Somewhat over a year ago, I sat in a conference with some of the premier talking heads of the day discussing possible futures for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and in particular how a handful of potential leadership successions might play out. At that time, I asked point-blank what the likelihood was of a “color-like” revolution scenario, with large-scale, (mostly) peaceful pro-democracy movements mobilizing to topple their autocratic regimes. To a man (and they were all men, though I’m not sure if that’s relevant), the heads dismissed the possibility as fantasy or wishful thinking. “Not a chance” I was assured.

I felt at the time that they were giving short shrift to the possibility, and a year plus later, I’m still left scratching my head that somehow “nobody saw this coming,” when for decades experts following the region and the issues had been pointing to the long-standing structural problems and saying “any day now.” Somewhere between “any day now” and “not a chance” lies a vast, grey landscape full of assumptions and unasked questions.

In remembering that day, I am reminded of the importance for academics, analysts, policymakers, and just about anyone to thoroughly interrogate their assumptions and to ask “what ifs.” That some of the biggest thinkers failed to see even the possibility, dared not even ask the questions necessary to critically address their subject, is inexcusable.

I will attempt to do just that in this blog. My writing won’t always be polished, my thoughts won’t always be profound, my proffered explanations won’t always prove correct, but I will strive all the same to ask every question I can and to follow that reasoning through to its end.

It is for this reason that AbuShenib speaks.