Recent Events – In the Aftermath of the Arab Spring

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Multidisciplinary Research Workshop Multidisciplinary Research Workshop
12 October 2011, Villa La Fonte

by Virginie Collombier, Max Weber Fellow 2011-2012

Since the end of 2010, the Arab world has been experiencing dramatic and unexpected change. Peoples who had long been regarded as apathetic have been mobilizing en masse and standing up for their dignity. Leaders who had been clinging to power for decades, relying on over-developed security apparatuses, have been ousted and are to be held accountable for their actions. The consequences of these events have been manifold, be it in the Arab world or beyond. They are of course political, but also diplomatic, economic and social. The workshop organized on 12 October as part of the Max Weber Programme activities aimed to shed light on some of these repercussions and spark debate among researchers from varied disciplinary backgrounds.

The focus was initially put on the patterns of mobilization and management thereof by autocratic regimes. Former Max Weber Fellow Daniel Ritter underlined the “divergent paths” taken by Arab revolutions, comparing the violent turn the protest movements have taken inLibyaandSyria, as opposed to the “peaceful revolutions” experienced byTunisiaandEgypt. There, he argued, leaders were constrained by structural factors on the international level that prevented them from using violence to suppress protestors.

A second part of the discussion was devoted to political developments and perspectives in countries where the autocrats were eventually forced out of power. While insisting on the specific paths followed by Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans in view of building a new political order, I argued that the challenges they face are quite similar, the most critical being the increased polarization between Islamists and non-Islamists, the representation of social demands and the influence of traditional social structures on political life. Focusing on Egypt, PhD researcher Georges Fahmi went into more detail, describing the ongoing battle between the “new ideas” that emerged in Tahrir Square and the “old institutions” (the military, the Muslim brotherhood, the Coptic Church) which might hamper actual regime change.

External actors were brought into the discussion by Max Weber Fellow Tina Freyburg. Analysing the European Union’s approach to support for democratisation, she countered the usual criticism of this strategy, arguing that it should be evaluated by its primary objective, which is to build up democracies rather than to break down autocracies. Such unconventional appreciation of the EU’s policies was not widely shared, however. Focusing on migration issues, RSCAS research Fellow Delphine Perrin stressed that the crisis stirred by the turmoil inLibyacould provide an opportunity for the EU to revise its migration policy. She also pointed out that contrary to the alarmist declarations made by Europeans, origin and shelter-countries (especially African states,Tunisia,Egypt) have been the most deeply affected by the situation in Libya.

Professor Olivier Roy, who concluded the workshop, also went on to question the EU’s strategy, considering that it has failed to understand the actual dynamics of Arab societies. He argued that the “Arab spring” illustrates that a long-term process has started: a new generation of actors is on the rise, undergoing growing individualisation and claiming that politics be governed by new values and ideas.