Six years ago, after starting with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a wave of protests in the Arabian Middle East toppled several governments and gave voice to a new generation of activists. Mobilizing Ideas marks this anniversary with a dialogue entitled, “Movement Trajectories: The Arab Spring Six Years On.” For a second month we ask our contributors to consider the pathways of movements after the period of mass mobilization, specifically looking at the countries of the Arab Spring.
Many thanks to our fantastic group of contributors.
Rauf Arif, Texas Tech University (essay)
Dana M. Moss, University of Pittsburgh (essay)
Daniel Ritter, Stockholm University (essay)
Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo
By Dana M. Moss
The Arab Spring and its early victories heralded new hope for liberal change in the Middle Eastern region. Six years later, its aftermath has wrought unfathomable tragedies. War in Yemen has produced the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe, leaving 19 million (69% of the population) in urgent need of aid and 10 million on the brink of starvation. Thousands have been killed in Libya’s ongoing civil war between government forces loyal to an autocratic general, local militias, and extremists. Syria has become a theater of horrors leaving half a million dead and 13 million in need of humanitarian aid. About five million Syrians have fled, and those who remain risk being bombarded from the sky, starved on the ground, and tortured to death in regime prisons. Continue reading
In her recent book, Donatella della Porta explores the often disappointing outcomes of democracy-seeking social movements by asking “where did the revolution go?” The task she sets for herself is similar to the one bestowed upon the participants of this exchange, namely “to consider the pathways of movements after the period of mass mobilization.” In other words, what became of the large crowds that epitomized the 2011 wave of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, and, perhaps more importantly, are we likely to see them again anytime soon? Continue reading
The 2011 political uprisings in the Middle East, frequently referred to as the “Arab Spring,” that had shaken several countries in the Muslim World, are being referred to as iconic collective memory of our recent past as these historical events created unstoppable ripples in the stagnant political culture of the Arab region. As commonly believed, these political uprisings started from Tunisia in late 2010, when a Tunisian street vendor, Mohammad Bouazizi, doused himself with gasoline and self-immolated in protest against poor economic conditions and police brutality (Arif 2014; Harb 2011; Mir 2011). This incident paved the way for online and offline political protests in 18 Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East (Ghannam 2011), and points toward a new era of social movements and protests in the digital age. While looking back at what happened six years ago in the Muslim majority countries’ landscape, through this short essay, I would like to highlight an important theoretical paradigm of “collective memory,” which majority of mass media scholars failed to recognize while trying to make sense of the unprecedented collective action in the Arab region. Continue reading
Three relevant pieces of research about social movements and the Arab Spring:
Mobilization Journal’s special issue on the Arab Spring:
Howard, Philip N., and Muzammil M. Hussain. 2013. “Democracy’s fourth wave?: digital media and the Arab Spring.” Oxford University Press.
Alimi, Eitan Y., and David S. Meyer. 2011. “Seasons of change: Arab Spring and political opportunities.” Swiss Political Science Review 17.4: 475-479.
You risked your life for freedom, dignity, justice, and equality. You took days and weeks from other responsibilities – from your family, your school, your work — in order to serve your nation. You convinced yourself that you were building a better future. Now you ask yourself, was it worth it? Continue reading
Jack Goldstone famously argued that revolutions are like earthquakes: unpredictable. Once an earthquake happens, however, we study it to learn something new (Goldstone 1991: 59, 149). In the same vein, sociologists Mohamed Bamyeh and Sari Hanafi recently stated “Revolutions, therefore, are opportunities to learn something new. The worst analytical insult to a revolution is to use it as an opportunity to apply mechanically an existing theory or model.” (Bamyeh and Hanafi 2015: 343) What can we learn from the Arab Spring today, 6 years later? A general Google search brings up 11,700,000 entries that roughly have some version of “Lessons from the Arab spring” in the title. These lessons/conclusions vary from blaming some actors (such as the political Islamists, or the “revolutionary youth”) or forces of the old regimes (such as the military or the security apparatuses), or the elite (intellectual or the political elite, which varies from liberal, nationalists to Marxist leftists) or discussing the problem of a lack of organization or leadership. And there is a multitude of lessons to be learned, depending on the perspective of the scholar or observer. Continue reading