. “Benghazi flares up like this every once in a while and then it gets quieted down. People’s investments in Libya are safe.”
Six months later, crazy Qadhafi is almost gone, added to the (I hope growing) list of Arab dictators whose time has finally come in 2011. Many people in the business of making predictions, the “experts” on whom so many businesspeople and journalists and politicians rely, are, or at least should be, kicking themselves for their inability to see the fundamental instability of the Arab dictatorship model.
I hope that the same guy is now telling people how safe their money is in Syria.