Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Arab spring and its conceptual challenges

I haven’t been posting lately. This is partly because I have been focused on writing the first drafts of some papers that I intend to spend the summer revising before submission. But it’s also to do with the fact that I took an extended trip, to Jordan and Egypt. In Cairo I attended a conference on the Egyptian revolution at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and the transitions currently underway there. Since getting back I’ve also attended a conference at Birzeit on the Arab spring as well.

I’ve taken away a few interesting points from both. I was especially struck by the limitations we face as scholars to explain what has happened and is happening here in the region. This point was explicitly mentioned by several of the participants at the Birzeit conference, including Saleh Abdel Jawal and Abaher Saka, who noted the focus on old concepts which contributed to a failure to predict the uprisings since Tunisia last December. This was despite all the structural factors being in place according to Laurent Jeanpierre, from rising unemployment among the young, closed political systems and rising opposition outside of the conventional norms. Indeed, this was one of Saka’s main points: that opposition was taking place in new and emerging public spaces that had been overlooked previously.