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.



Comparative research suggests that very few transition periods have proven effective to induce a radical change within a short period of time that can stabilize the subsequent post-authoritarian era.

Social fragmentation and weak states are also part of the authoritarian heritage in Libya and Yemen that challenged a smooth transition period.

The authoritarian legacy in Tunisia regarding structural problems (socio-economic grievances) was, in comparison to other transition cases, less persistent in the transition period. Among other factors, this enhanced the success potential of the would-be Jasmine revolution.

In harmony with these theoretical deliberations, the post-authoritarian elite did not gain the support of regional hegemonic powers that considered them a risk to their own domestic security and the regional balance of power, as evident in the case of Egypt.

As a result, different hegemonic powers in the Middle East supported different streams of post-authoritarian elite as evident in the cases of Yemen and Libya. This explains why some states in the Middle East supported the coup in Egypt or contributed to the failed transitions in Yemen and Libya. This causality is even more evident in the following category.

The second category of Arab Spring cases includes state leadership that managed to maintain the support of security services, above all the army, in addition to major portions of the professionals and the polity.

In addition, they managed to obtain strategic external intervention for their survival. In Bahrain, the uprising was harshly inhibited by the external intervention of the forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), whose member states were afraid that a constitutional change in Bahrain would lead to a domino effect across their borders.

In Syria, the military insurrectionists were about to besiege the regime when the external powers of Iran, Hezbollah and at later stage Russia intervened for the sake of Syrian regime. The bloody confrontation is still ongoing.

In both cases, foreign intervention was counter-revolutionary from the perspective of the Arab Spring movement.

The third category including the rest of the Arab states reveals less revolutionary turbulence. Demonstrations were relatively minor and isolated and rarely unfolded at a large-scale level.

In specific cases, as in Jordan or Morocco, carriers of demonstrations did not seek per se a profound revolution, a change of the authority ruler.

In addition, in these cases, carriers of revolutionary actions failed to change their revolutionary actions from an isolated phenomenon into a large-scale operation; to break the support of key security agencies, most importantly the army; and to break the solidarity of the intellectuals and political elite.

In other words, the national discontent in these states was likely not deep-rooted enough to emerge in large-scale actions. As a result, the revolutionary chronology was of short duration, and groundbreaking energy was at a low level. The revolutionary events thawed over time.

These factors did not put enough pressure on the ruling elite to uphold to their political and economic reforms. Major reforms were absent, and some reforms were frozen or not implemented.

Remarkably, the weak revolutionary gravity in this category did not increase the impetus among professionals to join or coordinate revolutionary actions; it did not decrease the apathy of the ruling elite towards power separation and power sharing. In the states of this category, a first stage of would-be revolution did not take place.

One other factor accounts for the failure of the Arab Spring movement in the second and third categories: the lack of support of professionals, above all from leftist and pan-Arabist streams.

Members of these streams put into question the emancipatory character of the Arab Spring; they found these revolutionary events objectionable, perceived the Arab Spring movement not as a developmental shift towards democratization but rather as imperialist and/or regional aspirants.

Critics regarded the Arab Spring movement as a grand master plan to crack down on the resistance movement in the Middle East (i.e., the conservative-resistance bloc) and take over the region held by the conservative-moderate bloc known for its good intentions towards or submission to the USA and Israel.

However, these views fail too to appreciate that notably Tunisia has achieved early benchmarks towards democratization and that the factors behind regional disorder are domestic and regional rather than American or Israeli.

In the meantime, the opposition towards the Arab Spring movement has increased even among people who do not have leftist or pan-Arabist ideological orientation. These voices argue that the Arab Spring movement was the flux of the century that caused desolation to many Arabs and brought little to no changes in social, political and economic affairs.

They mark, for instance, regional polar rivalries and regional chaos. Such widespread voices, in the meantime, prefer authoritarian continuity to the witnessed disorders across the Middle East and in particular in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria.


Contemporaries have postulated the Arab Spring period as a turning point in regional history and as such described revolts as revolutions, drawing similarity to the French revolution. Such voices took the success of the Arab Spring movements for granted. They assumed that the regimes/leadership of many Arab states, if not all of them, were about to witness a radical shift.

Contemporaries have justified their prism of a new era in the Middle East with the prospective domino effect of the regional uprisings and with a prospective transition into a long-awaited extended third wave of democratization or even a fourth wave of democratization.

During times of excessive optimism, some contemporaries have emphasized that the Arab Spring model is neither European nor preceded by similar instances but is rather the outcome of the Arab world’s distinct characteristics.

In retrospect, it becomes apparent that such insights represented an approach of hope rather than sound empiricism. Critics have exposed the label Arab Spring and noted that it is confusing and has some illusionary characteristics.

Literally, the uprisings started in winter and not in the spring. Thus, calling it a spring suggests a promising development of the events in the Arab states along the lines of the revolutions of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe that resulted in a radical shift of political systems. 38 The term implies a self-assurance and a certainty of success for an alleged new era.

Taking into consideration a total of 22 members in the League of Arab States reveals that the claimed shift was rather exaggerated. Four potential revolutions (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen) entered the first stage of would-be revolution and witnessed a change in state leadership.

The coincidence of the above discussed factors afforded for political change may explain why in these specific cases the revolutionaries managed to tackle the state leadership. However, with the exception of Tunisia, all cases failed the transition period.

Egypt witnessed a military coup. Libya, Yemen and Syria are undergoing civil wars and at the same time proxy wars of regional/international powers. All three cases have since been witnessing a reversal in political liberties to a level worse than that of pre-revolutionary times.

In other words, the so-called Arab Spring is per se not a region-wide Arab Awakening/Revolution either in course or in scope. The Arab Spring movement could be compared in many aspects with the revolutionary wave of 1848, but not with that of 1989.

The label Arab Spring suggests a homogenous Arab entity regarding median age, literacy, poverty, corruption, or youths out of work, in addition to the level of resentment against bad governance – such factors seen as underlying factors for revolution.

The research concludes, however, that Arab states are different from each other in the mentioned domains. The Arab polities share a perceived common historical memory and face similar transnational issues.

The impact of the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia on other Arab states confirms the internal ties Arabs enjoy and the role of North Africa, long regarded as a periphery of the Middle East. However, the prism that what applies to Tunisia would apply elsewhere was naive, as the pre-conditions of would-be revolution are different across Arab states.

Against this background, I argue that regional dynamics have marked a break in the continuity of authoritarian persistence but not a turning point in the progress to democracy.

In other words, while the Arab Spring obtained revolutionary potential, it did not reach the level of a revolution, where the region-wide after-era marks a distinguished break from the region-wide before-Arab Spring era.

Moreover, I argue that the dramatic events in the region may be different from previous revolutionary forms in Arab States or elsewhere. However, they are not unique. Despite the Arab nations’ distinctive historical and socio-cultural experience(s), the Arab Spring uprisings apply to the universal revolution theories.

The Arab Spring is now dead. The would-be revolutions have miscarried. For that, authoritarian regimes will dominate regional politics in the long future to come.


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.



Related Articles