Democratist

Democracy. Russia. CIS.

The Great “Arab Spring” of 2011: Causes and Consequences.

Posted by democratist on March 28, 2011

28th March 2011,

As the “Arab Spring” rolls onwards through Libya, and towards Yemen and Syria, Democratist – like many others (not least a number of red-faced foreign policy professionals), has been looking to get some sort of an explanatory purchase on recent events in the middle East. Why there? And why now?

For Democratist,  the key factor lies in the interrelationship between globalization (Al Jazeera, Twitter, Facebook, Wikileaks and the rest), and a number of other historical-sociological factors that have been perhaps slightly less eagerly grasped upon by (especially the US) media.

These include the rupturing of corrupt political, economic and social systems dominated by authoritarian cliques (and supported by the West) for decades; tremendous social upheavals provoked by poverty, the evident injustice of crony capitalism (abject poverty cheek by jowl with decadent wealth), the rising expectations of the (literate and tech-savvy) young; and the delayed flowering of civil society.

Looking at the broader, global context, a superbly insightful, if so far largely ignored framework for understanding these events is to be found in Revolutions and World Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power. (Palgrave, 1999) by the late Professor Fred Halliday of the LSE (1945-2010).

One of the main conclusions of this 300-page comparative study of revolutions and their international aspects is that over the last three centuries, the focus of revolutionary upheavals has been, not (as Marx had hoped) on the most developed states, but rather in the contrary direction; that revolutions have historically tended to occur in less developed countries, and during periods in which the “conflicts of modernity” were at their sharpest, with these states only subsequently settling down into democratic reformism.

In other words, the historical pattern has been one in which revolutions take place in societies that have embarked on, but are at a comparatively early stage of economic and political development: One of Halliday’s key insights is the idea that, in the contemporary world, revolutions express the pressures placed on traditional societies by international structural factors, in addition to the tensions that occur within societies in transition, and the drive for accelerated development.

All three elements have been present in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. They are also present to a very considerable degree in a large number other less developed countries – including Yemen, Syria and Iran, and throughout much of the former Soviet Union.

What the revolutions in the middle East represent therefore, are the increasingly inevitable consequences for states which refuse to meet their citizens expectations, after a certain level of development has been attained, in an increasingly integrated world.

While not linear, or liable to easy prediction, this trend has become all the more evident since 1989; in the collapse of the USSR itself, in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), Kyrgyzstan (2005). Moldova (2009), and now with the great Arab Spring of 2011, whereby the democratic agenda has been firmly set for much of the rest of the developing world.

As Halliday notes;

“Revolutions are moments of transition which, once passed, may not need replication. Instead, they lay down an agenda for political and social change that through reform, struggles and democracy may take decades or centuries to be achieved. This is at once evident from the programmes on rights of the American and French revolutions, the radical egalitarianism and the international programme associated with each; the point is not whether America or France always, or ever, lived up to these ideas, any more than Russia was to do after 1917, but rather how ideas and aspirations that emerged from these revolutions retain their validity in subsequent epochs.”

2011 may then therefore eventually come to mark the decisive point at which among the populations of developing states, democractic reformism ceased to be seen as essentially a restrictedly “Western” phenomenon, and became recognized as a potentially universal one.

See also my pieces:

Russian Autocracy and the Future of the Arab Spring

Revolution, Democracy and the West.

The Arab Spring and Structural Power

The Egyptian revolution and the precariousness of autocracy.

12 Responses to “The Great “Arab Spring” of 2011: Causes and Consequences.”

  1. [...] Comments (RSS) « The Great “Arab Spring” of 2011: Causes and Consequences. [...]

  2. @CurleyUS said

    What is inspiring to me is how ongoing it is, although I think we all hate to see the various human consequences.

  3. [...] Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), Kyrgyzstan (2005), Moldova (2009), as well as the “great Arab Spring” of 2011.  However, it is important to remember that revolutions by themselves by no means signal an [...]

  4. [...] plot,” or other self-serving conspiracy tripe, but rather an inevitable result of the internal economic and social development and contradictions of Middle Eastern states, combined with popular attraction towards an ideal manifested externally (the relative political [...]

  5. Online Meinung…

    The Great “Arab Spring” of 2011: Causes and Consequences. « Democratist…

  6. truth news said

    independent world news…

    The Great “Arab Spring” of 2011: Causes and Consequences. « Democratist…

  7. Breaking independent news…

    The Great “Arab Spring” of 2011: Causes and Consequences. « Democratist…

  8. Diw Methil said

    What it worries me is that all these might end up in talibanized regimes. If its ends up in true freedom it is laudable. Or else…

  9. [...] of the Egyptian revolution, the pressure for democratic reform in states which have reached the prerequisite level of economic and social development appear to be strengthening, rather than receeding. Even in Russia the population, whose docility [...]

  10. [...] a theoretical overview see; http://democratist.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/great-arab-spring/ Share this:ShareEmailPrintDiggFacebookStumbleUponRedditTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  11. [...] popular in Russia,  has a very limited shelf life in the absence of high oil revenues, and has been rejected by the populations of at least a dozen countries over the last [...]

  12. [...] with historical sociology explains the repeated importance we have placed on the revolutions of Arab Spring. For us, 2011 was a year of global historical significance - like 1789, 1848, 1917 or [...]

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