Pondering the Extraordinary: Description, Explanation, and Theorization of the Arab Spring

In: Bustan: The Middle East Book Review

There is no doubt that the Middle East has never been a contention-free zone; this is a region where people have suffered enormous economic, political, and social grievances often imposed upon them by the state. And yet, for years effective and credible opposition parties were rarely organized (save for Islamist ones) and protest movements remained flaccid. This failure to mobilize effective, regime-changing parties and protest movements has constituted an important puzzle for analysts. Here we will consider only one cluster of books—those that address the incidence of massive popular mobilization observed in the Arab world during 2011–2012. These books aim to achieve one of three objectives: description, explanation, and theorization—the first two largely retrospective in intent, the latter straining to distill generalizable lessons that might deliver analytic leverage on when and how mobilization might occur.

  • 5

    Daniel Brumberg“Democratization in the Arab World: The Trap of Liberalized Autocracy,” Journal of Democracy 13:4 (October 2002): 56–68.

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  • 6

    Charles Kurzman“The Arab Spring Uncoiled,” Mobilization 17:4 (December 2012): 377–390.

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    Charles Kurzman“Can Understanding Undermine Explanation? The Confused Experience of Revolution,” Philosophy of Social Sciences 34:1 (September 2004). See especially pages 335–339.

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  • 11

    Joel Beinin and Frederic VairelSocial Movements Mobilization and Constestation in the Middle East and North Africa (Stanford: Stanford University Press2011) p. 13.

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  • 13

    Joel Beinin and Zachary LockmanWorkers on the Nile: Nationalism Communism Islam and the Egyptian Working Class (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press1987); Ellis Goldberg Tinker Tailor and Textile Worker: Class and Politics in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press 1986); Marsha Pripstein Posusney Labor and the State in Egypt: Workers Unions and Economic Restructuring (New York: Columbia University Press 1997); Eva Bellin Stalled Democracy: Capital Labor and the Paradox of State Sponsored Development (Cornell University Press 2002).

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  • 16

    Suad Joseph and Susan Slyomovics (eds.)Women and Power in the Middle East (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press2001); Valentine Moghadam ed. From Patriarchy to Empowement: Women’s Participation Movements and Rights in the Middle East North Africa and South Asia (NY: Syracuse University Press 2007).

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  • 17

    Carrie Rosefsky WickhamMobilizaing Islam: Religion Activism and Political Change in Egypt (NY: Columbia University Press2002).

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