Arab Revolutions and the Study of Middle Eastern Societies

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Abstract

The speed, spread, and democratic thrust of Arab revolutionary uprisings conjure up the revolutionary waves of 1848 and 1989 in Europe. Spearheaded by educated youth, the Arab uprisings have been brought to fruition by the masses of ordinary people (men, women, Muslims, and non-Muslims) who have mobilized at an astonishing scale against authoritarian regimes in pursuit of social justice, democratic governance, and dignity. If this broad observation is valid, then these social earthquakes are likely to unsettle some of the most enduring perspectives on the region. To begin with, they should undermine 'Middle East exceptionalism,' with its culturalist focus informed by assumptions of 'stagnant culture,' 'fatalist Muslims,' and 'unchangeable polity.' In political science, students of 'regime stability' and the 'authoritarian resiliency' of Arab states may have to reevaluate their conceptual premises. The analytical relevance of the concept of 'rentier state' as the political basis of authoritarian stability might likewise need serious reformulation. The blatant cash handouts by some Arab Gulf states to 'buy opposition' during the wave of protests in February and March 2011 do not seem to have worked. Adapted from the source document. Reprinted by permission of Cambridge University Press. An electronic version of this article can be accessed via the internet at http://journals.cambridge.org

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Authors

  • Asef Bayat

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