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Quest for Rule of Law Motivates Arab Uprisings, Says Former New York Times Bureau Chief

April 7, 2011

The uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East have put many autocratic Arab governments in the unusual position of fearing their people rather than instilling fear in them, a former New York Times foreign bureau chief told a Vermont Law School audience on April 6.


Protest movements in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia and other Arab nations "have opened a Pandora's box of dreams" for millions of people fed up with government oppression, said Christopher Wren, who reported from around the world for nearly 30 years for the Times. "They may be sleeping in different beds, but they're dreaming the same dreams."

Wren, whose talk was titled "Rule of Law and the Arab Revolt: A Journalist's Perspective" said those dreams are based on a desire for dignity, jobs, democratic reform and an end to corruption. "These spontaneous uprisings have been prompted by popular demands for free elections, fair employment, term limits for rulers, the dismantling of institutional corruption and the ousting of brutal officials," he said. "Such reforms would hardly ruffle the West, but they are toppling Arab regimes and recasting the face of the Middle East and North Africa."Image of Egypt uprising

Wren was the Times' bureau chief in Cairo from 1977 to 1980. He also headed the Times' bureaus in Moscow, Beijing, Ottawa and Johannesburg and later covered the United Nations. He reported from throughout the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, China, Africa, South America and Canada.

Wren, who last visited Egypt six months ago, cited technology's role in the Arab uprisings. He said the Al-Jezeera TV network's reporting and protestors' Twitter and Facebook postings and cell phone videos gave instant communication for the world to witness.

How the uprisings will play out remains uncertain, but Wren said Arab youth, who make up a growing percentage of the population in the Middle East and North Africa, likely will no longer accept authoritarian rule. "They are motivated neither by Islamist or Marxist ideologies, but by aspiration for the rule of law they see in the West," he said "Yet the triumph of rule of law is far from assured."

Wren is on the advisory board of VLS's International and Comparative Law Programs and his son, Christopher Wren '99, is a litigator in New York.

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