Analysis of Popular Unrest and Political Outcomes: The Political and Socio-Economic Origins of the Arab Spring
The Arab uprisings of 2011 constituted a major shift in the power relations between elites and ordinary citizens in the Middle East and North African Arab (MENA) countries. For decades, the authoritarian regimes in the region have managed to subdue dissident voices through repression with the help of massive security apparatuses. Despite prior awareness of the economic difficulties, oppression, and social cleavages in the region, most analysts and world leaders were surprised by the fragility of the status quo exposed by the popular revolts. The approaches to studying the origins of the upheaval so far differ considerably. They range from a focus on a single explanatory factor, such as inflationary food prices or the countries’ dictatorial systems, to more complex solutions typically represented by state fragility and conflict-tracking indices. However, not all MENA countries experienced the same level of social upheaval, nor did all of the regimes respond in a uniform fashion.
The objective of this paper is to identify the common underlying factors that impacted the countries of the region through varying degrees of development that contributed to different expressions of unrest. The paper analyzes the differences in the levels of collective political violence (CPV) in fifteen MENA states and proposes a methodology to statistically assess the underlying causal power of different political and socio-economic factors. Some aspects of the study, such as establishing the CPV levels and measuring the ethnic/ sectarian tensions, are developed through qualitative analysis while the approach to establishing the impact of the socio-economic factors is largely quantitative. The study proposes a trinomial probabilistic model for the forecasting of CPV and adopts ‘maximum likelihood’ regression to fit explanatory variables, which is considerably more powerful than the more traditional method of correlation. Although maximum likelihood is a well-known methodology, its use in the context of studying social unrest is novel.
The paper concludes that the underpinnings of the social upheaval in the MENA countries cannot be attributed to a single factor, but is rather a result of the interrelation between political, socio-economic, and demographic issues. The study identifies a selection of six factors, namely, the level of democracy, years of leader in power as a proxy measure of political corruption, gross domestic product per capita at purchasing power parity, unemployment rates, percent of population younger than 25, and ethnic-sectarian tension that collectively best explain the observed CPV levels in the MENA states. Using maximum likelihood, the paper also tests some of the better known indices such as the Fund for Peace’s Failed State index, Freedom House’s Political Rights and Civil Liberties indices, and The Economist’s Shoe Thrower’s index, among others. The composite selection of the six factors listed above outperformed all these indices.
What History Explains: The Arab World at the Intersection of the National and Transnational
Since the mid-twentieth century, all Arab states came to share similar characteristics, and over the course of the past two decades they all have faced similar shocks that made them vulnerable to popular anger. At the same time, local variation in national histories, state structures, and state capabilities in the Arab world have both opened up possibilities and foreclosed options for the uprisings that have broken out there. This paper will explore the transnational inputs and national outcomes of those uprisings.
In my forthcoming book, The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, January 2012), I identify four transnational characteristics and experiences that have provided the context for the current uprisings. First, there was the imposition of neo-liberal economic policies throughout the Arab world, which forced states in the region to back away from the comparable six-decade-old ruling bargains all had made with their populations. Second, there was demography, specifically the “youth bulge,” which generated a large cohort of young people holding grievances against failed political and economic systems. Under the proper circumstances, this cohort was available to be mobilized for oppositional politics. Third, there was the shock to the international food supply chain. Since the Arab Middle East is more dependent on aggregate food imports than any other region in the world, the spike in world food prices since 2008 left much of the Arab population vulnerable. Finally, there was the brittleness of regimes in the region. As opposed to other states throughout the world that have come under pressure since the onset of the 2008 financial crisis, the lack of representative institutions in the states of the Arab world forced populations to take to the streets as their first option.
In the main, the uprisings that have broken out so far might be placed into four clusters: The first cluster consists of Tunisia and Egypt, states which are unique to the region because they experienced two centuries of state-building. Thus, they had functioning institutions autonomous from the government’s executive branch. Most important, there was a functioning military in each which could step in under crisis conditions. The second cluster of states experiencing uprisings includes Yemen and Libya, weak states in which, when subjected to pressure, regimes and their institutions fragmented. It is for this reason that the uprisings necessarily became violent and drawn out—although the uprisings in these states have the most likelihood of leading to real revolutionary change. The third cluster includes Algeria, Syria, and Bahrain, where regimes could not but maintain their cohesion against the uprisings and where regime fragmentation is unlikely. Finally, there are the seven remaining monarchies, whose uprisings have been more limited in scope and where protesters have demanded reform of the system, not the overthrow of the nizam.
This paper will draw from my forthcoming book, new research, and the historical analysis contained in my The Modern Middle East: A History (Oxford University Press, 2004, 2007, 2011). It will fit into the “Explanations,” “Protest Dynamics,” “Cross-National Perspectives,” and, perhaps, the “Future” panels.
The Egyptian Revolution and the Rise of ‘Islamist’ Youth as a Subculture
The presentation attempts to offer a fresh perspective on the rise of youth, notably Islamist youth, as a subculture within the 25 January Revolution in Egypt. I thereby argue that the rise of Islamist youth could represent both counter-hegemonic ideologies against the authoritarian Mubarak regime on the macro state level in tandem with counter-hegemonic ideologies against the strict as-sam3 w-aTTaa3a principle (i.e. obedience) on the micro organizational level. In their resistance to the two afore-mentioned protective hegemonic overarching structures, Islamist youth have found common grounds with other Egyptian youth, which has translated into the first Youth Coalition.
To this end, I will use a combination of two theoretical models, where I will first deploy Antonio Gramsci’s notion of ‘counterhegemony’ or ‘war of position’, which refers to the cultural struggle between civil society represented by Islamist movements in this case and political society represented by the regime. Islamist movements in Egypt were generally banned and often harassed. As an opposition group, and in their bid for power, these movements have thus strived to build an alternative hegemony through their grassroots access, such that the regime though politically dominant has gradually lost its cultural hegemony.
But while Islamist leaders have been building up counter-hegemonic ideologies against secular rulers, they have in fact been inadvertently nourishing those counter-hegemonic ideologies within their youth against the organizational patriarchy itself anchored on the traditionalized ‘obedience’ rule. With the 25 January Revolution, the time was ripe for Islamist youth counter-hegemonic acts to surface in contestation of both political and organizational patriarchy facades. A considerable number of MB youth decided to participate in the revolution on an individual basis rather than as representatives of the MB when the leadership decided to abstain from participation as a group. In the same vein, a number of Salafi youth have decided to take part in the revolution deviant from Salafi general goals that eschew political participation and envisage revolution as sinful. The same applies to some youth members of aj-jama’a al-Islamiyya. Those very activists have later created parties of their own, as At-Tayar Ar-ra’iisiyy Al-Misri (Egyptian Main Trend) established by the MB youth conveying a massive blow to the group’s Freedom and Justice party; or have further marginalized the older generation’s figures as what has happened with the Deputy founder of Aj-jamaa’a al-Islamiyya, leading to his resignation. Aspiring for creating a form of representation for themselves, a large number of those young activists have rallied to form the so-called ‘Revolution’s Youth Coalition’ comprising at least 14 representatives from diverse groups as 6 April Movement and Muslim Brotherhood youth, Kifaya, Copts youth, in addition, to internet bloggers and Internet users.
Apparently, the converging orientations of Islamist youth and other youth could be explained using Mannheim’s generational unit model as introduced in his classical essay entitled “The Problem of Generations”. Within Mannheim’s model, a bond between sub generational units within the same generation could link separate individuals together. In this context, Islamists youth have established linkages with other youths through their sharing socio-economic circumstances, concerns and their common lingua franca; namely, cyberspace.
Mapping the Revolutions: Locating the Arab Spring in Current Protest Trends
Contentious politics and political protests is possibly one of the fastest-growing literatures of the past twenty years. This is possibly due to a generation of scholars that has suggested new directions (see Della Porta and Tarrow among others). However, it is also due to the increasing amount of case studies that the current world situation is providing. From the “Singing Revolution” in the Baltic States to the color revolutions in the former USSR to the Arab Spring, contentious politics and street protests have been increasingly hitting the headlines in many world regions. Whilst it’s not possible to claim that such events are completely new authors have been exploring them from at least the 16th century the novel feature perhaps of protests in the late 20th and early 21st century is their focus. In contrast to movements targeting a given measure or policy, new contentious politics, especially in unfree states, seem to have a more radical feature and demand for a complete change in the political and social structures of a country. It is still possible to find policy led protests (for instance street protests opposing the rise of fuel prices in Myanmar in 2007) but there is an increasing tendency to engage in politics challenging the regime itself (e.g. Georgia 2003, Ukraine in 2004, Kyrgyzstan 2005). Most protest movements may fall between these two categories (against a policy or against politics) and their direction may depend on what strategy offers the optimal political opportunities. But we have been witnessing an increasing tendency to demand structural changes in a given context, rather than the rediscussion of a given political measure. In this respect, what has been labeled as the “Arab Spring” may be seen not only as a series of historic and unique events, but also, framed in a wider context, it can be seen as the follow-on to a long process.
This presentation locates itself in the growing debate on contentious politics and the Arab Spring but is distinguished by two interpretative frameworks. First, it adds a spatiotemporal (global) dimension to the analysis as it considers the events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA hereafter) as part of a major trend of protests that has been developing in several world regions during the past years. There has been research but not enough importance has been attached to the study of how the transnationalisation of actors (like a vibrant civil society), methods (the use of art to deliver a message) or policies (democracy promotion, targeting either bottom or top actors) created a sequel of events in different regions of the world. Likewise, in several cases the rhetoric of the ousted leaders, their surprised reaction and their attitude has a lot in common. In this respect the paper is concerned with the transnationalisation of movements and the global trend in the unfree world to engage in the wider debate on structure, agency and modularity of such events. Second, this presentation extends a theoretical framework that has been used in other world regions to MENA. Most relevant research has been concerned with either the agency of one single actor or, even more insistently, with elite politics; often confusing processes with results and thus not giving enough credit to a protest movement that had generated social change unless political change has followed. Accordingly, those countries that have been able to oust a political regime have been given sufficient attention whilst low or no attention was granted to extremely important cases that changed the social tissue of a state that may be visible in a few years, but producing no apparent political change. In contrast to this approach, we have been demonstrating the importance of protests that garnered sufficient attention in terms of our understanding of the global trends of political protests and yet they nonetheless generate social change. In our previous works on Eastern Europe and the former USSR (Ó Beacháin and Polese 2010, 2011) we have identified five main variables (regime, opposition, external forces, nonstate actors, population attitude) that can impact the force and intensity of political protests as well as their outcome. We have shown the importance of each of those variables to a protest action and its results in the former USSR. Further to that we have been exploring protests in South East Asia and we are now keen to add MENA to the picture. Methodologically, this paper is informed by a quantitative analysis, based on the five factors, of all the recent protests in MENA and other regions (postUSSR, SE Asia) but embedded in a qualitative analysis of the political and social context.
The Arab Revolts: Local, Regional and Global Catalysts and Consequences
The unfolding uprisings across the Arab world have been viewed through a regional prism. Political scientists in particular were predisposed to view the “Arab Spring” as a long overdue culmination of pent-up popular frustrations with corrupt and autocratic regimes. Such an exclusive focus on the democracy deficit long besetting political systems in the Arab world however begs the question of the particular historical moment of the outburst of 2011 and as such may not capture the full scope of the underlying dynamic. While political repression by praetorian states served as a crucial catalyst for massive street demonstrations, it is increasingly becoming apparent that drastic recent changes in the global economy may have kindled a politically and demographically charged situation. In its first segment, this paper thus attempts to draw the links between monetary and fiscal policies in the United States and Europe, the ensuing contagion of global inflation and its role in destabilizing certain Arab States, while curiously leaving others largely insulated from the wave of revolt. I argue that the likelihood of a revolution in any given Arab state must be weighed against a multiplicity of local and global factors, chief of which is the exposure of a critical mass of a vulnerable segment in a given society to price increases in essential commodities. While Gulf Rentier States – with the exception of a particularly bifurcated Bahrain – were thusfar were able to stave off major street protests with direct and indirect subsidies, even seasoned autocrats such as Mubarak in Egypt or Ben Ali in Tunisia – bereft of rentier revenue – were unable to withstand the popular pressures.
Finally, the paper examines to what degree the socio-economic imbalances which fomented the revolutions have aggravated religious sectarianism in individual states, thereby undermining the uprisings’ drive for civil rights, political accountability and social justice. The latter potentially negative fallout has particular pertinence for highly segmented and diverse states such as Syria and Lebanon. While Lebanon has thus far remained unusually placid amidst the brewing regional storm, the repercussions of political instability in Syria have been a cause of concern. The recent support for the Syrian regime expressed by Maronite Patriarch Rai has revived talk of “alliances of minorities”. In fact, each of the Lebanese confessions may see itself as an endangered minority, depending on the reference point. A similar defensive mentality of fear has set in amongst Syrian communities, threatening to eclipse the discourse of civil rights. Drawing on the examples of past historical compromises, I will examine the potential for inter-communal mediation and reconciliation as each government grapples with its particular, nation-specific challenges, the shifting (geo)political tectonic, intensifying sectarian sentiments in the region and global inflationary pressures.
Aiding the Revolution or the Status Quo? Reconsidering Western Aid for Democracy in the Middle East after the Arab Spring
The last year has seen tremendous change in the Middle East. Protests that began in Tunisia in December in 2010 have since swept through the region driven by citizens from all classes and fueled by long-standing economic, social, and political grievances, vis-à‐vis their respective regimes. Three entrenched authoritarian leaders have left power thus far with the possibility of more change in the coming year. While it is too premature to predict how substantive these changes will be to the political map of the Middle East, those already underway suggest a new path unfolding in the region. Scholars and policymakers credit several factors as instrumental in encouraging and sustaining protests in the region. Processes of diffusion, the influence of media outlets such as al-Jazeera, and social media technologies such as Facebook and Twitter, for example, have all been cited as critical in shaping the direction of protests in the region. The role of Western democracy promotion in aiding the uprisings in the Arab region remains a more contentious issue. The U.S. government and the European Union have devoted more than $2 billion toward democracy promotion in the region. Some scholars have questioned the connection between recent developments and the influence of aid, while others insist its value should not be entirely discounted. What role, if any, did Western democracy promotion efforts play in supporting uprisings in the region? If that role has been limited, how should efforts by the West to promote reform in the region by adjusted? Is examining the composition of such aid instructive in understanding its limitations?
This paper considers these questions through an examination of U.S. and EU democracy programs in the Middle East, with a particular focus on efforts in Egypt and Morocco. Analysis builds on previous work examining the political economy of U.S. aid in the region to consider the economic dimensions of aid given by Western governments. Conclusions drawn from that work found a donor preference to orient democracy aid programs in terms of their benefit to the economy. Aid fluctuated between using developmental and political approaches depending on donor relations with the host country and was often bound by a limited conception of development that excluded issues of equality and social justice. Informed by interviews with aid recipients and providers as well as activists and diplomats in the region since February 2011, I consider the impact of this orientation on aid effectiveness as an explanation for different reform trajectories taken by states and examine the extent to which the U.S. and the EU have since altered their aid strategies. Findings thus far suggest continuity in aid provision, as well as increased tension among intended recipients in the civil societies of states. Such dynamics raise important questions about the legitimacy, credibility and value of continued efforts in the region.
Free at Last? Fourth Estate Flourishes and Falters in the Arab Spring
This paper outlines the successes and failures of Arab media since the beginning of the uprisings in Tunisia in late 2010. In an extremely eventful year, significant changes have shaped the shifting discourses of media and opened new avenues for freedoms of speech and the press. Nevertheless, this has not come at no cost to both practitioners and media organizations. In addition to the markedly high cost of unhindered reporting, the independent media have also faced a resurgence of adaptable authoritarianism which seeks to exploit political, economic, and identitarian categories to create societal rifts that endanger the necessary climate for free media. The paper outlines the different and competing priorities of satellite vs. state vs. private media and the complications that ever-increasing internet penetration rates pose to monopolies on information. By looking at how occupational communities within the media have redefined their profession, the paper focuses on the craft of journalism during these times and analyzes how novel configurations are developing in response to the reconstitution of autocratic media control.
Using Twitter to Predict and Track Protest Diffusion in North Africa and the Middle East
In a New Yorker essay written just prior to the onset of the Arab Spring, Malcolm Gladwell famously proclaimed that “the revolution will not be tweeted.” Gladwell asserted that most of the people tweeting about the 2009 post-election protests in Iran were in the West. However, the data to support Gladwell’s claim is mainly anecdotal. Contrary to Gladwell, commentators point to the use of social media for political mobilization in very diverse settings, including the 2008 South Korean candlelight protests in opposition to the KORUS Free Trade Agreement, civil unrest in Moldova and Iran protesting election results in 2009, and more recently the spread of protests across North Africa and the Middle East. In this latter case, both commentators and protests organizers emphasize a growing reliance on Twitter and Facebook to mobilize demonstrations. If these claims are accurate, then it should be possible to detect the outbreak of a protest before it happens – as well as the diffusion of protests across the region – by monitoring the traffic and content of social media messages. Our paper seeks to test this hypothesis. More specifically, our paper examines the dynamics of networked online communications in driving the intra-state outbreak and inter-state diffusion of protest and revolutionary activity in the North African and Middle Eastern region.
To that end, we are using Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools developed at Cornell University as well as human experts to identify protest messages written in Arabic, English and French, whose appearance on Twitter may signal an impending mobilization by opponents of the regime. We have downloaded all the Twitter data for all MENA countries for the period of December 2010-April 2011. We use message content, network attributes and traffic volume in order to identify: 1) changes in the volume and location of protest messages as antecedents to collective action; 2) the overall impact of online communications on collective behavior; 3) the lag vs. lead time between changes in protest message volume on Twitter and the outbreak of protest activities, and 4) the flow of protest messages across activist networks, both within and between countries, in order to study the dynamics of protest communication in real-time and the effects of these messages in the expansion of movement participation. These steps allow us to address the basic question of whether Twitter messages anticipate or simply reflect what is happening offline. We show that Twitter is used as a mobilizing tool by activists, and that activists from one country communicate with and learn the methods of activists in other countries, with Egyptian activists being an important hub. We visually track the diffusion of calls for mobilization both within and between countries, and show that they lead rather than reflected events on the ground. Both of these factors – being able to predict, as well as to track protests diffusion – have intrinsic academic and policy relevance.
Acting Like a State: Media Centers as Informational Embassies of the Arab Spring
Whether in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, or Syria, international responses shaped the course of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Those responses depended on what information and perceptions foreign governments and publics had of the opposition movements involved in the uprisings. Early on, however, diplomats, legislators, and television audiences abroad struggled to understand the identity and motivation of the protesters and rebels who were confronting long-established Arab regimes. Questions like “Who are the Libyan rebels?”, “Is the Muslim Brotherhood behind the Tahrir Square protests?”, and “Is the Bahraini opposition controlled by Iran?” were commonplace in spring 2011. The process by which these questions were eventually answered had international policy implications that radically altered subsequent history. But how did such questions get answered in the first place? More broadly: In fluid political environments where mass movements are emerging de novo on the international stage, where there is little historical precedent by which to judge those movements, where knowledgeable outsiders are few, and where the movements themselves may lack clear spokespersons or leaders, what forces end up shaping international opinion about the movements? Moreover, how do opposition movements establish legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of influential international actors?
While a comprehensive answer is beyond the scope of one paper, I identify here an institution and a set of actors that were integral to the process of international opinion-formation: the opposition media centers and the young activists who staffed them. During five weeks between February and April 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring uprisings, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork and interviews at the opposition media centers in Pearl Roundabout in Manama, Bahrain and in the Courthouse Square in Benghazi, Libya. The thesis of this paper is that the media centers and their staffers — whom I call “young cosmopolitans” — played a significant role in legitimizing the uprisings to foreign journalists and, by extension, to the outside world. Much like embassies, the media centers served to channel the nascent opposition movements’ message to the world, while also demonstrating the movements’ organizational capacity and maturity. By offering English-speaking interview subjects with liberal worldviews, translators, guides, internet access, formal regimes of accreditation, and access to battlefields and protest areas, the media centers actually gave the opposition movements some of the formal trappings of a proto-state, enhancing the movements’ legitimacy. I present ethnographic material and interview excerpts from the media centers and elsewhere in Bahrain and Libya to make this case. The “young cosmopolitans” who staffed the media centers acted as brokers between the Arab Spring opposition movements and influential outsiders, particularly foreign journalists and NGO representatives. They were young, politically engaged, highly educated, English-speaking, upper-middle-class activists who mediated between domestic opposition movements and international media and NGOs. They helped the outside world come to view the Arab opposition movements as fundamentally rational, legitimate, competent, and coherent — despite the chaos and local complexity of the uprisings.
The Impact of the Arab Uprisings on Iranian Politics
A year after the Arab uprisings, the Iranian regime’s official reaction remains ambiguous and difficult to interpret for outsiders. Yet to the trained eye, the Iranian reaction is “differentiated.” (Farhi, CFR, 2011) As protestors took to the streets day after day, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenaei branded the unfolding protests as a wave of “Islamic awakening” across the region and declared the 1979 revolution as the main catalyst for the protests. The official Iranian media either ignores covering the Arab Spring particularly the on-going protests in Syria or condemns the Western powers specifically the United States for interfering in the affairs of Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. Immediately after the Egyptian Revolution, for the first time since 1979, Iran sent a battle ship cruising through the Red Sea. The Israelis watched the fleet pass through the Suez Canal in silence, while Iran boasted its naval dominance. Iran does not enjoy friendly relations with its Arab neighbors. Bahrain has repeatedly accused Iran of meddling in its internal affairs through instigating Shi’ite opposition in the Island kingdom where the Sunni minority hold key leadership positions. Meanwhile, the Iranian opposition at home and abroad hoped that the Arab uprising would alarm the regime. Moreover, optimistic analysts and pundits assumed that the Iranian opposition movement specifically the Green Movement could benefit from the support in the Arab World (Hashemi and Postel, 2010). Instead, the Islamic regime has maintained relentless pressure on opposition at home, while expressing fears that the U.S. and other Western powers may hijack the Arab Spring (Dareini, AP, 2011).
This paper places the Iranian reactions to the wave of protests in the context of its domestic politics, the U.S. foreign policy, and Iran’s geopolitical ambitions in the region. Based on field research, a thorough and objective analysis that encompasses the above-mentioned contexts reveals a clearer picture of the political climate within key centers of power including the Office of the Supreme Leader, the Parliament, and the security forces. Considering the importance of parliamentary elections in March 2012 to the Presidential elections of 2013, I will discuss the political cleavages and contingencies within the Parliament as this body has transformed greatly as a result of public disillusionment with Reformist ideology as represented by President Khatami and his administration earlier in this decade. One case in point indicates that the representation of Revolutionary Guard members in the Parliament doubled between elections of 2000 and 2008. The elected RG members pursue a radical foreign policy agenda, although there are significant differences among them especially on domestic issues. In addition to concerns about the fallout from the Arab uprisings, the widening U.S. sanctions against Iran, and the on-going standoff with the United States on the nuclear proliferation issue have contributed to the rise of conspiracy theories which the main bloc of conservatives (Ousulgrayan) in turn have exploited to purge and punish those who disagree with them (Boroujderdi and Rahimkhani, Tehran Bureau, 2011). As protests persist in Egypt and Syria, the fluidity of the situation renders the coming year particularly the parliamentary elections very crucial for Iran. Clearly, Iranians are still deciphering how these major regional changes will impact Iran’s regional interests as well as its domestic politics.
Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom: From the Jasmine Revolution to the Quiet Springs of ASEAN
This paper aims to address an oft-posed question in a post-Arab-uprisings world: Are the Middle East revolutions an event that is uniquely regional in character? This paper will argue that while there are socio-political specificities that have led to fall of certain political regimes in the Middle East, the uprisings could be collectively viewed as an event with global ramifications if we consider the example of parts of Southeast Asia. Recognizing that Asean is a region composed of myriad political systems, the paper will explore the implications of the Arab uprisings on Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, three founding members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations or Asean.
Following the fall of Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak regimes in 2011, the political elites of Southeast Asia are now finding themselves embroiled in a discursive battle for ‘civil liberty’ couched in the lingo of the Arab uprisings. This is most prevalent in Malaysia and Singapore, where pundits have appropriated the spirit of ‘people power’ inherent in the Tunisian idea of the ‘Jasmine revolution’ into the ‘Hibiscus’ and ‘Orchid’ revolutions respectively. Even before the fall of Tunisia, there were already signs in Malaysia, at least, that a quiet revolution was underway. On March 8, 2008, the Malaysian ruling party Barisan Nasional was denied its two-third parliamentary majority in Parliament. Singapore’s quiet revolution took place in the midst of the Arab uprisings. In its most recent general election this May, an opposition party made history by winning a Group Representation Constituency (GRC), an electoral division composed of several members instead of just one. However, the reactions in Indonesia have been less robust, due partly to its status as a nation that has undergone its own uprising and democratic transition following the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto in May 1998.
Based on a discursive study of reactions by pundits and politicians in three Asean countries, this paper will argue that the stark differences with regard to the reception of the Arab uprisings between Singapore/Malaysia and Indonesia reveal the relevance of the Arab uprisings as a sustained symbol in the rise of civil society as the new ‘fourth estate’ of democracy. The paper will also argue that the reception flows the other way. Early signs on the ground indicate that the post-uprising nations of the Middle East are also cozying up to Southeast Asia. Informed by interviews with members of the Muslim Brotherhood from a field study in Egypt, this paper will also explore how a new emerging political force is factoring Asean into its worldview.
Rothschild Corner of Tahrir – The Arab Spring and the Israeli #J14 Social Protest: Inspiration and Implications
“We promise you [Netanyahu] we will make you feel the heat, just like in Spain, In Madrid, and if you are not careful, we promise, just like Cairo…” These were the words that Daphni Leef, one of the leaders of the Israeli social protest it the summer of 2011, used for her first speech in the first mass demonstration on July 23rd in Tel Aviv. This protest had turned out to be the greatest social protest in Israeli History, with 87% public support at its peak, and about 500,000 (7% of the population) taking the streets at once on September 3rd.
With Israel being a key player in Middle East politics, shedding light on this protest, it’s sources of inspiration and social and political implications seems to be significant for our ability to assess Netanyahu’s government policy and its affectivity both domestically and internationally. Answering what enabled such extraordinary mobilization, this paper wishes to argue that it wasn’t only economic and civic discontent that pushed people to the streets, but that the movement, while undeniably pushing a leftist agenda of social justice, was, in its discourse and practices, in many ways a break off from what Israelis recognize as a typical “leftist” activity, which had been rejected in popular discourse for many years.
This paper will focus on the first phase of the protest (the “Tent Phase” from July 14th to September 7th, 2011) and will use discourse analysis to show how the protest was a break off from former practices, coalitions, and the existing political discourse and order in Israel. Specifically: How the protest, in its practices, openly drew, for the first time, both cultural and political inspiration from “The Enemy” – the Arab world; how it undermined and popularly rejected the hegemonic security discourse, even with population under fire; how it formed lasting coalitions and collaborations between social and political opponents: Jews and Muslims, secular and orthodox; how the protest refused to publically discuss Palestinian issues while at the same time rejecting West Bank settlers agenda and involvement in the movement; and how it expressed complete rejection of the entire political system, broke old categories of “left” and “right” and even took over some state functions such as social welfare, public housing and public transportation.
The data used for this project was gathered mainly from Israeli digital media: including mass media channels, independent blogs, websites and social networks, but also from short field research done in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in mid August 2011. Though at the time of writing many claim that the Israeli protest is in decline, giving way to unprecedented rising of non democratic and neo liberal forces, many of the practices formed, coalitions built, and discourse changes are consolidating and preparing for the next stage, thus marking what may end up as a long term profound change in the Israeli political system both domestically and internationally.
Resilience of Alawite ‘Asabiyya and Implications for the Syrian Uprising
This paper is based on findings from my PhD. thesis, ‘The Politics of Sectarian Insecurity. ’ In that study, which involved field work in Syria in 2009 and 2011, I applied a Khaldunian theoretical framework to an exploration of the relations between Syria’s Alawites and the Asad regime. It is argued that the main determining factor for the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of the uprising in Syria, which began March 15, 2011, is the sectarian insecurity of Alawites and to a lesser extent other sectarian minorities, including Christians, Druze and Ismailis. Paradoxically, despite the political importance of the Alawite community, they are not the ‘dominant,’ ruling minority that is often portrayed. The idea of a disproportionately privileged community does not equate with reality for the majority of Alawites who remain economically and socially disadvantaged. For most Alawites, therefore, their support to the Asad regime does not stem from material concerns. In theory, several factors prescribed by Ibn Khaldun indicate a decline of Alawite ‘asabiyya (solidarity in support of a dynasty) in the period since 2000. The proportion of Alawites who benefited from Asad rule declined markedly after 2000 and the distribution of wealth regressed into a small inner core around the regime. Also there emerged a sense among Alawites that Bashar al-Asad was moving towards the Sunni community and was ‘pushing his own group away.’ In this context, ‘Khaldunian’ symptoms of a weakening dynasty emerged. These included: an increasing reliance on external actors outside the rulers group; Bashar al-Asad, having inherited power, appeared not well equipped in the art of statecraft; the [re]emergence of “exaggerated harshness” by the regime; and the ‘corporatization of corruption,’ or as Ibn Khaldun wrote: “Commercial activity on the part of the ruler … harmful to his subjects…”
Despite downward pressures on Alawite ‘asabiyya the community stayed broadly loyal to the Asad regime, with the exception of a few liberal dissidents (i.e. Aref Dalila) and some senior members of the ‘old guard’ (i.e. Ghazi Kana’an). Unified Alawite support was crucial to the survival of the Asad regime as the ‘Arab uprisings’ swept into Syria in March 2011. The resilience of Alawite ‘asabiyya is explained by the community’s persistent anxiety about the danger of a revanchist Sunni majority; a paranoia that the Asad regime has actively promoted. The key to dissolving Alawite support for the Asad regime is to work towards easing sectarian insecurity. There are precedents for this, including the events of 1936 when Alawites opted to join with the nascent Syrian state. Overall, the case of the Alawites has wider application to questions of sectarianism, the establishment of effective political pluralism in the Middle East, and the role of minorities.
Power Sharing in Fragmented Societies: Lessons from Lebanon and Iraq for the “Arab Spring” in Syria and Bahrain
After two successful overthrows of authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, some of the following revolts of the Arab Spring slipped into bloody crackdowns or civil-wars, namely in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. The common denominator for these countries is their fragmented character and an imbalance in the distribution of power and resources due to ethnic-sectarian cleavages. This observation leads us to the following central questions:
1. What is the impact of ethnic cleavages on social, political and economic relations, and in how far are these splits responsible for the escalation of violence during the Arab Spring?
2. Are there opportunities for power sharing arrangements which may help to bridge these cleavages between ethnic communities?
Ethnic identity groups of ethnical, religious, sectarian or tribal origin are regarded as determinist by their members as well as by outsiders. They strongly influence the mutual perception and behavior of people and they are responsible for discrimination in the distribution of power, chances and resources. Nevertheless, ethnicity is not an essential static given but a social parameter which changes due to political and social circumstances and which may be changed by political action.
Four countries will be chosen for an in-depth analysis of ethnic fragmentation:
In Bahrain and Syria, sectarianism plays a mayor role in the escalation of conflict between the protest movements and the regimes who both try to manipulate it in their favor. Furthermore, a violent escalation would have far-reaching influence on their neighboring countries. Regime-change in Bahrain for the benefit of the majority Shia community would challenge other Gulf monarchies with Shia minorities like Saudi Arabia. Syria lies in the midst of a complex regional state power-relationship with a high vibrancy on the Israel-Palestine-conflict, on the Sunna-Shia divide as well as on the ethnic-sectarian equilibrium in Iraq and Lebanon.
Lebanon and Iraq are multi-ethnic states which have developed some kind of power-sharing arrangements between their communities after the experience of ethnic civil-war. Their example will be utilized in order to prove the pros and cons of power sharing agreements between ethnic communities.
There are three approaches in social science how to deal with fragmented societies:
1. Integrationist theories underscore the negative impact of any institutional guarantees for ethnic communities because this would undermine a unified national identity.
2. Consociationalists suggest institutions of proportional representation and a high level of autonomy for different communities in order to protect them from majority rule (Lehmbruch, Lijphart).
3. A centripetalist school postulates the necessity of state institutions which transcend ethnic competition and which advocate for shared institutions to bridge the differences (Horowitz).
The presentation will show the pros and cons of these theories with the example of Lebanon and Iraq and discuss lessons for a possible power-sharing in Syria and Bahrain.
Gender Parity and the Tunisian Elections
Dissident Tunisia: Mapping and Remapping the Tunisian Revolution
The undeniable geo-temporal differentials between living through an event and reconstructing it retrospectively as an epistemological object of knowledge are oftentimes complicated by the politics of remembering/amnesia, ideological constraints/concerns, and methodological limitations. For instance, approaches to the Tunisian revolution have initially been erratic but soon consolidated themselves around one master narrative at the center of which there is one triggering factor or symbol—Mohammad Bouazizi. This paper wants to argue that there is no master narrative of the Tunisian revolution and certainly not a theory of its origins that might explain adequately, let alone justifiably, what happened on January 14, 2011. I am interested in a multidimensional and multidirectional theory of the Tunisian revolution, but this paper will focus on one enduring aspect that I think has frequently been overlooked in the many recent analyses of and commentaries on the revolution whether in the media or in academic circles.
I believe there is a repository of critical dissent that has been sustained and consolidated by the insurgency of various cultural practices and the advent of secular modernity, not to mention the robust educational system that was put in place since independence. Of course, critique has not always been manifest or explicit even though some critics have quite explicitly opposed Bourguiba’s and Ben Ali’s regimes and paid a high price for doing so. Whoever studies Tunisian literature and culture since independence would not miss, however, the latent or indirect critique it carried and disseminated. Sociopolitical and cultural critique is there in cinema, in theater as well as in poetry and music. In the months leading up to the revolution, critique has become vocal, particularly on YouTube and Facebook which circulated, among other things, explosive hip hop videos that had instantaneous effects.
In addition to laying out the broad strokes of a multidirectional methodological approach to the Tunisian revolution, a large part of this paper will be devoted to an examination of the role of literature and culture as a vehicle of popular discontent against the regime before and after the revolution. Cultural insurgency from within the confines of censorship kept alive, I will argue, the critical repository on which the mass mobilization of Tunisians hinged in the aftermath of December 17, 2010. Bouazizi’s self-immolation mobilized mass protests of unparalleled scope and magnitude in the postcolonial history of Tunisia precisely because it occurred in a culture that has kept alive, latently or manifestly, political and critical dissent despite the tight grip of oppression and censorship. Ultimately, the paper will stress the emancipatory value and worldly valences of Tunisian/Arab literature and culture at a time when the Arab awakening has gone irreversibly and irremediably global.
From Tahrir Square to Dakhliyya Square – The Role of Identity in Shaping Jordanian Perceptions of and Reactions to the Arab Spring
This article combines insights from earlier academic assessments of the ongoing process of renegotiating and (re-)constructing Jordanian identities and from extensive fieldwork in spring and summer 2011 to shed light on the way central Jordanian political actors perceived and reacted to the Arab spring.
In early 2011, the Egyptian and Tunisian calls to fight corruption, unemployment and political repression unleashed a frenzied debate amongst Jordanians about the extent to which their country would follow the revolutionary path. The reinvigorated and forward-looking Arab nationalism sweeping the region from Rabat to Manama resembled the “contagion” effect which the comparative politics literature had used to describe regional waves of democratization in other parts of the world. Reflecting the increasing concern about the progressive and revolutionary potential of transnational identities, the Jordanian regime first tried to push an “apples and oranges”- theory according to which Jordan profoundly differed from Tunisia and/or Egypt in terms of its socio-economic development and political openness. Later, the regime and its allies skilfully employed the ongoing process of renegotiating Jordanian identity to delegitimize attempts to emulate the “Midan Tahrir” scenario. They did so by casting calls for political reform as attempts by Jordanians of Palestinian origin to take over power at the expense of the Transjordanian supporters of the regime. As such, political reform became entwined with narratives of sub-national differences which, from the point of the regime’s critics, firstly diverted attention from tackling serious political, economic and social concerns shared by broad sections of society irrespective of ethnic or other primordial differences and secondly, will become irrelevant in a thoroughly democratized political setting.
Theoretically, the study is situated in the border area between constructivist and liberal approaches to understanding (international) political decision-making. On the one hand, the paper follows constructivist insights by showing how identity shapes interests. In the case of Jordan, this encompasses the attempt to show how (supra-, sub-)national identities of political decision-makers, public opinion-makers and civil society activists have shaped their perceptions of the Arab Spring and their view of what kind of strategic choices Jordan’s political elites and civil society activists have available to them.
On the other hand, this paper is also open to views that see identities and their constructions as instruments of political actors. In the case of Jordan, this means showing how the Jordanian regime has tried to instrumentalize those notions of Jordanian national identity, supranational pan-Arab or pan-Islamic identities or sub-national Palestinian or Transjordanian identities that seemed most effective in muzzling calls for thorough political change and in safeguarding the stability of the regime.
Ultimately, the paper thus demonstrates how the (re-)construction of (sub-, supra-, national) identities can represent an important instrument in the arsenal of authoritarian elites interested in pre-empting genuine changes to the existing political order.
The Arab Uprising and Regional Alignments
What will be the consequences of the Arab Uprising (or intifadah) for the foreign policy alignments of MENA countries? Alignments are most likely to alter in states that experience regime change; however, this may also set off alterations in those of countries where regimes persist (which may have either supported embattled regimes or their opponents). The issue will be framed by the theoretical debate in IR over how far domestic change generates foreign policy change, with implications for alignments. The Arab intifada is generating change in domestic regimes and ruling coalitions; the identities of new ruling coalitions may differ, perceive different, perhaps reduced, enemies/threats and hence different allies. By contrast, structural theories believe that system level factors determine alignments and that domestic changes will not materially affect the place of states in systemic level structures, either their geopolitical or power position (for realists) or their incorporation as clients of great power “core” states (for dependencia-type structuralists). New regimes will quickly learn that their alliance options are not so different from that of their predecessors and will be “socialized” into the unchanging rules of international politics. The most that might change is that the weakening, strengthening or changing sides of some regimes could affect the regional balance of power and hence the threat perceptions that drive alignments.
In the light of these theoretical expectations, the paper will explore the following specific issues: 1) How will regime change shift the alignment preferences and choices of alignment makers? Regime change will result in more hybrid semi-competitive authoritarianism or semi-democratic regimes that are more responsive to public opinion as regards foreign policy. Business groups are likely to assume enhanced status with the weakening of statist establishments; Islamic movements will be best positioned to mobilize votes, especially the trans-state Muslim Brotherhood. In some cases post-uprising regimes will be targets of the competitive interference of outside powers seeking to shift the internal power balance in their favor. 2) What will be the effect at the regional level on the balance of power? At the inter-state level, the balance of power may be altered in favor of the monarchies, which have escaped regime change and are grouping in an expanded GCC. At the trans-national level, the influence of Arab-Islamic identity may be heightened by the likely enhanced influence of the trans-national Muslim Brotherhood and of salafi networks The intifadah’s tendency to exacerbate Shia vs Sunni sectarian identities, may deepen the pre-intifada Sunni-Shia cleavage but now, favoring Turkey and Saudi Arabia at the head of a broad Sunni alliance at the expense of Iran, particularly if Syria’s Asad falls. 3) What will be the effect of alignment alteration on US hegemony over the region? The US may gain because pro-US monarchies will be strengthened, friendly regimes that experience change (Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen) will not de-align with the US because their dependency on it is not lessened, while regimes resisting US hegemony (Syria, Libya, Iran) stand to be weakened or re-align toward Washington/the West where it supported regime opponents who come to power. However, a region more responsive to public opinion, with an enhanced Islamic identity, might, if under Turkish leadership, be more autonomous of the US.
The Turkish Experience in Constitution-Making: Relevance for the Arab World?
The paper deals with an analysis of the constitution-making experience in Turkey with particular attention to its possible relevance to Arab countries in the process of democratization. Paradoxically, Turkey, despite its more than sixty years of competitive multi-party politics, has not yet been able to consolidate its democracy, and lags behind in this respect newer Southern, Central, and Eastern European democracies. At present, it can be characterized only as an “electoral democracy,” still in search of a fully democratic constitution. The immediate cause of this situation is the authoritarian, tutelarist, and statist spirit of the current Constitution of 1982, which was the product of a military regime of the National Security Council (1980-1983) with almost no input from political parties and the civil society in general. Despite its 17 amendments since 1987, it is generally agreed that it has not been possible to completely liquidate this authoritarian legacy.
However, the causes of this failure go deeper in history. None of the republican constitutions of Turkey (those of 1924, 1961, and 1982) was made by a freely elected, fully representative constituent or legislative assembly through genuine negotiations and compromises. The first one was made by an essentially single-party assembly dominated by the Kemalists, and the military played a major (in the case of the 1982 Constitution a totally dominant) role in the making of the other two. Consequently, in the 1961 and 1982 constitution-making processes, the military were able to extract important “exit guarantees,” through which they continued to exercise tutelary powers over elected bodies. The constitutional amendments since then brought about a considerable degree of liberalization and democratization of the political system usually through inter-party negotiations and compromises, without however amounting to a complete liquidation of such tutelary controls. At present, Turkey is still in search for a fully democratic constitution through inter-party negotiations.
Compared to the Turkish experience, Tunisia and Egypt seem to have a more promising start, since their new constitutions will be made by freely elected representative constituent assemblies. In the case of Egypt, in particular, there appears the possibility of a conflict between the military authorities and the civilian political forces over the military’s demands for exit guarantees and tutelary powers. The Turkish experience suggests that if such powers are entrenched in the constitution, it may take a very long time to establish a normally functioning democracy.
Another point where the Turkish experience may be relevant to the Arab world is the difficulty of making a broadly-based inclusive constitution in a divided society. Turkey is such a society divided along center-periphery, laicist- religious conservative, ethnic (Turks versus Kurds), and sectarian (Sunnis versus Alevis) cleavages. The same is true for a number of Arab countries, notably, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Bahreyn. Experience shows that to reach a compromise on such deeply-felt identity questions is much more difficult than on, say, economic issues. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Turkish experience is that the present governing party, the AKP, which has had Islamist roots, has been transformed into a center-right conservative democratic party at peace with a secular system of government. The future of the democratization process in Arab countries depends, to a large degree, on the willingness and capacity of their Islamist parties to undergo a similar transformation. By the same token, the Turkish model of militant or “assertive” secularism, which is also at issue in Turkey itself, cannot be a model for Arab countries. The best possible scenario is the adoption of some version of liberal or “passive” secularism which does not preclude the public visibility of religion, in other words, the rise of a “Muslim democracy” as Vali Nasr puts it.
Unintended Consequences of the Arab Uprisings: The Rise of Xenophobia Against, and New Protection Concerns for, Asylum-seekers and Refugees in the Middle East
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) hosts millions of refugees and other displaced populations with its borders; over a million refugees live in Syria alone – a country that has seen an uprising of citizens against the Syrian government since January, 2011. In my paper I will present the Arab uprisings through the lens of asylum-seekers and refugees (non-citizen populations) within the borders of three countries currently pushing for political change: Syria, Egypt and Libya. The paper will first present the pre-revolution framework each country used to protect refugees, including: the size and demographics of the displaced populations; historical treatment; state and intergovernmental institutions put in place to assist refugees; and previous incidents of violence or ill treatment. The paper will then examine the status and experiences of refugees during and after the uprisings, including unintended consequences that developed, such as an increase in xenophobia and other protection concerns. My paper will conclude with what the rise of xenophobia during the uprisings, and treatment of refugees therein, says about the global community’s ability to act and protect the displaced during revolutionary change, which is sure to continue in the MENA region. My paper is intended to provoke thought as to 1) how the global community’s vision of displacement has changed in relation to revolutions, as they are a new indicator for further displacement; 2) the need for action and protection; and, most importantly, 3) why is ensuring the protection and support of non-citizen populations – such as asylum-seekers and refugees – important to ensuring that post-revolution we are building fully democratic societies.
Governance in the Post-“Arab Spring” Era: Modeling Options and Future Challenges
The ‘Arab Spring’ has brought renewed global attention to the Middle East, engendered a demonstrable sense of joy and elation in many parts of the Arab World, and has now debunked the ‘Arab exceptionalism’ postulate that the region is immuned from democracy. Understandably, amidst the masses’ euphoria in succeeding to topple several decades-old oppressive regimes, there emerges a noticeable sense of fulfilment and pride amongst the Arabs. The long years of fear and anger against their governments have now dissipated; in turn, there is now a renewed hope and confidence for a better future as the new, democratically elected governments go about rebuilding their shattered states and consider what governing models to adopt.
Despite the palpable shift in the domestic balance-of-power in favor of the people vis-a-vis. government in all the authoritarian regimes, arguably, the ‘Arab Spring’ is only the beginning and not the end of a long mass struggle ahead towards a new governing paradigm that the people aspire and rightly deserve. Thus far, the success of the Arab Spring has also been punctuated with bloody violence and renewed turbulence in many Arab states – reminding us of Huntington’s ‘political decay’ thesis, namely, a country’s development will erode (characterized by high levels of social unrest and political instability) when rapid social and economic changes overtook lagging political development. And lest we forget, even democratization, once achieved, is not irreversible. Fast forward, the shape of governments in particular and the future of the Arab World in general will be decided by the Arab masses themselves whose demands for change can no longer be ignored. However, given the centrality of the state in contemporary Arab politics as well as the necessity for formal state institutions to assume a greater role in fulfilling the peoples’ new hopes and aspirations, greater focus should be placed on the crucial issue of governmental legitimacy.
In this regard, there is much anticipated interest, domestically and internationally, to see what kind of political system in general and governing model in particular that will be adopted by the new governments, consequent to the new constitutional, legislative and electoral structures and processes that are gradually being put in place. Given the abject failure of previous authoritarian models in both the Arab monarchies and republics, it would appear that at least two pertinent populist pressures will influence the tenor of this new political system and modality of governance. The first will be the demands for greater democracy and the second, greater Islamization, both of which will predictably evoke much deliberations, if not tensions in the ‘new normal’ of the Middle East. Ironically, amidst the ‘Arab awakening’, it appears that the non-Arab world, for its own interests and aspirations in the region, has been more than eager to offer its own established model, i.e., the Western (liberal) democratic model; the Iranian model; and the Turkish model.
Plausibly, while some features of these three non-Arab governing paradigms will creep into the final model that will eventually be adopted by the Arab states, it appears that for reasons of history, culture, identity, and other imperatives, much of the previous political and governing structures will prevail, characterized by the Monarchs and Presidential Republics. The main change will be the greater devolution of power towards the newly-elected Parliaments and Cabinets and the polity at large. But the extent of this devolution and the future stability of the region as a whole, will depend not only on the Arabs but also on the agendas of other regional and international powers.
The Future of the Arab Uprisings
The Arab revolutions are producing a number of profound and permanent power shifts. Geographically, power is shifting from the big cities to the provincial capitals and the countryside. Social power is moving toward the middle class of merchants, small farmers and professionals away from older military, bureaucratic and intellectual elites. Islam is emerging as the common thread uniting all majority coalitions rooted in the provinces. Islamic movements represent multiple interpretations and constituencies, but the leading forces promote hybrids of Islam, democracy, capitalism and independent foreign policies. These transformations will require many years of painful adjustment for old urban elites accustomed to privileged treatment even when they were throttled under authoritarian rule. All Westernized social groups will have to adapt to majority rule and learn new political skills instead of merely hoping for military coups to restore them to power.
Arab societies are struggling to synthesize four inseparable identities and destinies—Islam, Arab culture, Western civilization and anti-colonialism. We will see many competing formulas, but they will all try to balance and reconcile these basic themes. Islam will continue to be a permanent part of any Arab identity at least as strong as language, culture and nationalism. Westernized intellectuals will have to reevaluate the anti-religious impulses that set them apart from the majority of their fellow citizens.
The old Arab world is tearing itself apart. It will wield less influence in international relations and be more susceptible to intervention by neighbors and outsiders. Regaining a greater international role will require future integration into other regional systems—Mediterranean, Eurasian, Islamic, African and pan-Asian—with mixed languages, religions and civilizations. Broader international integration will also help to create diverse and inquisitive Arab middle classes with education and disposable income approaching Asian and European levels.
A more cosmopolitan Arab world will invite global access to its natural resources and markets. Specialized international regimes will arise to negotiate and regulate access to natural resources by major foreign consumers. Leaders of resource rich countries will create new social contracts with previously marginalized social groups in order to win support for the necessary compromises of sovereignty. These political bargains will be package deals between clubs of powerful nations abroad and newly empowered social movements at home. Brokering and managing such pacts will be the main task of all Arab rulers for the rest of the century and beyond.
The Arab Spring: When Imperialism Goes Green
The idea of Arab Spring as an ethnocentric return of the Arab world to democracy is a Eurocentric concept. The appeal to democracy in the Arab World is itself endorsing American and European premises. In the same way that Buthelezi, a CIA-paid South African agent appealed to special African values and the idea of a return to an autonomous India was a product of British colonialism, the Arab Spring is imperialism in a new guise. I argue that regime change, a new arm of US foreign policy since the fall of Baghdad, has become the new prism through which the Arab world is seen, a phenomenon I call the Iraqization of Arab politics. Change has ceased to become a vehicle for liberal reform to become an end-goal in itself. We are witnessing a new era of commodification of change. Chaos has gained the upper hand on order as a prized value in the international arena. I also argue that we are not in front of a liberal wave whose aim is to bring back justice and democracy in the Arab world. We are witnessing instead the manufacturing of a false choice between dictatorship as status quo or chaos ensuing from the ousting of dictators and the latent desire that change, through an adaptive evolutionary process, will no more become a desired strategy in the future. If we take the example of the Tunisia fruit-vendor Bouazizi, all media outlets depicted him as the hero of the Arab spring when in fact he had made sexist comments to the policewoman that confiscated his cart and pushed him to burn himself, sparking the Tunisian awakening. I rely here on the work of Tariq Ramadan and Slavoj Zizek to show how what people came to name as the Arab Spring is not after all a wave designed to liberate the masses. I will give the example of Libya and Morocco as two opposite examples where the waves of change did not reach similar ports.
Using fieldwork interviews and discourse analysis techniques, this work aims at stripping the fascination with the Arab Spring from its shining outfit. Here is a small bouquet of headlines carried by the British press on Friday 21 October (the day after the murder of Colonel Gaddafi) to express their sordid delight: “No mercy for a merciless tyrant” (Daily Telegraph); “End of a Tyrant” (Independent); ”Gaddafi gunned down in a sewer – murdering rat gets his deserts” (shrieked the Express); “Death of a dictator” (thus spoke the ‘humanitarian’ Guardian); “A ruthless dictator who impoverished and oppressed his people” (wrote the ‘truth-loving’ chief organ of British finance capital, the Financial Times). Why would Libyans rebel against their leader when the Libyan per capita GDP was $16,500 a year and the literacy rate stood at 95 per cent and life expectancy is over 70 years? This paper argues that the situation in Libya was an attempt by imperialism to prevent the spread of the Arab Spring revolt, giving more power to the military which has often acted as the principal bulwark against the liberal threat.
The Arab Spring: Reclaiming Peoplehood
The paper is a meditation on the dynamic of the Arab Spring as a whole. It explores the ‘explosion’ of people’ s power and their manifestations in the revolutions that spread, and still continue unabated, in the Arab Spring geography. It looks at the techniques deployed in the resistance against authoritarianism as well as considers the potentialities for conversion of people’s power into enabling capacity in the quest for social justice, participative governance and transitional justice.