I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Spring Forward, Fall Back

Spring Forward, Fall Back

Pádraig McAuliffe
The Arab Spring: Pathways of Repression and Reform, by Jason Brownlee, Tarek Masoud and Andrew Reynolds, Oxford University Press, 352 pp, £19.99, ISBN: 978-0199660070 In the Western imagination, democracy is the fruit of bottom-up protest, from the rebellious yeoman-philosophers of the American Revolution, the sans-culottes of its French equivalent, the false start of 1848 and the mass agitation that brought political freedom to the Eastern Bloc with the fall of communism. There was something intuitively appealing for the popular imagination, therefore, in the Arab Spring of 2011, where mobilisation of disenfranchised masses appeared to herald the fall of a congeries of repressive regimes and the dawn of constitutional liberalisation in states like Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. Newspapers, diplomats and think-tanks thrilled to language of new technology and social networking tools (few were spared the trivialising sobriquet of “Twitter revolutions”), demography (the Arab “youth bulge”) and the tactics of activism in controlling squares and choreographing marches. Underlying this analysis was a notable voluntaristic strain, a strong belief that an agglomeration of civil society groups (trade unions, the unemployed, women, lawyers, keyboard warriors) could coalesce into mass movements capable of articulating and securing needed changes in deeply stagnant societies. The early falls of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt fostered hope that sheer numbers could overwhelm other repressive apparatuses in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia as these states would take their rightful place in the expanding liberal order. The last five years have betrayed this apparent promise. At the time of the Arab Spring, this exuberance fostered an assumption that all non-democratic regimes were to a greater or lesser degree vulnerable to collapse under the stress of mass mobilisation. However, of the fourteen non-democratic Arab states in the Middle-East, eight saw only minor protest as the security regimes acted quickly to stamp out agitation. Of the six states that saw significant turbulence, only four saw the removal of dictators (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya) while two saw the violent endurance of the regime (Syria and Bahrain). Of the four where dictators were removed, only Tunisia can realistically be said to approximate something resembling a functional liberal democracy, while Egypt reverted to military rule and Yemen and Libya descended into civil war. These wars, plus the ongoing carnage in Syria, suggest that internal agents and external observers in many cases badly overestimated the malleability of these societies’ oppressive structures. For Brownlee,…



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