[This is part of a series by the Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI) that presents selections of articles concerning the Middle East, Arab World, and current topics of interest. These articles were published in peer-reviewed academic journals of various disciplines. This series uses MESPI’s Peer-Reviewed Articles database to analyze and provide insight into trends in academia.
This is the third and final of three bouquets of articles on various aspects of the Arab uprisings in academic journal articles published during 2010–2020 in Middle East studies and related fields. This bouquet follows one on “Cultural Production during the Arab Uprisings,” and another on “Gender and Sexuality and the Arab Uprisings”. In this installment, we highlight those articles which place the Arab uprisings into conversations on theory and temporality.
THEORETICAL COMPARISONS (6 articles)
Orientalism and binary discursive representations of Tunisia’s democratization: the need for a “continuity and change” paradigm
By: Hanen Keskes, Alexander P. Martin
Published in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies Volume 47, Issue 4 (2020)
Abstract: Mainstream analyses of Tunisia’s post-2011 democratic transition have been largely divided along two mutually exclusive narratives. There are those hailing the country as ‘the Arab Spring’s only success story’ on the one hand and those sounding sensationalist alarms about the country’s democratization failure and return to authoritarianism on the other. This is consistent with, and perpetuates, a problematic zero-sum binary in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) scholarship between either a linear democratization process or authoritarian resilience. Furthermore, these reductionist representations highlight the failure of predominant democratization theories to account for the nuances and complexities of democratic transition. This paper critically examines the binary discursive representations of Tunisia’s democratization and explores their underpinning in two competing Orientalisms: the classic Orientalism underscoring an ontological difference (and inferiority) of the ‘Arab world’ to the West, and a liberal civilizing Orientalism which, while acknowledging an ‘essential sameness’ between the West and the ‘Arab world’, places the West as the temporal pinnacle of democracy and the normative monitor of democratic success. This paper thus rejects the binary discursive representations of Tunisia’s transition and advocates for a more nuanced narrative which accounts for the patterns of continuity with and change from authoritarian structures within the democratization process.
Tales of a Square: The Production and Transformation of Political Space in the Egyptian (Counter)Revolution
By: Wladimir Riphagen, Robbert A. F. L. Woltering
Published in Arab Studies Quarterly Volume 40, Issue 2 (2018)
Abstract: This article looks into the meaning of Tahrir Square before, during, and after the January 25 revolution. We employ Lefebvre’s conceptual triad of space to understand how space is not merely a physical form, but also the product of relations between natural and social objects in this space. To understand how these relations changed dramatically after January 25, we will draw on Sewell’s insight into how space is a constituent aspect of contentious politics. We discuss the way in which the political space of Tahrir Square went through distinct phases during and after the Egyptian revolution, from counter-space, to eventually a change in the conceived space of Tahrir Square, but not according to the principles of the newly created lived space during the 18 days.
Beyond Structure and Contingency: Toward an Interactionist and Sequential Approach to the 2011 Uprisings
By: Mounia Bennani-Chraïbi
Published in Middle East Critique Volume 26, Issue 4 (2017)
Abstract: Taking as its starting point the mental earthquake produced by the 2011 uprisings, this article tackles the epistemological questions of causality and contingency in an effort to foster dialogue between comparative political regime studies, the sociology of revolutions and social movement literature. Based on a comparative analysis of three ‘positive cases’ (Egypt, Syria and Tunisia), and a ‘negative case’ (Morocco), it follows an interactionist and sequential approach to revolutionary situations. Its main objective is to expand the scope of the attempts aimed at reconciling structure and contingency, by focusing on the formation of large coalitions and the spread of mobilization on division or defection from within the repressive apparatus, and on the impact of crisis management by the incumbents. More specifically, the article highlights the fact that uncertainty affects not only the ‘actors from below,’ but also all the actors present: the challengers as much as the incumbents and their international allies, the ordinary citizens as well as the officers and the recruits.
Does Coup-Proofing Work? Political–Military Relations in Authoritarian Regimes amid the Arab Uprisings
By: Holger Albrecht
Published in Mediterranean Politics Volume 20, Issue 1 (2015)
Abstract: The popular mass uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) call into question the assumption, widespread prior to the “Arab Spring”, that militaries in these countries were subservient to civilianized and consolidated authoritarian regime incumbents. In most countries militaries have stepped in to suppress uprisings, replace incumbents, or cause civil wars. The analysis of political-military relations explains the immediate outcome of popular mass mobilization in the MENA region and helps re-conceptualize coup-proofing as an important authoritarian survival strategy. Accounting for variation in the degree of officers’ loyalty toward incumbents provides an opportunity to test the efficacy of coup-proofing. The article accounts for questions largely ignored in the theoretical literature: which coup-proofing mechanisms work best, and under which circumstances? In a qualitative comparison of Egypt and Syria, the article illustrates that authoritarian regimes have applied fundamentally different coup-proofing strategies. The Syrian regime has engineered integrative strategies to tie officers closer to the incumbent, provoking a greater degree of loyalty during regime crisis than in Egypt where officers were excluded from politics.
By: Jillian Schwedler
Published in Middle East Law and Governance Volume 7, Issue 1 (2015)
Abstract: How have scholars working in the political science subfield of comparative politics approached the Arab uprisings in their analyses? Two dominant trends have been to explore the uprisings through the literatures on robust authoritarianism and on social movements. While each of these has produced rich and lively debates, scholars of Middle East politics have mostly drawn comparisons at the national level: for example, explaining variation between those state that experienced uprisings and those that did not, or between those uprisings that turned violent and those that did not. I suggest that adopting “states” and “movements” as objects of analysis can obscure some of the more unique dynamics of the uprisings—dynamics that might be leveraged in contributing new ideas to broader theoretical debates. I illustrate the ways in which research designs that focus on identifying and explaining variation between and across cases tend to assume discrete objects of study (i.e., regimes and movements) in ways that obscure other fascinating processes and practices at both the micro-level and in terms of the complex interconnections across states and regions. This focus has in turn led to a deficit in studies of in-case variation: how mobilization and state repression varied, for example, between Cairo, Alexandria, the Suez, rural regions, and other locations outside of Tahrir Square. Finally, I applaud and encourage the continuation of the lively and open debates within the field about the strengths and weaknesses of our earlier scholarship and the potential of various future research agendas.
By: Alexa Robertson
Published in New Global Studies Volume 6, Issue 2 (2012)
Abstract: A rapidly evolving media ecology is posing significant challenges to actors in the halls of power, on the streets of popular dissent, and in the global newsrooms that connect these sites to the imaginations of media users throughout the world. It is a complicated tangle of relations, and difficult questions arise about which theoretical instruments are most useful when trying to unpick it. Global news coverage of the “Arab Awakening” of 2011 is fertile terrain for an exploration of some of these questions. The article compares how popular resistance is narrated by newsrooms with different reporting traditions, and reflects on how global audiences are positioned in relation to such events. The theoretical discussion is organized around the notions of media witnessing and cosmopolitanism. The empirical analysis is based on reports from over 1000 news stories broadcast on Al Jazeera English, which claims to give a voice to the voiceless, and BBC World, which has a tradition of reporting the world from the vantage point of elites. The results indicate that the reporting gaze is gendered differently, and that there are also intriguing differences in the way audiences are situated by the two broadcasters.
TEMPORAL COMPARISONS (23 articles)
By: Ömer Aslan
Published in Mediterranean Politics Volume 25, Issue 4 (2020)
Abstract: Existing work on civil-military relations in Turkey has left the question of coup outcomes understudied. Although coups organized in line with the military chain of command are automatically assumed most likely to succeed, not all coup attempts carried out by junior/mid-ranking officers are doomed to fail. While 27 May 1960 coup by junior officers succeeded, three other coups attempted outside the chain of command in 1962, 1963, and 15 July 2016 in Turkey failed. Why? This article uses ‘coordination game’ framework as a theoretical tool to provide an answer. These cases lend significant support to application of game theoretic models to the literature on military coup outcomes.
By: Marina Ottaway, David Ottaway
Published in Middle East Policy Volume 27, Issue 1 (2020)
Abstract: Not available
By: Seif Da’na
Published in Contemporary Arab Affairs Volume 12, Issue 2 (2019)
Abstract: Over the past sixty years, contemporary Arab political history has witnessed two significant shifts, each of which has resulted in enormous social, economic, cultural, and ideological transformations. The experience of the Arab world is not unique; rather, it is part of the contemporary “world story” in general, and experience of “the societies of the South” in particular, despite the uniqueness of the Arab experience, in general, and the experience of individual country. This review reconstructs the Arab experience since the early 1950s and distinguishes two historical stages economically, politically, and ideologically. The first stage is the era of decolonization and the rise of Arab socialism (1952–70); the second stage is the era of globalization of colonialism or neoliberal capitalism (1980–2011), which in the opinion of the author is responsible for the unfolding of events in the Arab world since the end of 2010. The goal of this comparison is intended as political and historical criticism of the current Arab condition. Comparing and contrasting both stages, and reconsidering the model and experience presented by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, it is concluded that the Arab nation is facing the choice between two critical options: socialism or neoliberal barbarism.
By: Ammar Shamaileh
Published in International Interactions Volume 45, Issue 6 (2019)
Abstract: Could the Arab Spring have led to a rise in support for authoritarian governments in some states? Discussions of revolutionary diffusion during the Arab Spring focused on whether expressions of discontent spread to different states. Such discussions, however, neglect the potential for there to be a decrease in expressions of discontent in the wake of spreading revolutionary sentiment in certain contexts. The spread of revolutionary fervor in states with similar characteristics decreases perceptions that individuals will free ride in a revolution, and, thus, increases the perception that a revolution can succeed. This perceived increase in the probability of a revolution succeeding, however, can decrease expressions of discontent with the regime where the threat of an unfavorable alternative replacing the status quo is high. The empirical analysis of data collected before and after the Arab Spring provides evidence that the Arab Spring decreased criticism of the regime in some authoritarian contexts.
Between Scylla and Charybdis: religion, the military and support for democracy among Egyptians, 2011–2014
By: Mazen Hassan, Elisabeth Kendall, Stephen Whitefield
Published in Democratization Volume 25, Issue 2 (2018)
Abstract: Democracy as a form of civilian rule must navigate a path between clerical and military powers, both of which are highly engaged in the politics of post-Mubarak Egypt. The authors ask in this article how mass support for democracy changed in Egypt between 2011 and 2014, and how this support is connected with views on religion and the role of the military. This question is important for understanding the prospects for democracy in a major state in the Arab world. It is also of comparative interest because of what change in the social and ideological drivers of mass attitudes may tell us about the nature of democratic support more generally. The authors’ analysis is based on nationally representative surveys of Egyptians in 2011 after the country’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections and in 2014 after the removal of the Islamist President Morsi. The findings indicate that Egyptians in large numbers favour both democracy and unfettered military intervention in politics. The authors also observe important shifts in the social bases of support for democracy away from religion but also from economic aspiration. Negative political experience with democratic procedures in 2011–2013 seems to be the strongest factor behind the observed decrease in democratic support.
By: Jens Heibach, Mareike Transfeld
Published in Democratization Volume 25, Issue 4 (2018)
Abstract: In contrast to the empirical conditions in large parts of the authoritarian world, the systematic literature on political opposition under authoritarianism either treats the opposition as a static entity or fails to comprehensively address its dynamic character. On the basis of a critical literature review and an ensuing analysis of the Joint Meeting Parties, a cross-ideological opposition alliance that gradually evolved to become the main competitor of the Salih regime in Yemen, we suggest that political opposition in electoral authoritarian regimes is an intrinsically dynamic institution in terms of its organizational shape, its goals and its modes of contestation. We also show that, while authoritarian structures do set the basic conditions defining opposition action, much of what motivates this action and contributes to opposition dynamism emerges from within the opposition. In addition, our findings on the Yemeni case suggest that opposition dynamism peaks when the strength of the opposition is nearly on par with that of the regime.
By: Michelanglo Guida
Published in Middle East Critique Volume 27, Issue 2 (2018)
Abstract: Turkey’s Islamist press has been influenced essentially by three contingencies: partisanship, lack of political autonomy, and lack of economic autonomy. These contingencies are reflected in the opinion pieces of Islamist columnists, five of whom are examined here in detail. To understand how their opinions are shaped, this article focuses on their interpretations of two dramatic events: the Gezi Park protests and the December 17–25 corruption scandals, both of which took place in 2013. This analysis provides a granular look at how the different Islamist columnists produced highly contrasting responses to government policies and choices, giving a unique insight on the intellectual dynamics within the Islamist community as the July 15, 2016 coup approached.
New Social Movements: The Case of Youth’s Political Project in Egypt – Comparing the 1919 and 2011 Revolutions
By: Dina El-Sharnouby
Published in Middle East Law and Governance Volume 10, Issue 3 (2018)
Abstract: With the 2011 Revolution in Egypt, new forms of social mobilization and new possibilities for political interaction surfaced. The manifestation of these events suggested a different understanding of politics among particularly revolutionary youth. How do their values and practices affect political imaginaries? How are those imaginaries different from previous revolutionary struggles? This article highlights the political projects of the 2011 revolutionary youth versus previous revolutionary struggles by looking at youth activists and the case of the leftist Bread and Freedom party. Contrasting the Revolution of 1919 to 2011 in Egypt reveals a renewed call to social justice imagined to be practiced through the state and state institutions while minimizing ideology and a singular leadership in their mobilization strategies. Drawing on fieldwork done in 2014 and 2015, this paper suggests that the 2011 political project from youth’s perspective is about the importance of political practices of social justice over an ideology.
By: Hamad H. Albloshi, Michael Herb
Published in The Middle East Journal Volume 72, Issue 3 (2018)
Abstract: This article seeks to explain the failure of the 2012–14 Kuwaiti reform movement Karamet Watan. We compare Karamet Watan with two previous reform movements in Kuwait: Nabiha Khamsa in 2006 and Irhal in 2011. All three movements were nonviolent, which Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan have shown to be associated with the success of reform movements. We argue that Karamet Watan differed from the earlier movements in its choice of goals; its choice of tactics, especially the boycott of parliamentary elections; and the regional context. Our findings help illustrate the challenges facing political reform movements in Kuwait, the obstacles to further movement toward greater political participation, and the conditions under which reform might succeed in the future.
By: Dara Conduit
Published in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies Volume 44, Issue 1 (2017)
Abstract: Economic grievances that marginalized rural citizens and eroded the Syrian government’s political base are widely considered to have sparked the 2011 uprising. Although the country’s 1980–1982 protests were also blamed on economic factors, commentators to date have largely resisted comparing the events. This article draws parallels between Hama in the lead-up to 1980–1982 and Homs pre-2011, arguing that while there are differences between the uprisings—including the socioeconomic group involved—the root causes of grievance were remarkably similar. Both uprisings followed a redrawing of Syria’s social contract that marginalized a group that had previously had a stake in the Syrian state. In both cases, a new underclass was formed that became the backbone of the political unrest. Although economic factors cannot explain the 2011 uprising in its entirety, this article argues that some of the seed dynamics in 2011 were remarkably similar to 1980–1982.
By: Amr G. E. Sabet
Published in Contemporary Arab Affairs Volume 10, Issue 1 (2017)
Abstract: This paper attempts to provide a conceptualization of Egypt’s current predicaments by process-tracing historical critical junctures and sequences of causal mechanisms that contributed to bringing about the January 2011 events. Focusing on the period between the July 1952 Revolution led by Gamal Abdel Nasser and the events of 2011, it traces the developments and changing political and strategic trajectories of the three presidents Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. The case of Egypt is examined here as ‘an instance of a class of events’ focusing on phenomena related to the tracing of causal factors or critical junctures, and mechanisms leading to a particular outcome on 25 January 2011. It further links the uprising to that country’s 1979 ‘Peace Treaty’ with Israel. This treaty ‘de-securitized’ the latter, allowing it significant regional freedom of action. This had a causal effect on challenging Egypt’s identity-motivated action, contributing, in the process, to undermining its identity structure. An increasing awareness among many Egyptians of the link between the treaty and their identity formation is one of the main reasons for summoning the legacy of Nasser’s leadership as a source of ‘ontological security’.
The Constrained Institutionalization of Diverging Islamist Strategies: The Jihadis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salafis between Two Aborted Egyptian Revolutions
By: Jerome Drevon
Published in Mediterranean Politics Volume 22, Issue 1 (2017)
Abstract: This research analyses the comparative institutionalization of the strategies of three major components of the Egyptian Islamist social movement family: the jihadis, the Muslim Brotherhood and the salafis. It uses historical institutionalism to amend rational choice paradigms and to investigate the constraints and opportunities posed by these actors’ past trajectories on their subsequent strategic choices. This article argues that 1981 and 2011 were two critical junctures that have shaped these actors’ ideational and organizational construction through path-dependent causal mechanisms regulating their mobilization and socialization processes. It contends that these mechanisms have shaped these groups’ evolution and mediated the institutionalization of their strategies.
By: Amel Ahmed, Giovanni Capoccia
Published in Middle East Law and Governance Volume 6, Issue 1 (2014)
Abstract: This paper proposes and illustrates a framework for analysis of the recent events in Middle Eastern and North African countries (the so-called Arab Spring) by bringing into dialogue recent theoretical advances in democratization theory with the comparative-historical literature on the political development of the MENA region. We advocate two analytical shifts from conventional approaches in the analysis of the Arab Spring: first, reconsider the temporalities of democratization processes; second, focus on struggles over specific institutional arenas rather than over the regime as a whole. The former recommendation draws attention both to the strategies used by key actors in the political, economic, and civil society spheres, and to the historical legacies that built the influence and resources of these actors over time. The latter allows us to consider the institutional safeguards for old elites that are likely to be included in the post-authoritarian regimes emerging in the region. Even though some of these safeguards are clearly anti-democratic, historical examples show that they do not necessarily preclude democratization. Indeed, in some cases, their introduction might be necessary to achieve democratic openings in other arenas. We illustrate these theoretical points with reference to the case of Egypt.
By: Anthony F. Lang Jr.
Published in International Affairs Volume 89, Issue 2 (2013)
Abstract: This article explores the transition from revolutions to constitutions in Egypt. In order to understand the current transition, the article compares events since 2011 to the 1919 constitutional revolution and the 1952 Free Officers’ Movement. In comparing these three revolutionary periods and the constitutions they produced, the article makes two overarching claims: first, a constitution does not arise from the fiat of wise lawgivers or experts in the rule of law. Rather, it emerges from a contentious political process in which competing agents and institutions seek to promote their own interests. This competitive process, however, is actually beneficial to constitution-making, constitutional politics and political life more widely. Second, the article highlights that while the political dynamics of constitution-making in Egypt reveal domestic politics, the process of constitution-making also demonstrates how such dynamics take place in a global political context. Together, these two claims point up that constitutionalism is just as much a political movement as a legal doctrine.
By: Dag Tuastad
Published in Middle East Policy Volume 20, Issue 3 (2013)
Abstract: Not available
By: Nabeel A. Khoury
Published in Middle East Policy Volume 20, Issue 2 (2013)
Abstract: Not available
By: Nikki R. Keddie
Published in International Journal of Middle East Studies Volume 44, Issue 1 (2012)
Abstract: In the thirty-two years from 1979 to 2011 there have been numerous mass movements in Iran and several Arab countries that have overthrown or threatened rulers who seemed secure for several decades. By September 2011, the shah of Iran and the presidents of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya had been overthrown; of those, only the anti-Qaddafi revolt had outside (NATO) help. Major popular movements had also threatened the rulers of Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria. Iran had seen the massive Green Movement in 2009, aimed primarily at fraud in that year’s presidential elections. Among the questions that emerge regarding these movements are the following: Why did they arise when they did? Why were they not predicted? How much influence did one or more of these movements have on the others? Why were some movements successful and others, thus far, not? Some of these questions will demand long study and analysis, which may not lead to a consensus. Here will be a preliminary brief discussion of a few of them, with stress on the question of influence.
By: Arang Keshavarzian
Published in International Journal of Middle East Studies Volume 44, Issue 1 (2012)
Abstract: In the midst of several research trips to Iran in the 1990s, I spent one year living and conducting exploratory research in Cairo. In Tehran, revolution seemed unfinished if not perpetual, yet in Egypt it was unimaginable. In spite of the entrenched support for the Leader and the political status quo, at this time Iran’s reformist movement was robust. The policies of the Islamic Republic and consequences of the eight-year war with Iraq unleashed new social conditions that combined with established forces to push for women’s rights, freedom of speech, independent civil associations, and exposing contradictions in the postrevolutionary order.
By: Negin Nabavi
Published in International Journal of Middle East Studies Volume 44, Issue 1 (2012)
Abstract: Revolutions are by nature unpredictable and unsettling. That the wave of revolutions in North Africa and the Arab Middle East began so unexpectedly and spread with such speed, leading to the fall of the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, has added to the concern regarding the “new order” that is to come after the initial euphoria. From the outset, the fear has been that these revolutions will follow the same trajectory as Iran did in 1979—in other words, that they will marginalize those who launched the revolutions and provide the grounds for the rise to power of the most savvy, purposeful, and best organized of the opposition groups, namely, the Islamists. Yet when one considers the recent uprisings in the Arab world through the prism of Iran’s experiences in 1979, the parallels are not so evident. Mindful of the variations and distinctions between each of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, it would appear that in broad terms, and beyond superficial similarities, there is little in common between the events of Iran in 1979 and what has happened in the past year in the Arab world.
By: Charles Kurzman
Published in International Journal of Middle East Studies Volume 44, Issue 1 (2012)
Abstract: Which Iranian uprising does the Arab Spring bring to mind? The Green Movement of 2009, which challenged the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran, or the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which brought the Islamic Republic to power?
By: Michael Hoffman, Amaney Jamal
Published in Middle East Law and Governance Volume 4, Issue 1 (2012)
Abstract: The Arab Spring has been described as a youth rebellion driven by grievances about unemployment and dissatisfaction with existing regimes. In this article, we assess these claims by examining the characteristics of the current youth generation in the Arab world in comparison with earlier cohorts. We find that some of the conventional assumptions about this generation—that they are less religious, more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to protest—are true, but others—that they are more supportive of secularization, more interested in politics, and more dissatisfied with their regimes—should be reconsidered. Using the first wave of the Arab Barometer survey, we discuss how patterns of political attitudes and behavior vary across cohorts, and cast doubt upon the claim that the Arab Spring was the result of an angry youth cohort that was especially opposed to the old regimes
By: Kurt Weyland
Published in Perspectives on Politics Volume 10, Issue 4 (2012)
Abstract: Prominent scholars have highlighted important similarities between the Arab Spring of 2011 and the “revolutions” of 1848: Both waves of contention swept with dramatic speed across whole regions, but ended up yielding rather limited advances toward political liberalism and democracy. I seek to uncover the causal mechanisms that help account for these striking parallels. Drawing on my recent analysis of 1848, I argue that contention spread so quickly because many people in a wide range of countries drew rash inferences from the downfall of Tunisia’s dictator. Applying cognitive heuristics that psychologists have documented, they overrated the significance of the Tunisian success, overestimated the similarities with the political situation in their own country, and jumped to the conclusion that they could successfully challenge their own autocrats. This precipitation prompted protests in many settings that actually were much less propitious; therefore problems abounded. Cognitive shortcuts held such sway because Arab societies were weakly organized and repressed and thus lacked leaders from whom common people could take authoritative cues. The decision whether to engage in emulative contention fell to ordinary citizens, who—due to limited information access and scarce experience—were especially susceptible to the simple inferences suggested by cognitive heuristics.
By: Jonathan Spyer
Published in Middle East Review of International Affairs Volume 15, Issue 3 (2011)
Abstract: One of the most notable aspects of the revolt against the Asad regime in Syria has been the proliferation of opposition movements and the various attempts to join them into a single unified opposition movement. This article will observe the state of the opposition prior to the uprising, note the key new alignments in the opposition, and critically assess the attempts at unification