Author Archives: Atef Said

About Atef Said

Atef Said practiced human rights law as attorney in Egypt from 1995 to 2004, and wrote two books about torture in Egypt. In the summer of 2014, he defended his Ph.D. dissertation at the Sociology Department of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. His dissertation title is "The Tahrir Effect: Space, History and Protest in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011." In the dissertation, he investigated the power of Tahrir Square in the revolution, with a special focus on the role of space and repertoires of contentions in revolutions and social movements. He is working now in transforming the dissertation into a book. He is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow him on twitter at @iAtefSaid

Regimes and Movements: Thoughts on Contentious Politics and the Arab Spring

In this essay, I aim to reflect on two ongoing discussions concerning the so-called Arab Spring. The first discussion is taking place among several academics who study the politics of the Middle East. This discussion started after the start of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 and concerns a presumed conflict over whether to prioritize the study of regimes or movements. The second discussion is taking place among scholars of social movements in the U.S. about the benefits of movement-centered vs. institutional-centered analysis of movements. Both discussions are taking place for different reasons and perhaps in different academic spheres. The first was motivated by the need to question the politics and the priorities of the scholarship concerning the study of Middle East politics during and after the Arab Spring. But the main drive of the second discussion was the question of how and why movements matter. Although the parallelism in the two discussions is interesting, my aim in this essay is not to compare or analyze these differences (which is an important research question in itself). I realized that one common theme in the two discussions is worth commenting on  here: the relationship between regimes and movements. Continue reading


Filed under Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research, Essay Dialogues

The People and the Revolution


A poster that was circulated widely on the internet during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011

“Revolutions are messy affairs. If you want them sparkling clean, sanitary and sanitized, with a love interest and happy ending under a fluttering revolutionary flag—well, go to Hollywood.”

“Where many have seen the turbulence of the past 30 months of Egyptian political history in terms of ‘elite’ conflicts (civil and military, civil forces and ‘deep state’, secularists and Islamists, liberals, Muslim Brothers, leftists and feloul*), I see first and foremost the hand print of the revolutionary upsurge of an Egyptian people unchained, battling on for emancipation.”

 Hani Shukrallah (Egyptian Writer)

Recently prominent leftist journalist and writer Hani Shukrallah wrote a series of articles under the title of “The People’s History of the Egyptian Revolution.”


Hani Shukrallah

Shukrallah was the former editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Weekly, the best English-language paper in Egypt, between 1991 and 2005. He is also the founder of Al-Ahram Online, and was its editor-in-chief from 2011 until early 2013 when the Muslim Brotherhood government forced him to resign. He is the author of Egypt, the Arabs and the World: Reflections at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, published in 2011 by the American University in Cairo Press. He is perhaps one of the most elegant political writers in the English language in Egypt.

Against the numerous narrow accounts that have been offered of events in Egypt—particularly those that leapt to huge conclusions after short-term successes—Shukrallah’s series offers a careful, nuanced analysis. He discusses how messy the trajectory of events was, and also how unprepared the revolutionaries were. He also warns us against one-dimensional analyses. We cannot, for example, focus only on the celebrated 18 days of revolution in 2011, without examining what led to those protests and their aftermath. Continue reading

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Filed under Daily Disruption

Revolutionary Fervor


A Protester carrying a sign in Puerta del Sol’s Square in Madrid in May 2011, a couple months after the Egyptian Revolution. The sign reads “Tahrir Square.”

When Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vender set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, he could not have imagined that his action would lead to a nationwide mass movement in his own country, described as the first revolution in the events known as the Arab Spring of 2011.  He could not have at all conceived that his action, followed by his country’s revolution, would become “contagious,” spreading to Tunisia’s North African neighbors Egypt and Libya and beyond. Despite how the events known as the Arab Spring and their complex outcomes have developed and that some have involved a certain degree of civil war as well as international intervention, most entailed large mass protests. In addition, the Arab spring revolutions began as a chain of revolts across several different countries. Each Arab spring revolution was distinct but was constituted, in part, by the regional reverberations of the Arab spring revolutions across national borders. Continue reading


Filed under Daily Disruption