Tag Archives: Arab Spring

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

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Dealing with Devils

About two weeks ago, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (better known as the SNC) agreed to attend the “Geneva 2” talks being pushed and planned for by the U.N., the U.S., Russia, and others world powers. These talks would bring the Assad government and the SNC (which is currently recognized as the legitimate alternative to the current Syrian regime by many Middle Eastern and Western nations) together to resolve the lopsided civil war that has resulted in approximately 120,000 casualties, millions of refugees, and thousands of rape and torture victims.

A message from the liberated town of Kafranbel, Syria to the world about the planned "Geneva 2" talks.

A message from the liberated town of Kafranbel, Syria to the world about the planned “Geneva 2” talks.

The flocking of foreign fighters to the conflict has made the Syrian revolution a messy one indeed. Unabashed intervention by Hezbollah and al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists has bloodied the waters further and made Western powers reluctant to act more decisively, though Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah have had no such qualms. International attempts to relieve suffering inside Syria have been blocked by the regime, and the outpouring of refugees has created one of the most dire regional crises in recent history. Needless to say, these harrowing realities necessitate a solution. Continue reading

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Revolutionary Fervor

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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

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Critical Considerations on Collective Empowerment: Class, Civil Society and the State

By Efe Can Gürcan and Gerardo Otero – Simon Fraser University

John Holloway, Change the world without taking power: the meaning of revolution today (London & New York: Pluto Press, 2010)

John Holloway, Change the world without taking power: the meaning of revolution today (London & New York: Pluto Press, 2010)

Eleven years after its first publication (in 2002), John Holloway’s Change the World Without Taking Power remains one of the most contested and controversial books of contemporary Marxist theory, having been translated into ten languages and seen three English editions in 2002, 2005 and 2010 (Holloway 2010: ix-x). In response to a series of critiques to the first edition of his book, namely on how can we advance the struggle for society’s self-determination—or Communism—without taking state power, the 2005 edition presents a new epilogue. Upon continuing controversies, the 2010 edition includes an “extensive” preface, in which Holloway felt it necessary to reassert the timeliness of the book after the waning of the Zapatista movement and Argentine piquetero and neighborhood assembly movements. In his preface, he rather points to the so-called “state-centered developments” (Holloway 2010: xi) in Venezuela and Bolivia, and keeps asking: “how do we stop making capitalism?” (Holloway 2010: xii). He claims that he does not know the answer to this question, while, on the other hand, quite firmly asserting that “the state has no part” in the solution (Holloway 2010: xii).

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Taking a Step towards the Arab Street

By Mustafa Gurbuz

Tariq Ramadam, Islam and the Arab Awakening (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Tariq Ramadam, Islam and the Arab Awakening (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Here is a great summer book: easy read, well-engaged, and more importantly a humble work that avoids haughty attempts to “explain” the social world. “This book makes no claim to reveal secrets, to unveil what may be strategic goals, and even less to predict the future,” writes Tariq Ramadan at the very beginning of Islam and the Arab Awakening. “(T)o do so would be madness, a combination of presumption and vanity.” Did Ramadan, a leading Muslim thinker and a professor at Oxford University, read debates among the social scientists on (un)predictability of revolutions (see Kuran 1991, 1995; Kurzman 2004a, 2004b; Goodwin 2011)? Although much has been said or written to “explain” the so called “Arab Spring,” important questions about “understanding” these popular uprisings is yet to be analyzed.  Continue reading

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Morsi and the Military- Let’s Conceptualize!

A couple days ago (June 24 2012), after 84 years of mobilization, protests, and struggle, the Muslim Brothers have opened a new page in Egypt’s history.

In his book Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements, James DeFronzo tells us stories of revolutionaries who succeeded to grab the power. According to DeFronzo, from the Russian revolution to the Iranian revolution, we see a similar trend: the regime was collapsed by joint social forces (including a variety of groups that are even at conflict one another), and soon after the breakdown, the radicals eliminate their rivals and get the control.

Now, what is your take? Is it the story of current Egypt?

Here is my two cents: Continue reading

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The Journey to Tahrir: Revolution, Protest, and Social Change in Egypt

By Arang Keshavarzian

The Journey to Tahrir: Revolution, Protest, and Social Change in Egypt, by Jeannie Sowers and Chris Toensing (eds). Verso, 2012. ­­

Since the overthrow of Tunisia and Egypt’s entrenched dictators, pundits and academics have scrambled to keep up with the surprising and fast-moving events across the region.  Much of the journalistic coverage gravitated towards the dramas and spectacle of the protests and the immediate concerns and checkered outcomes of these revolutionary moments.  Much ink was spilled on notions of twitter revolutions, the leaderless and youth-dominated movements, the potential for Islamist “hijacking the revolutions,” and the consequences for the US-led regional order.  Meanwhile, the bulk of the academic community studying politics in the Middle East were caught flat-footed.  In the last decade and half this scholarship was deeply invested in a paradigm that sought to explain “the lack of democratization” in the region by focusing on the vigor of the region’s authoritarian systems.  Continue reading

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Introducing the Consortium on Social Movement Studies

Update 4/30/12: A livestream of this event is available here!

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Social movements scholars from around the globe are participating in an exciting new initiative: the Consortium on Social Movement Studies (COSMOS). COSMOS was founded at the European University Institute by leading social movement scholar Donatella della Porta. It has united over 50 PhD students and post-doctoral fellows around three of della Porta’s research projects. The first, funded by the European Research Council, is a 5-year investigation into “democratization from below,” della Porta explained to me in an email. It will incorporate emerging research on the most recent wave of the Arab Spring. The second project, also a 5-year effort, will investigate the Occupy movement and other anti-corruption and alternative political movements. A third project will compile and analyze survey data from demonstrations. Continue reading

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Reactions to Mobilization: Framing Occupiers, Environmentalists and Anti-Regime Protesters

For those who study and teach about social movements and collective action, the last year has provided us with numerous cases. From OWS, environmental activism, the Arab Spring, and the Tea Party, we have compared and contrasted these cases, often seeking to find common themes across these, using existing theoretical frameworks to shed light on contemporary cases, or alternatively, use what’s going on out there as a way to reevaluate existing theories of social movements and collective action.

One important and emerging theme is the way in which people – from the public, to the media, to political elites – react to social movements.  Scholars have shown how positive and negative reactions, especially by elites, have important consequences for subsequent mobilization. Of course, elite responses to protesters vary; by no means is government surveillance (as is the case with environmental groups in Canada) equivalent to the brutality faced by activists and bystanders in Syria. Yet, there is a common theme when it comes to elite framing of challenges as illegitimate and depicting challengers as radicals and terrorists. Continue reading

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Can You See a Grassroots Movement from the Top of the Ivory Tower?

The latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly has a thought-provoking article on Srdja Popovic, “the secret architect of the Arab Spring.” After participating in the movement to oust Slobodan Milošević in 2000,  Popovic did a brief stint in Parliament and then started the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), which trains activists who are interested in generating grassroots change in their home countries. Trainees have included the Egyptians who engineered the uprising in Cairo in early 2011,  helping to kick off the wave of protests known as the Arab Spring.

CANVAS encourages tactical innovation and promotes the power of bottom-up change. The quote below suggests that these emphases aren’t shared by incumbents of other institutions — including academia:

… [F]or all his method’s success, Popovic feels that those who should be paying the most attention—academics, politicians, journalists—instead continue to view politics largely as a game played by governments and decided by war. “Nobody, from very prominent political analysts to the world’s intelligence services, could find their own nose when the Arab Spring started. It is always this same old narrative: ‘It happened in Serbia by accident. It happened in Georgia by accident. It happened in Tunisia by accident. But it will never happen in Egypt.’ And this is the mantra we keep hearing—until it happens.” Continue reading

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