Preliminary Theoretical and Empirical Deliberation
By Philipp O. Amour
The purpose of this section is to sum up the concept of revolution and to distinguish a revolution from different forms of social disturbances.
Time and again the Middle East has become the center of global attention. The long awaited and much celebrated Arab Spring uprisings promised to evince a major shift in the Arab World.
Notably, some Arab states witnessed an institutional and constitutional shift that put Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen on the path of transition to liberalization and democracy.
Transitions to democracy suggested that the democracy phenomenon is not limited to Europe or North America. In the meantime, however, the Arab Spring movement has had a virulent history.
Arab Spring revolutionary outcomes are meek according to both qualitative and quantitative measurements. Most transitions towards democracy failed; authoritarianism is still persistent, with an even stronger nature.
The chapter argues that the Arab Spring movement marked a break in the continuity of authoritarian dominance but not a turning point in the development towards democracy. The Arab Spring movement was a set of uprisings, would-be revolutions – not great revolutions.
These would-be revolutions largely failed, with the exception of Tunisia. This chapter examines the factors behind the rise and failure of the Arab Spring uprisings and the conformity of the Arab Spring to the concept of revolution.
The long awaited and much celebrated recent Arab uprisings seemed to evince an acute and persistent shift in the Arab World. The so-called Arab Spring started in Tunisia following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation late 2010.
The Jasmin Spring in Tunisia became the reagent for the wider Arab Spring movement against despotic regimes. Internet communication networks, social media applications and satellite TV have transformed the revolutionary drive across the wider Middle East and empowered rapid utilization and collective protest action.
This revolutionary funk spread to other Middle Eastern states such as Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Palestine.
The revolutionary regional drive nurtured the growing dissatisfaction across the Middle East with regard to the dire socio-economic and volatile political environments. Protestors demanded political reforms, social justice and good governance.
In states such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen (which I label category 1), revolutionaries demanded the fall of the state leadership; they succeeded in overthrowing the government.
At a later stage, the protesters managed to transfer state powers to a newly elected political elite in the context of executive and legislative elections. In other Arab states, protestors claimed rather social justice and political reforms.
Such demands encouraged the state monarchs, such as those in Jordan and Morocco, to introduce political and economic reforms to appease the protestors. High-income Arab states in the Gulf region increased their welfare systems to soothe their population and buy polities out of uprisings.
Welfare in authoritarian systems is credited with lowering revolutionary energy. In both cases (in low- and high-income countries), the monarchies became aware of the danger and employed reforms or welfare to prevent a prospective revolution from unfolding.
Thus, revolutionary waves in the Middle East were not congruent in their revolutionary demands, courses, or outcomes. Whereas Arab Spring uprisings brought about an institutional shift and a change in the state’s leadership in the first category, they obtained a modest economic and political liberalization in other cases.
Notably, one-party states, republics, have proven vulnerable in the wake of the Arab Spring compared to resistant monarchies. The Arab Spring turmoil has not only unleashed domestic political transitions across the region and promised to remodel society-state relations.
It has also released a set of strategic dynamics that appeared to change the broader regional system and its relations with other systems. In the meantime, however, the Arab Spring movement has had a virulent history.
It was unsuccessful and failed to meet the demands of the protestors to establish a democratic system, good governance or social justice. Likewise, the Arab Spring movement failed to meet the euphoria and expectations of observers as an extended third wave or the fourth wave of democratization.
Since the conclusion of the Arab Spring, most Arab Spring states have either witnessed a setback into autocracy (e.g., Egypt) or devolved into disorder (e.g., Yemen, Libya).
Most states in the wider Middle East continue to struggle along the uneven path to authoritarianism, as repressive regimes continue to restrict political liberties and control the public sphere.
Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring movement, seems a sole exception. These revolutionary developments raise questions regarding the rise and failure of the Arab Spring movement.
In addition, they shed light on the (non-)conformity of the Arab Spring movement to the concept of revolution; in other words, was the Arab Spring movement a set of uprisings or revolutions?
The thesis of the chapter is that the Arab Spring movement marked a break in the continuity of authoritarian dominance but not a turning point in the development to democracy.
The Arab Spring movement was a set of uprisings, would-be revolutions – not great revolutions. These would-be revolutions largely failed, with the exception of Tunisia. I argue, moreover, that the Arab Spring uprisings were not unique in their course or outcome; rather, they fit universal revolution theories.
The next section lays a preliminary theoretical orientation of what makes a revolution and what does not. The subsequent section reflects on the Arab spring movement from the theoretical perspectives alluded to in the previous section.
Then, the following two sections address the factors behind the start of the so-called Arab Spring movement and behind its failure.
The section on the failure of the Arab Spring movement attempts to distinguish three cases of Arab Spring uprisings:
(a) the first category elites (e.g., Egypt, Libya, and Yemen);
(b) the second category covers states where external interventions were witnessed as a counter-revolution (e.g., Bahrain and Syria); and
(c) a third category covers most Arab Spring cases with lower to no revolutionary events.
Preliminary theoretical deliberations: What makes a revolution and what does not?
Economists, historians, and political scientists have long debated about the causes, typology, and evolutionary configurations of revolutions; as a result, they have delivered diverse concepts of this particular phenomenon.
The purpose of this section is to sum up the concept of revolution and to distinguish a revolution from different forms of social disturbances. Social scientists argue that a revolution involves a certain level of political activism of a larger proportion of the people against their own government or regime.
A driving belief interrelated with views of economic impartiality, social justice, and experiences of bad governance (individually or combined) are classically the motor of revolutionary processes that attract mass participation of the polity in revolutionary events.
Revolutions have taken place throughout human history and differ extensively in form, span, course, outcome, and driving ideology. The history of revolutions demonstrates empirical irregularities.
Revolutions follow different violent or stable paths. A civil war is a form of a bloody revolutionary mobilization. A peaceful uprising or a reform movement are examples of non-violent revolutionary mobilization.
Revolutions may erupt swiftly to the surprise of the political and scholastic elite, as did the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979) or the so-called Arab Revolutions in 2011.
Revolutions may take place slowly over a longer period of time, as did the Chinese Communist revolution; the protagonists and antagonists of ongoing revolution may be in one way or another aware of the process taking place.
Social scientists categorize specific types of revolutionary forms. A potential revolution may reveal features of different forms of rebellion, uprising, military insurrection, grain riot, or coup d’état. However, all of these forms are different from a revolution.
A rebellion may be exclusive (tiny elite rebellion, for example) or mass rebellion. The term rebellion suggests violent actions. An uprising refers to weaponless or roughly armed popular rebellion. A militarized insurrection suggests a higher involvement of paramilitary means in planned actions.
Mobilizations in the form of uprisings or rebellions may occur in rural areas and remain isolated;
(a) they may start in cities and spread elsewhere. Less isolated social movements that manage to attract the attention and support of the wider masses beyond their narrow circle have more chances to bring out the first stage of revolution:
(b) shift in state leadership and institutional change. These forms of political mobilization may bring out revolutionary outcomes and result in successful revolutions;
(c) they may not unfold into successful revolutions and may remain mere political disorder. History demonstrates that grain riots and social movements do not stand up to destroying the regime; and
(d) instead, they direct themselves towards the regime (i.e., compromise) or try to work within the institutional framework to induce changes.
Both mobilization forms may turn revolutionary if the ruling authority fails to anticipate the urgency for meaningful reforms or if it blocks all peaceful means.
What distinguishes a revolution from other political phenomena/social disturbances is a collective driving ideology of national strength capable of attracting the hearts and minds of the masses.
Carriers of a prospective revolution are capable of overthrowing the state leadership, electing novel political elite and creating new state institutions. An evident change of the political elite and institutional shifts are revolutionary outcomes of a promising ongoing/would-be revolution.
Philipp O. Amour is Assistant Professor of International Relations (IR) and Middle East Studies (MES) at Sakarya University’s Middle East Institute.
The Source: Chapter 8 in ‘The Middle East Reloaded Revolutionary Changes, Power Dynamics and Regional Rivalries Since the Arab Spring’. Philipp O. Amour (Ed.). Academica Press. London-Washington.