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This brief overview of the book builds on the Italian partisan song Bella Ciao, a song that has been sung in many Arab streets in recent years. The book echoes the fact that the song can be sung over two tempos, and that the history of citizenship, representation and violence in the Arab worlds can be apprehended over the longue duree of latent citizenship, or the fast-paced events of the 2011 Arab Uprisings. Both tempos are connected in this book, which makes a contribution to democratic theory and to the history of popular politics in the MENA region.
Was ending the permanent security custodianship ever possible? Based on Yezid Sayigh’s insights about the essential elements in security sector reform, the chapter discusses the limits of “democratic reforms” in Yemen, where a three-way civil war disrupted plans to create a federal Yemen in 2015. In Tunisia, the limits of reforms in the Ministry of Interior, Police, and Army are explained by a rapid regrouping of past political elites around the new president Beji Caid Essebsi and former security officials.
The conclusion tackles the dialectics of state–society relations in the Arab worlds in the longue duree. Neo-imperialism in Yemen, mercenaries, and the Sudanese and Algerian revolutions are discussed in light of the earlier history, a possible return of latent citizenship. The legacies of the three facets of representation are at play in the 2019 revolutions of Sudan and Algeria, with recent military coups undermining democratic channels of participation.
Chapter 2 deals with the making of latent citizenship in the post-independence era and the violent biases of so many postcolonial states, in the Middle East in particular. The ferment of democracy existed in the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, but the closure in the Age of Ideologies, Cold War politics, and Mukhabarat states shut down spaces for civic participation in most Arab republics. The chapter revisits the civility paradigm, and tackles the accounts that Charles Tilly, Norbert Elias, Ahmad Eqbal, Armando Salvatore, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, John Chalcraft, and Nazih Ayubi have offered about coercion and violence. The question of marginalization in Tunisia and Yemen by 2010 are discussed in light of these historical trajectories.
Part III of the books analyses the legacies of the 2011 “revolutions”. In these legacies, Chapter 5 identifies federalism in Yemen and an abundance of new social roles in Tunisia. Civic activism in Tunisia includes, among others: new spaces, social roles, and pushes for decentralization, with universal municipalization. The traditional prestige of the state is used to downplay the resistance of artistic creativity. In Yemen, because of deteriorating economic conditions, the democratic articulations of representations and violence are made vulnerable. The map of federal Yemen is used as an excuse for the outbreak of a civil war. Democratic pressure remains nonetheless present.
The chapter discusses how citizenship, violence and participation are usually interconnected with the rise of modern political systems. In the Arab Middle East, these democratic articulations went missing during the pre-colonial and colonial periods. Different forms of external encroachments (capitalist encroachment, imperialism, and colonial encroachment) explain the presence of negative or latent citizenship in the Middle East. This chapter offers a historical account of early state-formation in the Middle East and discusses theories of civilization and civility between Europe and the Middle East in a relational manner. It concludes by suggesting the metaphor of the Moebius strip of citizenship.
Timing, spontaneity, and reassembled exclusions: these are the three facets of representation that have been reconnected with the 2011 Arab Uprisings. Undoing past Tunisian fragmentation and making revolutionary demands was at the heart of the new democratic efforts. Vis populi, presentism and new democratic subjectivity are best encapsulated by the case of Siliana. Chapter 3 also discusses the democratic and participatory dynamics in Yemen, with social outcasts occupying center stage. By and large, informal actors and networks have proposed truly revolutionary paths and solutions to the lack of democracy, but in the case of Yemen, the GCC hijacked the democratic process and limited the transition to an elite game.
Chapter 6 concludes with the impact of discourses for “security” and “stability,” and neo-imperial encroachment in Yemen. Both in Yemen and Tunisia, the syndrome of strong men, military or civilian, populates the collective imaginary, and generational conflicts preempt civic participation. In Tunisia, smaller spaces and the same habitus of everyday demands continue around examples of urban civility, and participation in municipalities and in the transitional justice. But the dialectics of change also includes actors justifying instability to shut spaces of civic participation down and calls for strong men to take control, such as the Presidential Coup of Kais Saied in Tunisia in July 2021.
Why connect state violence with representation? The book proposes a rethinking of democratic theory based on the Arab Uprisings of 2011, also known as the Arab spring. The introduction provides definitions of the key concepts of representation, democracy, participation and civil society, and describes the sources and methods. The book argues that cultural representation and political representation come together through the theme of violence. Historically the means of coercion have been turned against Arab citizens; in 2011 these citizens proposed that democratic accountability be added to the management of legitimate violence and state coercion.