TA: Sherif Fouad
The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East
Marc Lynch defines the 2011 Arab uprisings as “an exceptionally rapid, intense, and nearly simultaneous explosions of popular protest across an Arab world united by shared transnational media and bound by a common identity” (Lynch, 9). In his book The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East, he sets out to put the events of the Arab uprising into perspective and to create a guide for the new Middle East. He does so pragmatically and theoretically but dismisses popular theories of international relations as outdated for the new Middle East. Throughout the book, Lynch emphasizes the significance and importance of the new Arab public sphere and media environment in uniting local protests into a regional popular movement. The book covers important historical events leading up to the uprising and details what followed after the self-immolation of a young Tunisian man on December 17, 2010 sparked the first protests of the uprising. What follows is summary of The Arab Uprisings, followed by an analysis of some of book’s key themes and arguments. The Arab Uprisings does exceptionally well in putting the events of the Arab uprisings into perspective, but ultimately fails to function as a effective guide for the new regional politics of the Middle East.
Marc Lynch begins by explaining that what enable local protests to unite into a massive regional movement was the new Arab public sphere that developed in conjunction with a new media environment over the past decade. The new media environment grew from new information and communications technologies and has had three great effects on the Arab world: it has eliminated the ability of authoritarian regimes to control the flow of ideas and enforce public opinion, it has Budd 2
given activists and ordinary citizens new skills, expectations and abilities, and it has unified the Arab political space, creating a common narrative of shared fate and struggle out of regional issues.
Chapter 2 discusses the massive popular protests that occurred during the “Arab Cold War” between 1954 and 1963. The cold war immerged as a conflict between a pan-Arabist bloc led by Gamal Nasser’s Egypt and a conservative, pro-Western bloc. Nasser’s pan-Arab rhetoric earned him widespread popular support across the Middle East. The public during the cold war was more of a tool than an independent force, but the war was still a battle of ideas. Questions over regime type, the orientation foreign policy, and alignment within the international system were widely debated. When cold war ended regimes refocused themselves on internal issues. States learned that control over their domestic sphere often was more important as an exercise of regional power than the projection of military power abroad and so, many established incredibly repressive and brutal authoritarian regimes.
During the 1980s many Arab states grew rich, consolidated their domestic control, and increasingly focused on issues and took positions that diverged from their peoples’ concerns and beliefs. Many protest occurred during this time, mainly over economic concerns, that crossed sectarian and class lines, but they remained episodic and did not unify into a regional movement. Events such as the fall of the Soviet Union and the Palestinian Intifada (1987-1993) encouraged Arab populations to make demands and Arab governments to make concessions. In response, many Arab regimes pursued defensive democratization as a strategy but soon returned to the status quo due to the rise of Islamist parties or popular discontent for making peace deals with Israel or siding with the US during the Gulf War. The 2000s were a long wave of popular mobilization throughout the Middle East, as Arab regimes took positions at odds with the preferences of their people. The region shared the same spirit of...