Article published on March 15, 2012.
If journalism is the first draft of history, then what does that make news media forms like liveblogging and microblogging? The first draft of journalism, perhaps? The Arab Spring is an edited selection of the material that appeared on the Guardian’s website during the course of the momentous events unfolding in the Middle East and North African during the course of 2011: revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, NATO military intervention to protect civilians from the wrath of Colonel Gaddafi, democracy protests in Bahrain, virtual civil war in Yemen – and of course the birth of the current unrest in Syria.
The coverage is breathless, a reflection of the bewildering speed with which events were capable of moving during that period. The first, larger section is a mixture of reports from journos on the ground, Tweets, reports from newswires and TV stations – and it does an effective job of conveying the effect that this speed had on the ability of the media to track developments across the region. The second, smaller section of the book features a selection of Guardian op-ed pieces written during the course of the year.
While the book does to some extent recreate the rapidity with which established regimes fell, and the price that was paid in human blood, the contemporaneous nature of the writing may leave readers hungry for more insight and analysis – and of course, knowledge of current events will also colour the reader’s view. In the case of Syria, the ghastly nature of the ongoing oppression there makes the events described in the book seem like harbingers of doom (as I write, the bodies of two Western journalists have just been handed over to diplomats and there are reports of Syrian forces burning corpses in Homs). I am struck by the superficial similarities between the situation in Libya, that prompted Western intervention, and the far worse status of Syria now, where the political will of the international community has so far failed to find a useful expression.
An interesting book, up to a point, but like many first drafts, its value may be mainly to a relatively narrow audience – because what we’re really interested in is the end result, and that’s not yet in sight.