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  1. Terminological Schizophrenia: A Question of Words and Politics
  2. Most Read Articles
  3. Please Consider Donating
  4. The Arab Spring and the changing balance of global power | openDemocracy

The state repression has weakened but not eliminated the opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood is down but not out. Repression can buy the regime some time but, in the long term, Islamists, liberals and others should be accommodated and represented in the political system. The Egyptian government has been fighting its opponents — mainly Islamists — in Cairo, Alexandria and other big cities, as well as in Sinai and in the western Sahara on the border with Libya.

To sum up, in domestic security in Egypt is relatively better than it was a few years ago. A genuine economic and political reform is likely to weaken the appeal of extremist ideologies and violence. The lack of such reform would further destabilise Egypt. Egypt has significant economic resources. It has an excellent geostrategic location for trade, being at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with important ports as well as the Suez Canal. Having made significant gas discoveries over the past decade, it holds the third-largest proven natural gas reserves in Africa after Nigeria and Algeria and the fifth- largest oil reserves after Libya, Nigeria, Angola and Algeria.

Despite these large reserves, the country is a net importer of oil and natural gas, and has suffered from a consistent electricity shortage. In Africa, Egypt has the third-largest population after Nigeria and Ethiopia , and the second-highest gross national income after Nigeria , according to the World Bank. Annual gross domestic product GDP growth in Egypt dropped from 5. EGPC owes foreign oil and gas operators billions of dollars, which has led foreign operators to delay their investments in existing and new oil and natural gas projects. Oil shipments through the Suez Canal fell in to their lowest level in recent years.

The decrease in oil flows shortly before the revolution reflected the collapse in the world oil market demand that began in the fourth quarter of , followed by Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries OPEC production cuts primarily from the Persian Gulf , which caused a sharp fall in the regional oil trade, starting in early Political and security upheavals since have not had a noticeable effect on oil transit flows through the Suez Canal.

Over the past few years, oil flows through the Canal have increased, recovering from previous lower levels during the global economic downturn. Growth has not translated into adequate jobs for the growing number of young people of working age. Unemployment is particularly high among young people with college degrees, who depend heavily on jobs in the public sector and the government. Egypt has also faced external shocks that are not directly related to domestic instability, notably persistently high world food prices and the return of more than a million workers from Libya.

It also had to contend with slow growth in European export markets and reduced employment opportunities for Egyptians in Europe. Finally, political and security uncertainties have dealt a heavy blow to tourism — a major national industry. Given these gloomy economic conditions, in opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and to prevent the economic and political collapse of the Al-Sisi government, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait have given billions of dollars to Egypt.

These funds have proven critical in maintaining the survival of the Egyptian government. Indeed, with the collapse of oil prices and revenues, Gulf financial assistance is likely to be unsustainable. The bottom line is that serious reform strategies and commitments are needed. The latest evaluation of the Egyptian economy by the IMF leaves room for optimism. The Fund recognises that during the prolonged political transition, growth fell and unemployment and poverty increased to high levels. Budget deficits grew and external pressures led to a fall in foreign exchange reserves.

Meanwhile, the government recognises these challenges and is seeking to reduce the budget deficit to 8—8. These key economic changes have taken place within rapidly evolving regional and global dynamics. The Arab world and the broader Middle East are fundamentally different from a few years ago. The GERD is set to become the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa, and is expected to be completed by The utilisation of the Nile water is governed by three treaties: the treaty between Britain and Ethiopia, and the and treaties between Egypt and Sudan.

Egypt and Sudan oppose the CFA and claim that it infringes upon their historical rights. Eventually, Egypt had no other option but to work with Ethiopia. Cairo has limited — if any — leverage. It cannot reverse the process of building the dam through military or diplomatic means. This is perceived as a serious threat to the matter of national survival.

Remarkably, Egyptian-Israeli relations have witnessed little changes despite the major security and political upheavals in Cairo.

Terminological Schizophrenia: A Question of Words and Politics

Under the Mubarak regime, there was a great deal of pragmatic cooperation. For example, Egypt exported natural gas to Israel. The pipeline carrying Egyptian gas to Israel and Jordan was frequently attacked in , and eventually Egypt stopped its gas exports to Israel. This limited cooperation, mostly between the two governments, was largely resented by the Egyptian public.

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It is important to point out that this Egyptian-Israeli partnership benefited both countries strategically and financially. The Al-Sisi regime has distanced itself from the Hamas administration in Gaza and maintained cooperative relations with Israel. And in late January , Egyptian authorities designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Finally, under Al-Sadat —81 , Egypt made a significant strategic shift from the Soviet camp to the American one. The signing of a peace treaty with Israel in has since consolidated this alliance with the US and Western powers.

Concerns over abuse of human rights and lack of transparency had been regularly raised, but Washington, DC and Cairo maintained their close strategic cooperation. After brief hesitation, the US Obama administration supported the revolution that toppled Mubarak. Washington, DC accepted Morsi and kept pushing for political and economic reform. Officially, the Obama administration refused to call the transformation of power from Morsi to Al-Sisi a military coup.

Despite this cooling down of the close relationship between Cairo and Washington, DC, the two sides share significant strategic interests in countering terrorism and regional instability. To conclude, in the short term, it appears that the Al-Sisi regime has strengthened its grasp on power in Cairo. Domestic repression, economic assistance from Gulf states and lack of global pressure have all helped Al-Sisi to consolidate his regime. He has taken full advantage of the fear of Islamists. This combination of domestic, regional and global forces is likely to keep the regime in power for some time.

In the long term, regime survival will depend on meeting the social, economic and political demands of the Egyptian people. The experience in Egyptian history and broader African history suggests that the military does not do a good job in policy. In a modest bid at redrawing and re-assessing terminology, we shall pay heed to how revolution and its close associates i. One could dare say that the Western concept of revolution—being historical revolutions invented in the West 29 —does not effectively belong to the cultural milieu and political horizon of Arab societies, at least not in the way Western scholars have prefigured it.

In the parlance of politicians in the Arab world, there have been several revolutions since the outset of the post-colonial era. By all definitions, this event unwrapped along the lines of traditional anti-colonial uprising, yet the use of the term revolution gives it further legitimacy. Moreover, there is a subjective side, which derives from the voice of people who take part in popular movements of a revolutionary kind. As Rajesh Tandom and L. Again, revolutions are also narrative devices, to which political agents allocate certain phenomenological meanings in light of historical unsettledness.

We identify the characteristics of the events of post in the Arab world along several performance elements. Asef Bayat defines the non-movement as,. While the multitude of Negri and Hardt transmutes into an almost eschatological representation of humanity as a whole, Bayat, who is a scrupulous field observer and has a matchless feel for street politics, grounds his definition of non-movement in anthropology.

More significantly for our analysis, though, the non-movement fits into our interpretation of the Arab Spring as a revolt, because the collective actions of the people or the multitude were concerned with the immediacy of the political action, never with the status quo post. In fact, the revolutionary momentum in Egypt, Syria and even Tunisia was mostly negative in its demands. It voiced popular resentment against what was not acceptable, injustice and the establishment.

It was also the materialization of popular exasperation against the progressive worsening of socio-economic conditions and the widening gap between the elites both political and economic and the rest.

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It did not propose alterative models, but it aimed at destabilizing and dethroning previously established authorities, in furtherance of achieving dignity and economic security. Let us dwell a little further on these points, by bringing what the scholarship of Middle Eastern Studies and, sadly, politics normatively have excluded. What can we identify as the horizon of political change among the multitude of people who took to the streets during the Arab uprisings?

Political philosopher and anthropologist Furio Jesi has outlined the essential difference between revolution and revolt:.

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We use the word revolt [ rivolta ] to designate an insurrectional movement different from the revolution. The difference between revolt and revolution does not exist in the goals of one or the other; both might have the same goals: the seizing of power. That which distinguishes revolt from revolution is instead a different experience of time. If, according to the meaning of the two words, revolt is a sudden insurrectional outburst, which can be inserted into a strategic design, but which does not imply a strategy in the long term [ una strategia a lunga distanza ], and revolution is instead a strategic complex [ un complesso strategico ] of insurrectional movements […], one can say that revolt suspends the historical time and establishes a time when everything which happens has a value per se …the revolution instead is entirely and deliberately entrenched in the historical time.

It shows that the two concepts of revolt and revolution, albeit different, exist in a symbiotic relationship: There can be no revolution without revolt, although the contrary is not generally true. Their intrinsic difference lies in the conceptual timeframe of the movements that support them. A year later, in , the Indignant movement in Greece occupied Synthagma Square, connecting its struggle with those in Tahrir Square.

This development conceals great analytical depth, as the events were marked by an active social upheaval, albeit of the disorganized type the non-movement , which brought immediate results in the power contest. Indeed, the fall of Hosni Mubarak exemplified the success of the popular revolt, as much as it did in Tunisia with the ouster of Ben Ali. Yet, the small ruling elite which emerged from the unrest of post-Mubarak Egypt led to the creation of power and a new institutional framework much in line, both in the means of coercion and the structure, with the previous regime.

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New groups of people are now in power across the region, but the fundamental structures of government have remained largely unchanged. It is what Gramsci defines as a revolution without a revolution. The revolution was aspired and narrated—and in that respect experienced as a manifested historical event, yet it did not materialize in substantial effects.

Hierarchies were neither overturned nor abandoned. As argued earlier, the Arab streets were shaken by disorganized arrays of ordinary people who united with formal groups, such as workers and students, who had maintained antagonism to the state over the preceding decade and now found synergies with a new multitude. The events situated in a historical time that was impacted by the economic crisis in Europe, exacerbating the multiple social crises already existing in the MENA. This revolt, regardless of its outcome which has been fragmentary and indiscernible , broke the historical time in which Arab countries had been imagined, both by local and global observers.

If Arab societies were portrayed as passive—because inactive, and silent—because unheard, they could not be taken as the triggering model of revolt and opposition across the Global South and the West. Although the long-term outcome of the revolts in the Arab world is not clear, we can draw one conclusion: The results of the historical events defied all expectations and political-logical models.

No linear transition to democratic governance occurred, including in Tunisia, but neither have the revolts, once and where sedated, generated a status quo ante.

The Arab Spring and the changing balance of global power | openDemocracy

The euphoria of the first months evaporated into disillusion, expressed through a new terminology and new definitions, containing the sense of scepticism and failure felt. Again, the paradigm of the impossibility of change and exceptionality of the Arab world had a comeback. This is exemplified in the use of skilful linguistic and thematic choices.

Edward Said had argued that Orientalism is not just an attitude of the West toward the Middle East, but also an attitude that is appropriated and interpreted by local elites and experts. An Arab observer with Western scholarly credentials and academic career, he exhibited the effect of Orientalism, as he recognized Arab exceptionalism as an actual phenomenon and attributed to it the causes for the intrinsic, regressive culture of Arab societies.

Crucially, Islam—and the Middle East consequently—operates as an internal category of Western politics, producing a perception of the West as liberal, tolerant and advanced. However, there are similarities between the local Arab manifestation of dissent and the global Western movement against capitalism and economic crisis-cum-austerity. They both appear as elements of one global localized community of protest, albeit differing in the immediate objectives for which they aspire. Both Arab and Western protestors share an underlying coherence of language of dissent, mobilization tactics, social ideals, and they also object to similar means of repression with differing intensity.

The emphasis on the new generations and their use of new social media technology is one way the Arab revolts prefigured events in Western cities. In this regard, Tarak Barkawi asserted:. To listen to the hype about social networking websites and the Egyptian revolution, one would think it was Silicon Valley and not the Egyptian people who overthrew Mubarak.

Differently from the codes of actions and revolutionary practices exemplified by the popular mobilization in the Global South e. In neither case, were the demands structured explicitly around a new model of power, of state, of political life. Freedoms are not complete without social freedoms. The right to vote is naturally dependent on the right to a loaf of bread.

Joel Beinin, once again, provides insight on a case from Tunisia:. Tunisian cyber-dissidence first emerged in But bloggers rarely discussed workers or protests in the interior regions. Yet, the insolubility of popular demands through the social media sphere should not overshadow other meaningful effects. The use of social media is also significant because it shows how the Arab protestors preceded and offered a model for European and Western social movements. By sending images and videos online, they also provided material models of organization to other protestors around the globe.

The Arabs not only reinterpreted and readopted the new media according to their needs, but also they struggled by using them to raise their voice above the Western tendency to adapt the news to their own views, so in a way the new media have become the means to bypass their national censorship and the one imposed by the West. Although the connection between the Tahrir Square model and the mobilization in the European capitals is evident to the activist community, it has been misrepresented in the mainstream media.


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They also enhance a class dimension, as poorer strata of the population have limited or no access to them and they are therefore less visible in the virtual space, as mentioned above in reference to Egyptian and Tunisian workers. Thus, the middle class of the Arab societies lies under the surface of the images, leaving the spotlight to young, often female, college and university students. As such, IT has had the potential to redeem the image of the Arab world as underdeveloped, dangerous, chaotic, violent, passive and in need of help from the West.

Some observers even interpreted the ideology of the Arab youth as inspired by the ideas of non-violence theorist Gene Sharp, of whom most Arabs probably had never heard. The young, defiant Arabs return to the background as the revolts acquiesce on the surface, nonetheless, of digital screens. Furthermore, the perception of Arab and Islamic identity with terrorist organizations in European discourse is still not settled.

The remaining bulk of the attacks were connected to separatist and anti-systemic organizations, often belonging to far-right, xenophobic cells. Yet, national news outlets have been referring to the danger of Islamist groups operating on European soil, well ahead of the events in Paris during ; very little reference is made to right-wing groups, some of which also are represented in national parliaments.

Indeed, the Europol report highlighted the need for increasing surveillance of individuals across the EU, implying stricter control on personal movement, political and religious activity, all of which have been materializing after the coordinated attacks by ISIS in Paris in November All of this occurs in the context of tighter measures on the phenomenon of refugees and the covering up of Saudi-Turkish relations with Islamic State fighters. In fact, there is resemblance between the post-revolutionary measures in Egypt, Libya and other Arab countries and the security measures taken by the Greek, Spanish and UK governments in the wake of popular protest.

In November , the Egyptian interim president imposed hefty fines on any public gathering of more than 10 persons, without previous governmental approval. The UK government thus is able to impose fines on unions for not having a completely accurate membership list and impose restrictions to civil society campaigning ahead of elections, through a combination of bureaucratic maze and heavy fines. There are other shared elements in the unwrapping of Arab and Western protest movements.

The horizontalism of Arab protesters entered in a dialogic and mutual relation with the Western activist communities, despite the little recognition that it has had hitherto. Even in the case of Syria, since the beginning of the uprising, local committees and councils began to operate out of the blue, with a broad network of participants and with no aid or support from external entities. David Graeber, anthropologist and long-life activist, shows in his book, The Democracy Project , how protestors in Egypt, Barcelona, Athens and New York had channels of communication about everyday matters of struggle, such as how to defy police surveillance, and how to self-organize a horizontal and deliberative meeting among numerous protestors.

They also shared their views about the strategy adopted by the police and the security apparatuses to deter them. The concept seems to unfold common contradictions, aspirations and struggles in the West as in the East. Hence, how to integrate these phenomena across social, cultural and economic localities, into a unique, yet dynamic, global scholarship? In the past two decades, the social sciences have been overwhelmingly occupied with evaluating to which extent theories of democratic rule have been adopted and respected across the globe, in particular the non-Western world.

This changing consciousness, which preluded to the outburst of popular uprisings in the Middle East, did not go hand in hand with the transformed hermeneutics of the region, given the fact that the majority of the academic community of Middle Eastern studies operated in their everyday scholarly existence as consultants, experts of high politics and disengaged intellectuals. To this scholarship, we counterpoise and encourage for what Asef Bayat defines as a scholarship of silence.

As the practical boundaries of this essay did not allow a thorough exemplification of this kind of scholarship, our key objective has been to demonstrate, through both theoretical and observational instances, its validity. This scholarship reads the silences in the news; it attempts to identify and to interpret the disorderly monotony of the streets and of contentious existences in spite of the state and of Western misinterpretations of the rest of the world. The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their thought-provoking and insightful comments on the first version of this article, which originally was presented as a paper at the XII Annual Conference of the Italian Society for Middle Eastern Studies, held at the University of Venice in January Shihade, C.

Haddad, R. London: Pluto Press. Alexander Digital Generation, in: Z. See J. See Achcar, People Want , pp. See respectively E. Hobsbawm and T. Haddad Ajamindustry, in: A. Hassan Random Shelling Blog , February 20, National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Middle East Critique. Middle East Crit. Published online May Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer.

Email: moc. Abstract To counter the trend toward mechanization of research and aridity of critical analysis, this article makes a case for an interdisciplinary quest. Terminological Schizophrenia: A Question of Words and Politics When dealing with political and social events outside the boundaries of Europe and North America, scholars have had the tendency at times to use exogenous categories, derived from the social sciences and contextualized in the development of Western history.

Revolt, Revolution, Non-movement and Movement We identify the characteristics of the events of post in the Arab world along several performance elements. Asef Bayat defines the non-movement as, the collective actions of noncollective actors [which] embody shared practices of large numbers of ordinary people whose fragmented but similar activities trigger much social change, even though these practices are rarely guided by an ideology or recognizable leaderships and organizations.

Political philosopher and anthropologist Furio Jesi has outlined the essential difference between revolution and revolt: We use the word revolt [ rivolta ] to designate an insurrectional movement different from the revolution. In this regard, Tarak Barkawi asserted: To listen to the hype about social networking websites and the Egyptian revolution, one would think it was Silicon Valley and not the Egyptian people who overthrew Mubarak.