The momentous events sweeping the Arab world since late 2010 raise important questions about the art and science of analyzing political and societal events. In an age of information surplus, which creates the illusion that one can easily know what is happening anywhere in the world, big surprises still occur. Societies change, governments make choices that have consequences, and the political life of a country or a region is transformed.
For analysts in and out of governments, the upheaval in the Middle East lends itself to reflections about how regional experts with deep knowledge of the Middle East and those who use distinct political science or other methodologies to understand processes of change, fared in their assessments of the likelihood of change.
In early 2011, the Stimson Center invited a group of experts who represented distinct non-governmental institutional perspectives to look back on the work of these sectors and evaluate how they looked at prospects for change in the Middle East. The sectors included: university scholars and international organizations, think tanks, democracy and human rights non-governmental organization (NGOs), journalists, social media, and private business. The result was Seismic Shift.