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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

1 - Introduction

Summary

A psychological and epistemological rupture has occurred in the Arab Middle East that has shaken the authoritarian order to its very foundation and introduced a new language and a new era of contentious politics and revolutions. A revolutionary moment of political emancipation and self-determination challenges conventional ways and dominant thinking about the region, such as the durability and resilience of authoritarianism and the ability of autocratic rulers to police the status quo. There is a reinvigorated academic interest in bottom-up politics, workers, ordinary people, social movements, public space and resistance, the decay of hegemony, the crisis of authority and the role of agency in general – a refreshing departure from the past fixation with top-down politics and the elite.

Far from over, this revolutionary moment is still unfolding before our eyes, an open-ended struggle that will play out in the coming years. If history serves as a guide, revolutionary moments – as opposed to revolutions that swiftly overturn a society’s social, economic and political structure, all within a relatively short time frame – will take time and space to produce a revolutionary outcome. In the process, they might be aborted, hijacked, co-opted, institutionalized, or face setbacks. Therefore, it is critical to distinguish between two processes: (1) reconstructing the conditions and settings that led to the overthrow of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and of the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt; and (2) examining transition from political authoritarianism in various countries and the prospects of sustaining the cohesiveness and unity of the masses of protesters as the struggle turns to building a governing coalition, a new system for allocating power.

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