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Four Easy Pieces on Egypt

October 10, 2013

DOMESThe latest issue of DOMES: The Digest of Middle East Studies (Vol. 22, No. 2) has four moderately interesting articles that either focus on Egypt, or focus on the “Arab Spring” but with some emphasis on Egypt.

These articles involve the following four topics:

  1. Christian-Muslim Relations in Egypt
  2. ICTs and the Transition to Democracy
  3. Thucydides’ Stasis and the Arab Spring
  4. Leadership needs in the Middle East

Christian-Muslim Relations in Egypt

The first article which caught my interest, was “Christian–Muslim Relations in Egypt in the Wake of the Arab Spring” by Paul S. Rowe, which is definitely the best of the lot. Rowe offers a useful general introduction to the dramatic changes facing Coptic relations with other groups and institutions since January 2011, while acknowledging that “the broader implications of the revolution to Copts are unclear.”

Rowe’s effort to create some clarity on this issue centers around a model of change that goes like this:

  1. The Mubarak regime had formed a stable elite “neo-millet” partnership with the hierarchy of the Coptic Orthodox Church, through which the Church could speak directly to the state in regard to Coptic interests.
  2. The uprisings eroded this partnership “in favor of a republican and pluralist model of citizenship in which individual Copts represent their own interests.”
  3. As lay movements among Copts play increasingly visible and assertive public roles in Egypt, (and in the wake of Pope Shenouda’s death and replacement by a young and untried successor), the neo-millet model continues to lose traction.

but

4. Only “time will tell whether or not pluralist representation or church corporatism will dominate Christian–Muslim relations in Egypt into the future.

(For nonspecialists in the Middle East, the millet system refers to the Ottoman practice of creating institutionalized relationships between the state and specific protected minorities (such as Jews and Christians), who were governed by their own special courts and councils. By “neo-millet” system, Rowe seems to mean that while officially Copts are Egyptian citizens like any others, the Copts were recognized by the regime as a distinct subcommunity with whom the state could develop specific relations through the medium of the Church hierarchy.)

I realize that “only time will tell” is not much of a conclusion, but I was struck by the fact that Dr. Rowe’s notion of an evolution from a corporate Church that speaks for Copts to a range of secular Coptic organizations offers a theoretical language for some of the descriptive writing I have done on Coptic activism on this blog.

ICTs and the Transition to Democracy

The other article whose title intrigued me was “ICT, Social Media, and the Arab Transition to Democracy: From Venting to Acting” by Mohammed M. Aman and Tina J. Jayroe. Unfortunately, this article brings nothing new to the ongoing discussion of the roles of information and communication technologies in the Arab uprisings, it just summarizes what most of us who follow this topic already know, to whit:

  1. There is widespread use of information and communications technology (ICT) in the Middle East and North African countries.
  2. Using these new communication systems and devices, citizens have been venting their anger and frustration with their autocratic governments and rulers.
  3. With the Arab uprisings, this venting has turned into action
  4. During the Arab uprisings new media were used, along with the popular Arab traditions of oral communication to call for and coordinate demonstrations against the regimes.
  5. Access to this newer media helped circumvent the established and government-controlled media
  6. The Arab authoritarian regimes learned that they cannot simply flip a big red switch to stop the flow of information

The authors conclude that “digital democracies that are currently emerging because of the growing population of netizens, bloggers, and social media political activists throughout the Arab world”–an uncertain conclusion not clearly upheld by their description of the roles played by ICTs in the actual uprisings.

The article does have a lot of information in it, including a 3 1/2 page summary of Egypt’s new media profile that’s quite handy.

Thucydides’ Stasis and the Arab Spring

Years ago I was shocked by a political science colleague who informed me that he began his theory course with Aristotle. At the same university, we had a semester long “social theory” course stretching from the 16th century to the early 20th, followed by a semester long course on contemporary anthropological theory. How, I wondered, could one teach a theory course beginning way back with Aristotle and Thucydides?

I thought about that again as I read “Stranger in a Strange Land: Thucydides’ Stasis and the Arab Spring” by Spyridon Nikolaou Litsas. As the title implies, his goal is to apply to the “Arab Spring” Thucydides’ concept of stasis, “a series of violent events aiming to overthrow the established political order.”

He writes:

Poverty, social unjustice (sic), nepotism, despotism, brutality toward any form of critique and lack of tolerance concerning any different voice or opinion, and nonfunctional bureaucracy are only a few of the circumstances that allow for Stasis to erupt. But like the eruption of a volcano where everyone can see smoke coming out of its vent, no one can be sure about the exact time that Stasis will burst. During Stasis, society turns into a mob, reaching its most primordial instincts. As history has revealed, it is during Stasis where humans suffer from an evident loss of human reasoning, resembling a wolf rather than a human being

This does not sound to me like the occupation of Tahrir Square, even as Litsas describes it in the paper.

He then goes on to argue that the uprisings are more of a stasis phenomenon than a conspiracy theory because:

  1. No state or international actor has the required “capacity of power” needed  to achieve something as complicated and multidimensional as the Arab Spring, that is, “to monopolize political developments, form fifth columns, and manipulate public opinion.”
  2. At its commencement the Arab Spring failed to function in favor of any Great Power. So why would they initiate it?

Against notions of of conspiracy, or the work of resurgent Pan-Islamists, or other regional actors, Litsas asserts that it is more sensible to see the uprisings as “an accumulation of different events that took place at the domestic level in different Arab states.” This more truncated notion of stasis is one I can accept.

Leadership needs in the Middle East

The last article was “Under New Management: What the Arab Spring Tells Us About Leadership Needs in the Middle East and North Africa” by Peter Mameli. I’ll just offer the abstract here:

Leadership analysis examines how political heads and managers of public sector organizations can employ styles that will dovetail with the aspirations and energy of their country’s inhabitants. Uncovering leadership models capable of channeling growth and productivity in this manner within Arab Middle East and North Africa (MENA) settings is essential to the stability of the region. Turbulent change in a globalizing environment continues to deepen this realization. And the ongoing effects of the Arab Spring highlight the importance of such an undertaking. Clearing a path toward establishing the necessary cultural congruence among administrative processes, tools, solutions, and people is a prerequisite to success that rests on identifying indigenously acceptable approaches to change. Engaging authentic leadership to guide successful achievement of new public management and new public governance goals offers one way to both envision and construct ongoing balance in the future.

References

Aman, Mohammed M. and Tina J. Jayroe, 2013. ICT, Social Media, and the Arab Transition to Democracy: From Venting to Acting. Digest of Middle East Studies 22(2): 317–347.

Litsas, Spyridon Nikolau. 2013. Stranger in a Strange Land: Thucydides’ Stasis and the Arab Spring. Digest of Middle East Studies, 22(2): 361–376.

Mameli, Peter. 2013. Under New Management: What the Arab Spring Tells Us About Leadership Needs in the Middle East and North Africa. Digest of Middle East Studies, 22(2): 377–404.

Rowe, Paul S. 2013, Christian–Muslim Relations in Egypt in the Wake of the Arab Spring. Digest of Middle East Studies, 22: 262–275.

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