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Arab Society in Revolt

Arab Society in Revolt: The West's Mediterranean Challenge

Cesare Merlini
Olivier Roy
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 268
  • Book Info
    Arab Society in Revolt
    Book Description:

    For every pithy conceptualization of complex events, there are additional lenses through which to examine them. One of the several virtues of this book is precisely that it brings different perspectives to bear on the complexity, diversity, and uncertainty of recent and current events in the Arab world. The thirteen authors concentrate on the critical social forces shaping the region -demography, religion, gender, telecommunication connectivity, and economic structures -and they are painstakingly analyzed and evaluated. -from the foreword by Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution

    The Arab Spring will be remembered as a period of great change for the Arab states of North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. Facing fundamental transitions in governance, these countries are also undergoing profound social, cultural, and religious changes. The European Union and the United States, caught unprepared by the uprisings, now must address the inescapable challenges of those changes. How will the West respond to these new realities, particularly in light of international economic uncertainty, EU ambivalence toward a "cohesive foreign policy," and declining U.S. influence abroad?Arab Society in Revoltexplains and interprets the societal transformations occurring in the Arab Muslim world, their ramifications for the West, and possible policy options for dealing with this new world.

    Arab Society in Revoltexamines areas of change particularly relevant in the southern Mediterranean: demography and migration, Islamic revival and democracy, rapidly changing roles of women in Arab society, the Internet in Arab societies, commercial and social entrepreneurship as change factors, and the economics of Arab transitions. The book then looks at those cultural and religious as well as political and economic factors that have influenced the Western response, or lack of it, to the Arab Spring as well as the policy options that remain open.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2397-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Strobe Talbott

    On December 17, 2010, a twenty-six-year-old street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself with gasoline, lit a match, and set himself on fire outside the municipal headquarters of a provincial Tunisian town. His desperate act followed persistent harassment from local officials that interfered with his livelihood and culminated in the confiscation of his grocery cart. This tragedy was the spark that ignited a regional conflagration and the biggest geopolitical transformation since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over subsequent weeks and months, protests swept across the Arab world and led to the fall of four dictators whose collective tenure in...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In our time civil society has growing relevance in the global polity and in international relations. At the same time, it is undergoing profound and rapid change in almost every corner of the planet. People today increasingly communicate, interrelate, and enter into conflicts outside the representation and intermediation of their respective national governments. Nonstate actors such as ethnic and religious groups, corporations and smaller businesses, nongovernmental organizations and impromptu street demonstrators, and radical or terrorist networks have become more prominent in a time of relatively little warfare, high economic interdependence among nations, partial attempts at global governance, and an unprecedented...


    • 1 Demography, Migration, and Revolt in the Southern Mediterranean
      (pp. 17-46)

      For the people of the Mediterranean, the early 2010s will be remembered as a period of great change. In the south, Arab citizens’ claims to fundamental freedoms and dignities have toppled—or at least seriously shaken—decades-old dictatorships, while in the north the market’s failures have confronted governments with an unprecedented crisis concerning the equally old and unsustainable production and welfare systems. The two crises, political in the south and economic in the north, have no common origins except that they are both partly rooted in the progressive, inexorable transformations brought about by demographic change.

      Historians will certainly highlight the...

    • 2 Islamic Revival and Democracy: The Case in Tunisia and Egypt
      (pp. 47-52)

      In this short analysis of the role of the religious factor in the societal change occurring on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, it may be appropriate to begin from a point already hinted at in the Introduction. An entrenched prejudice in Western public opinion is that there can be no process of democratization in the Muslim world if there is no prior process of secularization or reformation of Islam. This is one of the reasons why the West supported supposedly secularist dictatorships, as in Tunisia, in the hope that these regimes would have an impact similar to the Kemalist...

    • 3 The Changing Role of Women in Society
      (pp. 53-75)

      In January–February 2011, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt were overthrown by unprecedented mass mobilizations. Inspired by the Tunisian and the Egyptian revolutions, a wave of popular protest has spread to other Arab countries, although, apart from Libya, incumbent regimes are still in place. Contrary to the widespread view that Arab women are passive victims in their societies, they have played a prominent role in this large movement of protests, contributing as key actors of change. Women’s massive participation in the so-called Arab Spring is emblematic of the direction and extent of gender...

    • 4 Mediterranean Islamic Expression and Web 2.0
      (pp. 76-95)
      GARY R. BUNT

      Just prior to 9/11, I completed writing a piece entitled “Islam Interactive: Mediterranean Islamic Expression on the World Wide Web” for the journalMediterranean Politicssubsequently published in the bookShaping the Current Islamic Reformation. This was written shortly after my bookVirtually Islamicwas published.¹ The events of 9/11, coupled with the technological developments of the succeeding decade, make that period seem like a different world compared to today—one that was relatively unconnected digitally. The main driving elements of the Internet at that time were FTP (file transfer protocol), e-mail, Usenet groups, and prototype web pages. It was...

    • 5 Modern Commercial and Social Entrepreneurship as a Factor of Change
      (pp. 96-121)

      Classical modernization and political economy approaches both consider a wide array of economic agents as potential drivers for change. These actors include international agents such as foreign companies (not only trans national corporations but also smaller companies), international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and local agents such as national public companies, entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, and segments of civil societies involved in economic or social activities (professional associations, trade unions, and local NGOs). Several authors have highlighted the linkages between entrepreneurs and Mediterranean political systems, but their analyses have tended to focus on the role of large entrepreneurs.¹ In fact, nobody could...

    • 6 The Economics of Arab Transitions
      (pp. 122-144)

      Lack of economic freedom in the southern Mediterranean countries played an important role in the revolutions of 2011. At the onset of the Arab Spring, the economies were characterized by high unemployment, especially among youth and women; large public sectors; bloated subsidies on food and fuel; and a weak investment climate. While the revolutions were primarily motivated by a demand for dignity, voice, and government accountability, the absence of economic opportunity fueled the population’s frustration with the long-standing political systems.

      The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries now face serious short-term challenges because of the uncertainty, business disruptions, and...


    • 7 Midwife or Spectator? U.S. Policies toward North Africa in the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 147-168)

      American policymakers, academics, and pundits did not wait long to begin deconstructing the decade of events leading to 2011’s revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and to reflect upon the collective failure to predict the imminence of regional political instability.¹ Unlike other recent “intelligence failures”—say, the discovery of nuclear proliferation or terrorist networks—the absence of prediction did not mean observers were taken by surprise. Many of the same North Africa experts and responsible officials during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies were convinced the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes’ days were numbered because political and economic reform...

    • 8 The Power of False Analogies: Misunderstanding Political Islam in a Post-Totalitarian World
      (pp. 169-183)

      “We have seen their kind before,” President George W. Bush said of those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. “They’re the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.”

      For Bush the stakes posed by the terrorist attack were much higher than those posed by one nation’s...

    • 9 Societal Change and Political Responses in Euro-Mediterranean Relations
      (pp. 184-213)

      The European Union has long developed important and comprehensive relations with North Africa in the framework of the various initiatives it has launched and undertaken in the Mediterranean. In the context of EU external relations, the policy toward the Mediterranean, that is the Euro-Mediterranean policy, has a prominent role. As part of the EU neighborhood, North Africa is not only an important commercial and economic partner but also a relevant strategic factor.

      At the same time, in the past fifteen years, the societies in North African countries, along with those in the Levant, have undergone deep changes. Because of immigration,...

    • 10 The West and the Islamist Challenge: Toward a Common Religious Market?
      (pp. 214-226)

      A key issue in relations between the West and the Middle East is religion either defined as a faith or reduced to a culture. There is nevertheless a dissymmetry in the conception of the role played by religion in politics, both in the West and between the West and the Arab world. In Europe, despite a steady offensive from the Catholic Church to put Christianity at the core of the European identity, secularization is seen as the trademark of Europe: even the populist movements that insist on Europe’s Christian identity define it precisely as an identity, not a faith (no...

    • 11 The Challenge of a Changing Arab Islam in Future Transatlantic Relations
      (pp. 227-252)

      Europe lost its global dominance during the twentieth century. The United States assumed the role of the number one world power, but with the transition into this century, it has been increasingly seen as surrendering that primacy—the extent and nature of the surrender being the subject of much current literature.¹ Does that mean that “the decline of the West,” the scenario Oswald Spengler depicted almost a century ago, is finally coming true, after having been repeatedly dismissed or recalled ever since?² What is the West today?

      There is of course a broader West which, besides Europe and the United...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 253-258)
  9. Index
    (pp. 259-268)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-269)