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This chapter has two objectives: (1) to compare and contrast Tunisia’s successful pathway to constitution-making and democratization to the failed pathways in other Arab nations, and (2) to discuss the lessons learned from the failure of the Arab Spring to democratize the region. The chapter contends that despite being a failed democratization project, the Arab Spring created a new repertoire for change in an exceptionally authoritarian region. The mistakes and the bad choices and decisions made then will continue to live as lessons learned by people who for the first time were empowered to bring about democratic change from below.
This chapter focuses on the theme of dignity as identity and particularly Arab identity. One of the important components in the construction of nationality is consolidating a sense of identity. Karama/dignity – in the sense of being an image of God with inherent worth – has supported for millennia a sense of identity for humans. In the discussion of karama as identity in the slogans of the 2011 Arab Uprisings in Egypt, the chapter shows that there is a widespread understanding of the lack of dignity in Arab contexts, mostly due to oppressive political regimes in a postcolonial setting, which can be seen through various expressions of karama as identity in arts and in the interviews. The chapter also highlights how identity politics are also essential to increasingly globalized societal contexts around the world.
Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the Tripolitan, Syrian-Lebanese and wider Middle Eastern contexts within which Tawhid would emerge, and it hints at some of the local themes which the movement would address. It explains the rapid growth of Islamist movements in 1970s Tripoli with reference to their readiness to embody the city’s older rebel identity and to their ability to tap into its pool of discontent, itself stemming from particularly acute local political and social grievances. These functions used to be fulfilled by leftist movements but the chapter notes how their failure to oppose the Syrian regime, which was fast becoming the arch-enemy of many Tripolitans in the local collective psyche, led to their decline and to the rise of Islamist movements instead, a trend also facilitated by the broader sense that Islamism had cultural and political momentum. This sets the scene to understand the local context within which Tawhid was created and rapidly grew in early 1980s Tripoli.
Chapter 4 examines Saudi and Syrian threat perceptions during the 2006 Lebanon War. The Saudi Kingdom, portraying itself as the primary supporter of the Arab cause against Israel, blamed and condemned Hezbollah for instigating the conflict. The chapter examines the question of why a non-state actor with limited capabilities, located far from the Saudi borders came to be perceived as a threat. Syria, a regime oppressing Islamist movements at the domestic level, supported Hezbollah, within the security calculus which perceived Israel as the ultimate threat. Whereas Hezbollah constituted a source of identity instability for the Saudi Kingdom and, hence, endangered its ontological security, Israel’s military supremacy constituted the primary source of danger to the physical security of the Syrian regime. In this situation, the alliance with Hezbollah became crucial for the Syrian regime, whose leaders capitalised on Hezbollah’s popularity by including some Islamic elements in the regime identity narratives. The chapter argues that this variation is related to the fluidity of identity of Saudi and Syrian regimes and their policy options in facing material sources of threats.
Chapter 3 examines Saudi and Syrian threat perceptions during the Iran–Iraq War (1980–8). This chapter explores why, and the conditions under which, Saudi Arabia and Syria diverged in their perceptions of threats emanating from both Iran and Iraq. While Saudi Arabia perceived the revolutionary message of the Islamic Republic as the major source of threat, Syria perceived Iraq’s rising military capabilities as most dangerous. The Saudi case illustrates a situation where identity is immutable while the distribution of military capabilities presented the leadership with multiple options. Due to the lack of multiplicity in Saudi regime identity based on pan-Islamism, ideational sources of threats became predominant in leaders’ perception. The Syrian case illustrates a situation, where the regime identity included multiple narratives and the distribution of military capabilities imposed threats emerging from the military capabilities from both Iraq and Israel. The material constraints left the Syrian leadership with limited policy options to ensure the state’s physical security. Syrian leaders forced a reframing and reinterpretation of the regime’s identity to accommodate the material constraints and to render its alliance with Iran against a fellow Arab regime in Iraq plausible. Arabness was reinterpreted as the struggle against Israel instead of unity among Arabs.
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