The latest volume of the journal International Sociology offers a special issue on Arab uprisings edited by Mohammed Bamyeh and Sara Hanafi.
Three of the six articles are about Egypt, and two are about the Arab uprisings generally but at least touch on things Egyptian (the remaining article is about the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE)
The issue opens with an introduction by Mohammed Bamyeh and Sari Hanafi in which they suggest that the most interesting thing “about the Arab uprisings is that they were surprising.”
Sometimes one hears in public discussions voices that reject the notion that the uprisings were surprising, and insist that there were clear signs of them all along. But none of the experts on the region saw such signs, and even local intellectuals who had sincerely wished for revolutions never saw them coming. In fact, whenever they had sought, before 2011, to describe how a revolution would happen, their frame of reference was a variety of Leninism – that is, the model of organization that is least relevant to the study of the Arab uprisings. In any case, there is nothing more common that after-the-fact reconstructions of events, so that they appear to have been destined all along to put us on a revolutionary path.
The uprisings in the Arab World “continue to supply us with a repertoire of surprises, counter plots, setbacks and successes.” Key questions for sociologists of the revolution are:
- Where did these movements come from?
- How do they relate to older movements in the region?
- What do they tell us about how to study social movements and revolutions?
- What are their distinctive features?
- What features do they have in common with older movements and revolutions worldwide?
The first article on Egypt is “We ought to be here: Historicizing space and mobilization in Tahrir
Square” by Atef Said. Here is the abstract:
“Violence and torture are inversely proportional to the expected reaction when the case is publicized.”
That’s a quotation from psychiatrist Aida Seif al-Dawla, founder and executive director of the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture.
Her interview with Lina Attalah, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Mada Masr, appears in the latest edition of the Middle East Research and Information Project on-line under the title “‘A Beast That Took a Break and Came Back’: Prison Torture in Egypt.”
Here are a few excerpts:
After the June 30, 2013 protests calling for an end to the Muslim Brothers’ rule, torture increased. But the public stopped wanting to see it, and started to label accounts of torture as lies. Some opted instead to acknowledge that torture is happening—and to endorse it. This is the major difference from before. The state will always oppress, but it is no longer so important for the state to hide its crimes of torture as it was in the past.
Sympathy with torture survivors is conditional.
Whenever things are going wrong in Egypt, local political actors and conservative media pundits will blame it on “the invisible hands” of foreign agents–usually the US and Israel’s Zionist agenda, but sometimes Iran, and sometimes Saudi Arabia or Qatar, and every once in awhile a coalition of all of them (seriously–someone on state media offered that to account for the protests in 2011).
But they are not alone, of course. Political scientists are always trying to figure out how exactly events in a country are influenced by the foreign policy of global and regional neighbors.
What happens when “prodemocracy” countries and “antidemocracy” countries duke it out in someplace like, oh…Egypt?
That’s the topic of a special issue of the journal Democracy entitled “Democracy Promotion and the Challenges of Illiberal Regional Powers,” edited by Nelli Babayan and Thomas Risse. The basic argument is that in addition to those countries promoting democracy–liberal powers–there are countervailing “illiberal powers” who want to see that democracy never takes root.
So in this corner, we have the United States and the European Union, championing democracy, and in the other corners we have players like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China, who are portrayed as working actively to undermine democracy.
In 2012 I traveled to Oxford University to participate in an interdisciplinary conference on the Egyptian revolution. “The Egyptian Revolution, One Year On: Causes, Characteristics and Fortunes” was a fascinating experience, as I joined scholars from many different disciplines struggling, as I was, for a theoretical language that would effectively describe and explain the revolution.
The conference turned into a book project, and the book “Revolutionary Egypt: Connecting Domestic and International Struggles,” edited by Reem Abou El-Fadl was released today by Routledge.
My own chapter, “Re-Envisioning Tahrir: The Changing Meanings of Tahrir Square in Egypt’s Ongoing Revolution,” is about the ways different political actors have laid claim to Tahrir Square, how they interpreted and articulated its meanings, and how they discursively positioned it within their own visions of the continuing Egyptian revolution.
Whatever one wants to say about Hosni Mubarak, one has to acknowledge that when it came to dealing with the international community he was a savvy politician (whether you list this on the positive or negative side of the ledger depends on how you feel about politicians).
In a recent article in the Cambridge Review of International Affairs William Youmans argues that one of Mubarak’s successes was resisting the “Freedom Agenda”–the multifaceted push by the George W. Bush to push the Middle East toward greater democracy.
In 2005, the administration intensified efforts pressuring Egypt, a client state, to democratize. However, the US continued pursuing security cooperation with and providing military aid to Egypt.
Youmans claims that President Hosni Mubarak kept US reform efforts at bay by exploiting the inherent inconsistencies between the Bush administration’s democratization program, and its push for security in the war on terror.