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The Arab Spring in North Africa: Special Journal Issue

December 16, 2011

Yet another scholarly journal is offering a special issue on the “Arab Spring”, this time the interdisciplinary Journal of North African Studies.

The issue offers a short introduction by George Joffé (Cambridge), who explains that the special issue “is an early attempt to contribute to the growing debate about what these events may eventually mean.”

He explains:

Early ideas of a ‘domino effect’ have now been set aside, for it is clear that some attempts to transform regimes through peaceful mass demonstration have ended in tragedy, whilst others have been adroitly managed by the regimes they challenged. And, in at least three cases – Libya, Yemen and Syria – peaceful challenges to established governments have been met with the full force of state violence, whilst in the Gulf monarchic conservatism has ensured political stasis. Instead, it has become evident that the demonstrations themselves were merely the prologues to complex and lengthy processes of transition that may take years to be completed, in which positive outcomes are not inevitable.

North Africa, he points out, offers a useful site for case study since all four of these alternatives have emerged in one part of the Maghreb or another.

The other articles, and their abstracts, are as follows:

Joffé, George. 2011.  The Arab Spring in North Africa: origins and prospects. Pages: 507-532.

The insurgencies in Tunisia and Egypt – the Jasmine and the Tahrir Revolutions – seemed to offer great hope of the outbreak of democratic change in the Middle East and North Africa in what has come to be called the ‘Arab Spring’. However, the civil war in Libya and the ongoing crises in Yemen and Syria suggest that overall regional change may prove to be more difficult to achieve. In fact there are quite specific reasons why insurgencies occurred in three North African states and not in the remaining two states and why their outcomes have been so different. The causes for the insurgency are similar – they lie in the global economic crisis and in the neo-patrimonial political natures of regional states – but the outcomes differ because two of the states concerned were liberalising autocracies and the third – Libya – had resolutely rejected any political or social domestic competitors to its hegemonic political discourse and practice. Even the liberalised autocracies face very different futures for, in Tunisia a whole system has been removed whilst in Egypt, the regime rejected its figurehead in order to preserve the regime itself. Ironically enough, the authorities in Tunisia attempted a similar course of action but were unable to impose themselves on the revolution that had occurred.

Alexander, Anne. 2011. Brothers-in-arms? The Egyptian military, the Ikhwan and the revolutions of 1952 and 2011. Pages: 533-554

This article argues that examining the dynamics of interaction between the Egyptian military regime which took power in 1952 and the Muslim Brotherhood can aid our understanding of the strategic and tactical choices facing the post-Mubarak military regime and the Brotherhood following the revolution of 2011. Significant common factors at play in both periods include the shared desire of both the Brotherhood leadership and the military regime to secure the demobilisation of the popular protest movements which played a fundamental role in the destabilisation of the old regime in order to secure their own position in a post-revolutionary political order. In both cases, while the Brotherhood’s ability to organise independently of the state made it a valuable potential partner for the military rulers, the state played an active role in creating opportunities for the Brotherhood to extend its influence at the expense of its rivals. However, comparison also reveals crucial differences between the two periods. Firstly, there is the very different relationship between the officers who assumed power and old regimes. The second difference is the altered relationship between the military seizure of power and popular participation in the revolution. A third area of contrast lies in the configuration of the military’s tactical alliance with its civilian partners.

Tavana, Daniel L. 2011. Party proliferation and electoral transition in post-Mubarak Egypt. Pages: 555-571

In the aftermath of the popular revolt that overthrew President Mubarak in February 2011, Egypt’s transition to democracy has been a cautious one. Despite the restrained pace of reform, one of the defining features of post-Mubarak politics has been a surge in the number of new political parties contesting seats in Parliament. This paper argues that the nature of Egypt’s new mixed-member majoritarian electoral system encourages loose alliances dominated by three political factions: liberals, leftists, and religious parties. It focuses on Egypt’s new electoral framework, emerging political realities, and those parties likely to shape the political landscape in the future.

Nanabhay, Mohamed  and  Roxane Farmanfarmaian. 2011. From spectacle to spectacular: How physical space, social media and mainstream broadcast amplified the public sphere in Egypt’s ‘Revolution’. Pages: 573-603

This study examines the impact of the media during the Egyptian uprising of 2011 and the extent that amplification occurred between the inter-related spaces of the physical (protests), the analogue (satellite television and other mainstream media) and the digital (internet and social media). Specifically, it analyses the intersection of these three spaces in what we label the ‘amplified public sphere’ and define as the information environment created when each space informs the other. Analysis begins by drawing on Bruce D’Arcus’ notion of ‘spectacles of dissent’, in which activists renegotiate the visibility of the public sphere through protest and media networking. It then expands the concept, arguing that the Egyptian uprisings took it to the next level, transforming the ‘spectacle’ into a ‘media spectacular’, which globalised the public sphere through 24/7 coverage of what became an ‘internationalised’ physical space of Tahrir amplified by social media into mainstream blanket coverage. In analysis of a database of YouTube videos, the move from spectacle to spectacular was identified as coincident with a move from social media dominance to mainstream media amplification, even as the latter itself shifted how media was produced and consumed.

Brahimi, Alia. 2011. Libya’s Revolution. Pages: 605-624

Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi’s Libya was always supposed to be about people power. There was some irony, therefore, in the fact that the Qadhafi regime was brought to the brink of collapse by the sort of popular grassroots politics that the Libyan leader himself had rhetorically championed. Indeed, unlike the situation in Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan rebellion appears to have resulted in a wholesale revolution. It was also more prolonged, and more violent. This paper explores three over-lapping factors to account for the difference between Libya and its neighbours. Firstly, the intense personalisation of politics in Libya ensured that, for the hardships and humiliations of the previous four decades, the buck stopped with Colonel Qadhafi himself. At the same time, the methodology of his long rule allowed for no chinks in the regime’s armour – it had to be hegemony, or bust. Secondly, the fact that the colonel was able to adopt an iron-fisted approach to the demonstrators was linked, in important ways, to the tribal dynamics of his ‘stateless state’ – particularly those which underlay the security services. Finally, a pre-existing geographical tradition of resistance to centralised authority enabled the rebellion to develop as a credible force and sustain itself for six months, despite military setbacks. When the chips were down, Colonel Qadhafi could fall back on a small but robust network of (divided) tribal alliances, (divided) militias, (divided) regions and a (divided) family competing for his favour. Yet the divisions which he cultivated also provided succour to the millions of people who wished to oust him. The greatest challenge ahead for their representatives is to do away with informal spheres of power in Libya and to bring the political process out into the open.

Mabrouk, Mehdi. 2011. A revolution for dignity and freedom: preliminary observations on the social and cultural background to the Tunisian revolution. Pages: 625-635

This paper seeks to explain the logic behind the Tunisian revolution, from the social protest which erupted in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid which then expanded to other regions – Kasserine, Douz, Jendouba and Sfax – until it evolved into a revolution which sparked off similar developments in other Arab countries. In this process, the self-immolation of a young informal trader, Mohamed Bouazizi, before the governorate in Sidi Bouzid, in protest at an official ban on his sales of fruit and vegetables, became the catalyst for this transformation, symbolising the issue of unemployment amongst youth, particularly amongst those with higher education. It also seeks to highlight the unfair socio-economic discrimination which existed between the interior and the coast in Tunisia, against the background of the general atmosphere of the lack of freedom of expression which lay behind the protests which ensued. However, these revolutionary events were not simply determined by the social and economical context but were also a response to highly rational calculations of how the abilities and resources of the different social classes directly affected by the former regime could be mobilised to achieve such a revolutionary outcome. Yet in attempting to assess this logic so soon after the events themselves, the author recognises the epistemological problems inherent in making such an assessment, both in terms of the interrelationships between events and in terms of participant observation of them. It is for this reason that his conclusions can only be preliminary.

Pickard, Duncan. 2011. Challenges to legitimate governance in post-revolution Tunisia. Pages: 637-652

The power to craft Tunisia’s post–Ben Ali government has been vested in the National Constituent Assembly, which was elected on 23 October 2011. The constituent assembly has sovereign authority to draft a new constitution and govern Tunisia until its replacement is elected. The first challenge confronting the constituent assembly will be to build legitimacy for itself and the transitional government that it will appoint. This paper places the constituent assembly in the context of post-revolution politics and summarises its role, responsibilities, and structure. The paper also anticipates key challenges to the constituent assembly’s legitimacy as it works to meet the high expectations of Tunisians and the rest of the world.

Entelis, John P. 2011. Algeria: democracy denied, and revived? Pages: 653-678

Algeria was the first country in the Arab world to experience an ‘Arab spring’ at least two decades before Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were to undergo their democratic intifadas. Yet that democratic moment was quickly subverted by a military coup d’état followed by a decade – long bloody civil war costing the lives of 200,000 people or more. The tripartite pillars of the Algerian state – party, army, Sonatrach – have maintained the political status quo since the 1992 coup in the face of a swelling discontent in civil society among a broad cross-section of Algerian youth, workers, women, Islamists, Berberists, and bourgeoisie, all demanding greater political freedom, economic opportunity, and social justice. This article analyses the complex manner in which the authoritarian Algerian state has been able to maintain its stranglehold over civil society at a time when it confronts a newly invigorated mass public energised by the democratic revolutions that have taken place in the neighbouring North African states of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

Maghraoui, Driss. 2011. Constitutional reforms in Morocco: between consensus and subaltern politics. Pages: 679-699

Morocco’s adjustment to popular political and economic demands, as voiced by the February 20th Movement and the civil society-based movement it engendered was generally hailed as an indication of the monarchy’s willingness to bow to democratic demand and, as such, as an example for the Arab world to emulate. However, despite the apparent concessions to popular demand, the monarchy in fact ceded none of its essential prerogatives, thus preserving its control of the Moroccan political scene intact. Indeed, the official Moroccan response to the demands of the Arab Spring merely highlighted once again the Royal Palace’s hegemonic control of the political process there.

The issue ends with a book review by David Bargueño (Yale) of Beatrice Hibou’s 2011 The force of obedience: the political economy of repression in Tunisia, Trans. Andrew Brown, Cambridge: Polity Press

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