Two years ago, the West thought it recognised what was happening in the Arab world: people wanted democracy, and were having revolutions to make that point. Now, recent events in Egypt have left many open-mouthed. Why should the generals be welcomed back? Why should the same crowds who gathered in Tahrir Square to protest against the old regime reconvene to cheer the deposing of their elected president? Could it be that the Arab Spring was about something else entirely?
I believe so. The Arab Spring was a massive economic protest: a demand that the poor should have the basic rights to buy, sell and make their way in the world. I have the nerve to say this because just after the death of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit seller who started the Arab Spring by setting himself ablaze, my researchers spent 20 months in the region to find out more.