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
Tag Archives: Egypt
Today was the third day of Egypt’s second presidential elections in the past three years. Elections were extended for a third day, and an impromptu last-minute national holiday were announced, due to low voter turnout. This is not surprising given the tense, repressive, current political climate in Egypt.
Votes are currently being counted, and pro-Sisi celebratory elections have already begun in Egypt.
General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, who removed Egypt’s democratically elected president ten months ago, is not surprisingly the only serious contender in the election. If/when Sisi wins, he will hold a tremendous amount of political power. The parliament is currently disbanded, which allows Sisi to issue laws by presidential degree. Sisi also has support of the military, and a considerable degree of public support.
If Sisi gets elected, there is little hope for democracy in Egypt in the near future. As military chief, his crackdown on dissent far exceeded that of Mubarak. Sisi has indicated in television interviews he has no tolerance for the labor strikes and other street demonstrations against the military. He is also sure to send the Muslim Brotherhood underground. He ousted former President Muhammed Morsi in July and has pledged to end the Brotherhood’s existence in Egypt. Yet the Brotherhood has survived many cycles of repression before (see Davis and Robinson’s (2012) book). They are sure to do so again given their massive network of civic organizations which permeate Egyptian society. Repression of the Brotherhood not only excludes them from the conversation and makes democracy in Egypt impossible, but it also creates the conditions for future violence and unrest.
Deputy Research Director of the newly formed Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, Allison McManus, is tracking the elections on the Institute’s webpage at: http://timep.org/presidential-elections-monitoring. The website compiles media coverage, voter experiences, and gives overviews of the election and its candidates.
By Dana M. Moss
Studies of mobilization have long been preoccupied with understanding the effects of repression on protest. However, as Mark Lichbach remarks, the search for models—whether linear, U-shaped, S-shaped, or otherwise—leaves scholars “forever correlating the total aggregate level of one output (government repression) with the total aggregate level of the other output (opposition activity)” (1987: 288). Furthermore, conceptual and analytical inconsistencies persist; aggregated event counts and indicators denoting low, moderate, and high levels of repression vary based on what type of crackdowns “count” as severe and have been accounted for in the media or NGO reports (Davenport 2007).
Because the question “does repression increase or decrease protest?” has dominated the research agenda, I suggest that we revisit our orienting questions. For example, what kinds of repression do activists perceive as severe? Which governmental agents, entities, and affiliates do the repressing, and what does this mean for the short-term outcomes of movement-government standoffs? Which social movements are most at risk for violent repression? And how does the character of a regime shape its propensity for violence? In an effort to expand our conceptualization of the repression-dissent nexus in potentially fruitful and specific ways, I outline several suggestions below. Continue reading
In Egypt, Tunisia, and Ukraine, political regimes were brought down by mass movements of political protest. In contrast, peaceful Syrian protests against the al-Assad regime took a different course and spiraled into violence and civil war. One need only recall the unsuccessful Iranian protests against the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the unrealized Chinese “jasmine revolution” in 2011 to ponder the contingencies of the repression-mobilization relationship. In the Iranian and Chinese cases, the state effectively quashed protests. In the Syrian case, state violence led to escalation that al-Assad’s piecemeal reforms were unable to stop. In the Ukrainian case, police violence against waning protests caused public outrage and reinvigorated mobilization. Continue reading
Much recent research has highlighted the success of non-violent protest. Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan’s data analysis had demonstrated that disciplined, non-violent protests succeed more often than violent ones, even in the face of repressive actions by regimes.
And yet recent events in Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Ukraine give one pause. While Tunisia offers the example of a relatively peaceful protest campaign that overturned a dictatorship, in Libya civil war seemed necessary to overturn a regime about to massacre peaceful protestors in Benghazi. In Egypt, the peaceful protestors who brought down the Mubarak regime were soon marginalized, with the Muslim Brotherhood now outlawed and suffering mass executions at the hands of a counter-revolutionary military regime. In Syria, the dictatorship responded to peaceful protests with brutalizing attacks and seems likely to have crushed the protests if they had not recruited defecting soldiers and become militarized (although to be sure, we do not know what would have happened if the protestors had stuck to non-violence). Finally, in Bahrain, the most massive peaceful protests seen in the region, as a percentage of the population participating, were crushed by the military. By contrast, in Ukraine, it was only after peaceful protestors were galvanized by more violent “ultranationalists” who attacked police and burned buildings that the ruler fled (although again we cannot be sure what would have followed if this turn to violence had not occurred). Continue reading
Just over a week ago, tens of thousands of protesters converged in Bangkok to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s first female PM. They overran the streets and occupied government offices in the name of a “people’s revolution.” On December 9th, Yingluck (Thai politicians are referred to by their first names) dissolved parliament, and snap elections have been scheduled for February 2nd. However, the protesters want Yingluck out of office for good, and they continue to demand her removal from politics.
Thailand’s democracy has been weak (at best) since the 1932 coup marking its transition to a constitutional monarchy. Since then, the country has had 17 different constitutions and charters, a series of coups, and 28 prime ministers. That’s a lot of turnover, to say the least. Check out this table listing Thailand’s prime ministers. It’s chaos. Almost every term ends with dissolution, resignation, or removal. Continue reading
“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.”
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