Panel 2d Reflecting on the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’: Can we understand new trends using old models? [part 2] The Cases of Tunisia, Jordan and Kuwait

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Chair: Dr Ewan Stein, Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh
Discussant: Dr Francesco Cavatorta, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University

Paper 1: Revolutionizing Political Understanding and Action: Meaning and Causality in the Tunisian Revolution
Dr Frédéric Volpi, Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Director of the Institute of Middle East and Central Asia Studies, University of St Andrews

This paper looks at the consequences of non-pluralistic explanations of political causality in authoritarian contexts. Considering the case of Tunisia, it indicates how areas of political awareness and unawareness were created by the formation of expert ‘knowledges’ on MENA politics. The dominant understandings of these authoritarian mechanisms by policy makers (inside the Ben Ali regime, in foreign policy circles), informed by social scientists and political analysts, focused everyone’s attention on specific political dynamics, and made everyone less able to consider how other causal mechanisms could become effective. The ensuing misunderstandings and misguided policy choices at home and abroad then further contributed to regime failure in the country. This sudden and dramatic change of regime as happened in Tunisia is best framed in terms of a lack of possibility for a negotiated process of reform. It is precisely because there were few mobilizational opportunities and structures to be found in Tunisia before the democratic revolution, that the protest could unfold the way that it did.

Paper 2: Is this 1989 and if so which? – Jordan and the resilience of an (upgraded) post-democratization approach at the time of the Arab Uprisings
Dr Morten Valbjørn, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Government, Aarhus University

This paper will compare the situation in Jordan in 2011 to 1989. Recalling how the reform process initiated in 1989 only marked the beginning of a ‘transition to nowhere’ leaving Jordan two decades later less ‘free’, the comparison between 1989 and 2011 serves a reminder of the potential pitfalls of returning to the kind of wishful but rather naïve depictions of Jordan as being in a ‘transition to democracy’. Instead of perceiving Jordan as being either in ‘transition to democracy’ or in a ‘transition to nowhere’, it appears more useful to perceive Jordan as being in a ‘transition to somewhere’ in the sense that in particular the re-politicization of the Jordanian society has changed the nature and dynamics of politics. The paper argues that while the claim about the persistence and resilience of authoritarianism of the mainstream version of the post-democratization approach has been challenged by the Arab Uprisings, this does not mean that we should abandon this approach altogether and return to the kind of ‘democracy-spotting’ of the 1990s. Instead the paper argues that a number of the basic tenets of the post-democratization approach are still valid and it what is needed is rather a kind of ‘upgrading’.

Paper 3: Stateless People amidst Arab Uprisings: Disenfranchisement and Revolt
Dr Claire Beaugrand
, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CNRS, Institut Français du Proche-Orient, Beirut

A demonstration erupted outside of a mosque in Jahra, a far-periphery of Kuwait City on 17 February 2011. Protesters did not request political reforms but their naturalisation from a monarchy they generally support. The movement of the so-called biduns –or paperless people– was rapidly quelled and its coverage was extremely limited. Yet the issue, that has been going on for decades now, appears as symptomatic of long-term dysfucntioning in certain Gulf states. This paper will investigate the link between the dynamics of discrimination embodied in the exclusion of citizenship –that would normally lead oppressed people to call for political changes, and those of regime preservation, advocated instead by the biduns. Based on fieldwork and qualitative interviews with the different actors of the protest, it will seek to understand the reasons, whether international, economic or sociological, why nationality-based discrimination in the Gulf lead to outbidding of support for the monarchies rather than their challenging.

Paper 4: The Uprisings in Egypt: Who protested and why
Dr John Chalcraft,
Reader in the History and Politics of Empire/Imperialism, LSE

This paper takes as a point of departure the diversity (in terms of class, gender, education, religion, ideological affiliation and so on) of the actors involved in the uprisings – and yet the fact of their levels of non-doctrinal / non-hierarchical coordination where each participated in their own way (doctors offered health-care, young men prepared Molotov cocktails, educated youth documented rights abuses, poets prepared chants and so on). It is this paradox of diversity and coordination that this paper is exploring. It argues that we should not analyse these uprisings in modernist mode in terms of social class + ideology. The sociological and ideological terrain was far more complex. But nor are we simply dealing with disconnected and uncoordinated fragments that came together in fleeting communitas against a common enemy. This paper explores the possibility that the growth of neoliberalism, securitization, migration, the informal sector, and informal neighborhoods – together with a rising arc of new kinds of contentious politics (Beinin and Vairel 2011), created the possibility for new kinds of creative, participatory, non-doctrinal, non-hierarchical and yet coordinated forms of political action.

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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