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The wave of popular revolts in Arab countries in the last months has struck the imagination of most citizens around the globe. Evidence of this global diffusion is that their model of mobilization has inspired people in all continents: think of central squares occupied by peaceful protesters staying in tents, using the similar mottos of “day of rage” or calls for the fall of the regimes in Spain, Georgia, China, Uganda or even in the USA (Madison, Wisconsin). Tellingly, what Western media labeled the “Facebook revolution” has a different meaning in local Arabic parlance. Egyptians, for example, call it the “Revolution of the Youth” (in Arabic thawrat al-shabaab). They speak of new emerging leaders in terms of founding events (think of the “April 6 Youth Movement”) rather than insisting on the technological means that allowed such peaceful protests to oust aging dictators. Thus, their vernacular names refer to joined forces in relation to past labor protests (the April 6, 2008 strike in the textile sector) or of the necessity to keep a revolutionary future wide open. Similarly in Tunisia, people do not speak anymore of the “Jasmin Revolution” but of the “Tunisian Revolution for Dignity and Freedom,”1 suggesting fundamentally different programmatic politics and a difficulty for many in the west to grasp the nature and depth of the ongoing changes. This article explores the new political subjectivity ushered in by these revolts. What is the significance of these novel ways in which Arabs have framed their revolts? How have they been re-imagining themselves and their political actions? Through a comparative analysis of the events that shook Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Palestine, Libya, Iraq and Syria, I argue that we have witnessed the emergence of the counter-power of civil society in which the invocation of a new political imaginary has been a powerful weapon in dislodging autocratic regimes. It is too early to judge whether these revolts will turn into revolutions, as there are many obstacles to a radical transformation of the Arab political systems (most obviously, the imbrications of their political economy with international ones, the regional architecture of the peace process, and deeply entrenched military regimes). But the last months have seen the crystallization, throughout the region, of a new political subjectivity. The latter mixes an individual sense of citizens’ involvement with that of redefined and reinforced collective identification around a secular notion of the nation. This, as much as the departed presidents Ben Ali or Mubarak, is the great sociological novelty for the contemporary Arab world. Furthermore, it is a novelty that defeats all predictions that had been made about Arab politics. This new political subjectivity, I will argue, is of a new type. One the one hand, it remains very different from the neo-liberal vision of individual empowerment and processes of economic liberalization trickling down to produce (procedural) democracy. On the other, we are also not getting close to a collectivist Islamist political take-over atomizing liberal rights and destroying individual voices,2 culminating in a form of theocracy. When read against the backdrop of the main ideologies that have competed in the last century in the Arab world, one cannot but remain impressed by the significance of this change: the fact
Constellations Volume 18, No 3, 2011. C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
” but it is what defines the notion of reality itself. or on the other. “imaginary” does not simply mean what does not exists in reality. in particular the adverse effects of international aid and skewed political economies (2). on one hand favor. one should not discard its material roots. The next part analyzes the arousal of the counter-power of civil society. trade or even a revolution) receives its meaning by being part of a specific social imaginary: the “imaginary” is not opposed to real “material forces. One image that was widely circulated epitomizes this diffuse perception of the emergence of a new subjectivity. point to the failure. when Arab nationalisms first emerged – clearly illustrates the significance of such a change. carries the day and continues to operate its aggregating function. It also dispels some myths regarding what made them possible and lists factors acting against these new powers. in particular. These. that individuals again overtly acted in a political manner. The article. 2. Number 3. As Castoriadis has persuasively argued. hinder further revolts in the region? To answer such questions. . memory debates.”7 The use of the term “imaginary” points here to the fact that every social act (making war. The first section sheds light on factors that enabled the revolts to start. as it appears in expressions such as “this is purely imaginary. 2011 that people speak of a “second Arab renaissance” (an-nahda ath-thaniyah)3 – following the first one. Thus the aggregation of individual’s efforts not only returned the Square and the metro station to their normal usage. In a nutshell. Exporting democracy to the Middle East? Though the notion of political imaginary will constitute the main focal points of our analysis. If people’s voices are eventually heard. and what factors might. For this reason. I will rely on the work of Cornelius Castoriadis to explain how imaginaries are related to these new senses of identification and contribute to the current revolutionary moment. tries to identify the most relevant variables influencing the folding (or unfolding) of this new political imaginary.” people in Arabic) exist again in the collective and imagined form. enabling this new political subjectivity. or ongoing trials) (4). they are willing to take up some collective burden rather than. peace. people who had camped for weeks on Maidan at-Tahrir started cleaning the Square and surrounding streets. expressing their alienation from autocratic regimes by remaining silent and inactive while not fulfilling the basic duties of respecting their daily environments. in the past. The conclusion highlights the novelty of this new political subjectivity. then we are likely to see real revolutions sweeping across the Arab world – and possibly also beyond. it is because the Egyptian people (the omnipresent “sha’ab. we need a combination of enabling factors mixing material and symbolic grievances. however. This new imaginary5 in great part relies on the renewed forces of civil society (what I call the counter-power of civil society) and on its spontaneous and constitutive contributions. as we will now see. at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th century. but it also erased the past sense of collective inertia in front of the filthiness of Cairo streets. revolutions are not likely to happen if various counter-forces to civil society impede these spontaneous efforts in unfolding new political subjectivities. divided in three parts.272 Constellations Volume 18.8 Why did such revolts start at this moment in time.4 If this political imaginary. rather than the success of Western countries in promoting democracy in the Middle East. the facts that this political imaginary is now clearly evolving beyond an Islamic or Islamist one and spots some dangers of an accelerated usage of the “politics of the past” (for example. After the successful ousting of President Mubarak in mid-February. It suggests how new elements and forms of organization contribute to the emergence of a new constituting power6 which carries a revolutionary potential (3). C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
gave a second decisive impetus to the ousting of President Ben Ali and. and only two non-Arab countries. This led people to realize that the current political and economic status quo was no longer an option for Arab societies: the bucket – domestic and regional – was full and the Tunisian drop arrived. Morocco (1:103). In a period of eight months. Massive floods occurred in Australia at the end of November and early December 2010. Israel has received annually more than two billion dollars of US aid. bread riots erupted in early January throughout the country10 at a time when most analysts believed that the Tunisian wind of revolt would blow westwards. In diminishing order. A contrario. as we will see. freedom. social justice!”11 The second enabling factor is a relatively quiet period from a military point of view. who set himself on fire in the periphery town of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010. Vietnam (1:19) Tunisia (1:16). as it did in Egypt. his memory still looms over the current debates in the Tunisian transition. it would have allowed what are mostly militaristic or warmongering regimes (Israel included) to distract the public attention from more serious internal problems. generally un-discussed.” there is only one step to another pivotal factor for the future of these revolts: the impact of Western military aid. one finds in second place Oman. At the top of the list is Bahrain. Well known to the large public is the vast amount of US aid to Egypt and Israel as peace dividends after the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978. Egypt (1:65). The securitization of aid is not specific to these two countries. 258 others were given for military or “security” purpose (ratio 1:258).12 while Egypt received direct payments from the US of about 1. in synchrony with a fiscal reform impacting the price of wheat. where for each dollar spent by the US Government on democracy projects. two thirds of which are military aid.4 billion a year. with 80 to 85% of this sum going to the Egyptian army in the last five years. for this country has been continuously situated in a state of quasi war since the first election of President Ahmadinejad. one finds seven other Arab countries. the price of wheat nearly doubled. and C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. the Tunisian street vendor with a useless university degree. two weeks later. from July 2010 to February 2011. .13 Looking at the next nine countries in this list. Similar problems around basic food prices are currently boiling in Iran and in many other countries of the Middle East and Africa. with ratio of 1:245.Emergence of a New Political Imaginary in the Arab World: Benoit Challand 273 To be sure. where one of the first mottos in the January protests was “Bread.9 This had immediate effects on Algeria. In her study of how US aid for civilian and military programs can be at cross-purposes. But other elements. home of the US Fifth Fleet. where. combined with financial speculation on food commodities. after Bahrain. So this “pausing” moment gave people the chance to think about their internal priorities and functioned as a sounding board for piling up domestic dol´ eances. Jordan (1:73). Mohamed Bouazizi. while the other has to do with regional Middle Eastern politics. One is the price of basic food commodities. The threats of a Western attack on its nuclear facilities or the unrest on its eastern Baluchi frontier can thus be used as an excuse for the regime to deflect attention from domestic political problems. No major military campaign (inside a given country or between two warring parties) took place in the Arab world during the six months prior to the events. Cameroon (1:40). made this wave of revolts possible. This. followed by Mexico (1:108). Had there been confrontations in the Middle East. was a very important element in triggering the wave of protests. From this remark on militarized “horizons. The volatility of such commodities might also have a future impact in poorer parts of the Middle East (Yemen and the Gaza strip). His death. contributed to a renewed push of the price of wheat on the international market. this second element might explain why no real revolt has taken place in Iran. Nancy Bermeo developed a worldwide comparison of how much the US government provides for military programs relative to each dollar spent on civilian democracy promotion activities.
but to this we should add that it is happening despite Western aid. If not. of “active” citizens educated in the dominant language of development. .’18 NGOs and other formalized civil society organizations are precisely geared at producing new subjectivities. that is both institutional and discursive isomorphic pressures that contribute to the spreading of a managerial version of civil society that takes the same (Western) organizational and rhetorical forms all over the planet. Since the 1970s. made of “empowerment” and other projects geared at molding good citizens. but rather its repression (except in these extraordinary moments of revolt where the Tunisian and Egyptian army stood by its people). or Palestine. advanced capitalist countries) institutions to local southern partners lead to the following transformation: If production today [under a post-Fordist condition] is directly the production of a social relation. These are in reality thought as rational homines oeconomici.” it seems as if Western money does not buy democracy in the region. This leads to another negative dimension of the aid industry. 2011 Yemen (1:7).e. taught to weigh the costs and benefits of C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. The production of subjectivity ceases to be only an instrument of social control (for the reproduction of mercantile relationships) and becomes directly productive. Iraq. Western taxpayers should therefore demand a radical change in the forms and structures of aid to the Middle East. since all these Arab countries have witnessed “Day of Rage” like protests. because the goal of our postindustrial society is to construct the consumer/communicator—and to construct it as ‘active. The absence of the self-appointed civil society leaders (think of the many champions in the NGO sector) was indeed remarkable. the role of “mass intellectuality” has changed in such a way that now capitalist production leads to “a situation where command resides within the subject him. with an increased part of the production related to immaterial labor. there is little chance of success for enduring revolution.or herself.15 Aid also contributes to exclude those resisting the dual isomorphic pressure. The usual suspects in the democratization literature have been conspicuously absent from the formulation of the political and social agenda in the first months of the protests: originally no advocacy groups and very few human rights activists have been at the forefront of the street embattlements in Tunisia. it is true that a new Arab renaissance is taking place in the Middle East. rather than thanks to it. So.17 This chain of aid from northern (i. Not a single dime of aid earmarked for democratization has contributed to the flow of people pouring into Middle Eastern streets. Despite widespread talk of “exporting democracy.274 Constellations Volume 18. The aid apparatus can be seen as part of the general transformation of capitalist modes or productions. This is because the nature of the aid apparatus is endowed with the double power to promote and to exclude. These figures acquire an oracle-like function of where popular protests will burst out. then the ‘raw material’ of immaterial labor is subjectivity and the ‘ideological’ environment in which this subjectivity lives and reproduces. The wave of protests is not the result of two decades of neoliberal democracy or civil society promotion. It promotes only a professionalized form of activism. Egypt. which is totally lost when it comes to managing the extraordinary.14 I would even argue that Western aid has had a negative effect on these segments of civil society. The post-Fordist Marxist critique of immaterial labor can also be applied to the model of international aid for advocacy NGOs or research centers in the global south and explain the gradual reduction of “civil society” to the realm of bureaucratic NGOs and formalized “grassroots” institutions. Number 3. and the rise of cultural and intellectual commodification. and within the communicative process” as a whole.16 Another way to convey the implications of such process is to perceive it as a more general consequence of the recent transformations of capitalism.
3. . civil society to this constitutive principle of autonomy. as it is often the case in neo-Tocquevillian terms. taken by C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. consumers of global goods. exists when a given social group is able to choose both the institutions to govern itself and the cognitive ways through which this group thinks and speaks of itself. their social imaginary significations.22 I have in the past defined civil society as a source for collective autonomy. I hope to limit the Western-centrism of its European genealogy (civil society as a way to come to terms with the nascent forms of political modernity geared toward a legal-rational state23 ). it is not this individualistic subjectivity favored by the spread of managerial civil society that has been the lynchpin of the revolts.24 This is what Castoriadis calls the capacity of auto-institution:25 the process of auto-institution implies the capacity for societies to openly “call into question their own institution. they qualify as being part of this “civil society. in my view. As long as collective groups respect the physical and moral integrity of others.20 Interestingly. premised on a methodological individualism. or do they grant autonomy to local actors to define their own political project? Interestingly.” This slogan. do international donations to local civil societies impose their institutional and rhetoric forms of organization and thinking. once the initial spark was lit.” or “self-drive. into mass protests. not to say actively deny. which literally means “self-impulse. The neoliberal agenda. Autonomy. hence the rivalry between different groups. and who might be critical but still subject to the global neoliberal dominant order. right to self-determination) unless geared at supporting minorities (typically in terms of gender or religious minorities). operationally. and “beneficiaries” of democracy assistance programs. the rendering of autonomy in Arabic comes either as a direct import from Latin language (otonomiah) or through the Arabic phrase tasayyir daati. this is far from being the case. This alternative definition is also an attempt to escape the necessary view that civil society is a residual category and cannot therefore be applied to a situation with a weak or even absent state apparatus. By “boiling down. the defense of collective rights (such as workers’ rights.” This second translation perfectly illustrates why the Arab revolts displays the counter-power of civil society understood as a source of autonomy. their representation of the world.”26 To approach civil society through the lens of autonomy is also a way to think of civil society as not automatically benevolent: one’s autonomy might run contrary to the project of another group.” so to say. The slogan “ash-sha’b yourid isqat al-nithaam” – in English “the people wants the fall of the regime” – captures this social cohesion around “the people.21 Does this mean that notions such as civil society are unhelpful in order to understand the force of these popular revolts and what the new binding collective elements for this collective form of activism are? As we will see in the following section. Libyan.or heteronomy.Emergence of a New Political Imaginary in the Arab World: Benoit Challand 275 each individual action. and Yemeni people called for the fall of their respective regime. but a subjectivity articulated in large parts against such neoliberal programs or against the good governance agenda. Indeed. The Counter-Power of Civil Society Earlier. Egyptian. decide whether transnational civil society promotion places the receiving part in a situation of auto.19 and other democratization or good governance programs often overlook. That is to say. it was as if the Tunisian people moved as a whole. To avoid thinking of it as a residual category left between the state and the family.” A last advantage of this definition is that one can. I chose the phrase the “counter-power of civil society” to point to the fact that there is more to civil society than its organized form.
but also later in Libya. The tone of the protests was rather one of reappropriating patriotic language and symbols: Women and men lay in the streets to spell ‘freedom’ or ‘stop the murders’ with their bodies and worked together to tear down and burn the gigantic. but about the defense of the watan (country) as a whole. Number 3. One leader of the largest trade union in Tunisia. a Libyan rapper inviting youth to take the street by invoking past resistance to Italian fascism in the 1930s as an example for the nation. by placing the nation at the heart of all these protests. Palestine. we want a national unity. they were mere vessels through which previous socialization had taken place and whose traditional political function (to relay the claims of a specific socio-economic or professional group) was transcended into a broader political claim of unity in front of the dictatorial and kleptocratic regimes. religious or class divisions are transcended into a call for national unity.34 Trade unions were not the leading organizations in these protests. conveys the sense of unity and spontaneity in the streets around Tahrir square: C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. This trait is valid for all past or ongoing protests: Copts and Muslims protecting one another on Tahrir square while praying. and the spreading of mobilization calls by oral means. No one met in union halls to decide whether to support the revolution or not. this was without clear indications from the formal syndicate leaders. protests in Syria where demonstrators chanted “Not Sunnis. dealing here with Egypt.’ was the dominant rallying cry. since the same slogan was also used subsequently in Syria. homeland. 2011 Al-Jazeera (the Arabic channel) as its lead title to narrate the variety of protests. Thus sectarian. . Jordan. Stalin-style portraits of Ben Ali on storefronts and street corners. but they would have taken place even without them. and Bahraini streets.”30 or in protests in the Kurdish parts of Syria “Neither Arabic. These protests entail a radical break from fragmented social structures.”31 Readers might also have in mind pictures showing a sense of national unity with the overwhelming presence of national flags (not the burning of other countries’ flags): this was the case in Bahrain.28 this moment of self-organization in Egypt was coupled with a moment of radical re-imagination. Social media helped the revolts start. we all want freedom. Tunisian. Bahrain.32 This idea of spontaneity blended here with the idea and practice of self-organization of the people on the street. Bahrainis chanting that it is not about being Sunni or Shiite. The solidarity of unionists with the revolution was spontaneous. or finally.27 signifies also the unity in the project across the region. not Alawis.29 Palestinians calling for the end of their own divisions. and Iraq In Syria the wave of protests actually initiated when policemen beat up a teenager who had just wrote this slogan as a graffiti. the national anthem. To paraphrase Castoriadis’ Hungarian Source. In Tunisia. territory.33 Another institution is often credited with a leading role. Palestine. and the women were both veiled and unveiled. namely trade unions. not ‘Allahu akbar.276 Constellations Volume 18. When the Egyptian regime ordered to shut down internet and mobile phone networks at the end of January. Syria or Yemen. nor Kurdish. Another quote. It is worth underlining that we are talking about the secular notion of watan. as opposed to the religiously tainted notion of ummah. While they have played a role in keeping the mobilization high on the Egyptian. people had made alternative plans to communicate via normal landline phones. the UGTT (the French acronym for Union G´ en´ erale Tunisienne des Travailleurs) confirmed this trend: The union activists on the ground were not awaiting orders from above.
‘Our people.want. the regime allowed a boom in the charity sector. from the Arabic Brethren or Brotherhood) building many private mosques and new charitable organizations. But in the 1990s. . a majestic scene unfolded all over Egypt. but mostly in the 1990s. they encircled police stations. with state and welfare services dismantled. When Egypt embarked on structural adjustment programs and privatized state-owned enterprises from the 1970s onwards.36 Revolution is. thus instrumentally supporting the spread of Islamism so as to C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2008. historically. Beckoning those watching from their windows. as only a handful of high-ranking officials. The syncopated chorus that had traveled from Sidi Bouzid to Tunis now shook the Egyptian earth: ‘The people. one can find many reasons why the Islamic movement is in this state of relative weakness. . the display of its capacity to choose the content and the form of the protests. Similar anti-union positions from Islamists are documented not just in Egypt but also in Palestine or Yemen. class might have played a role. .to overthrow the regime!’35 Even in Libya.Emergence of a New Political Imaginary in the Arab World: Benoit Challand 277 On January 28.39 The movement also lost credibility when it refused to boycott the 2005 elections and more recently because of its adoption of viewpoints inimical to lower classes: thus the Brotherhood denounced the strikes of Muhalla al-Kubra in the textile sector on April 6. etymologically comes from spons. when the Ikhwan started running for parliamentary elections (culminating with the 20% of the seats in 2005 contest). on top of organizing security for the various city neighborhoods. Grand processions of thousands upon thousands of people in every province made their way to the abodes of the oppressive forces that controlled their lives. Revolution is about choosing new sources of inspiration and for this radical re-imagining (spontaneity. could do business. Let us take the case of Egypt to illustrate the declining influence of religion as an alternative source of political imagination. Again. It still has an enormous organizational capacity and could well become. political and social. they paid the price of this political engagement by having no choice but to let people close to the government gradually take control of these charities. our people. organized a network of solidarity by chipping some money into a common fund to secure constant access to water and basic food resources. with the Muslim Brotherhood (often referred to as the Ikhwan. but far from clear cut. shortly after noon. We should not forget that. the Islamists (and not just the Ikhwan) have become so influential because the regime played them against the communist party in Egypt. they chanted. provincial government buildings and NDP [the ruling party] headquarters. a leading faction in the next parliament. . we are told by Castoriadis. come and join us!’ When the crowds reached town and city centers. some of whom were military. the explicit self-institution of society.38 In parallel. the triad of institutions emblematic of the regime. Youth was one ineluctable source.41 Only the lack of alternative opposition and the regime’s stigmatization of the Ikhwan as a Taliban-like movement kept an otherwise fragmented organization united. it might be a surprise to hear that the religious confraternity has been actually on a political decline in the last decade. creating a rift between working class and petty bourgeois Islamists happy to embrace economic liberalism.40 On both fronts. self-organization in Benghazi and other Eastern towns that were too far from Colonel Qaddafi’s reach. the Egyptian Muslim Brothers comes out as a much more fragile actor than it was in the past.42 This is not to say that the days of the Ikhwan are numbered. . by assessing the Egyptian political economy of international aid and the materiality of protests. if the former ruling party NDP does not manage to re-emerge in a new form for the fall elections. while religion was clearly not a source of re-imagination. the source37 ). We have come a long way from describing the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as the ultimate bogeyman. To many. it was a fac ¸ ade procedure.
and an attempt to create a workers’ party) is a positive development illustrating that traditional social movements are still relevant. natural ruin” precisely because it is the ontological root of action understood as the capacity to begin something new. or Egypt. Yemen. 2011 undercut Marxist groups throughout the last five decades. paved the way for the successful take over by Islamic groups from the 1980s onwards. 2011. creation of the “first independent labor union” away from direct state control. that of protests gathering technology savvy youth. be they the Islamist ideology or the opportunistic behavior of what comes closest to communist parties. ahead of the next elections.45 Many of these youths brought with them such an ontological novelty. but the young age of many of the protesters is much more significant. Yemen or Egypt). many observed that it was a loose combination of educated people and liberal professionals (lawyers. in turn. but the Muslim Brothers.44 the newly found Freedom and Justice Party. but in large part it is adumbrated by another sociological factor. or by supporting the harsh crackdown on Islamists. This is not to say that class struggle will not play a role in a future phase. as they became gradually disillusioned by established political oppositions. unprecedented role of the youth. In many Arab countries. Though the main trade unions have been an important triggering agent of the revolt throughout the region. The media picked up the technological dimension. have split politically in at least three different factions: the Wasat party. the Egyptian Tagammu’. re-emergence of the Egypt’s Communist Party on May 1. doctors) that gave a decisive boost to the popular protests in Tunisia. mostly youth activists. even if facing an uphill struggle because of the weak and fragmented labor movements and the new. . Number 3. Whether some of these will return to secular class-based politics remain to be seen. But for the time being. increase of food commodity price) while other political-economic factors (aid favoring a C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. and an embryonic youth movement willing to split for the formal organization which remains fully apart from these two or three political parties. the left’s disaffection with trade unions. 4. As Arendt put it a long time ago. Bahrain. Concluding on the Meaning of this New Imaginary We have seen that different factors made these revolts possible (relative phase of quiet. A final observation about the nature of this counter form of civil society mobilization is that the current protests are not a simple emanation of class inequalities. one less acquiescent to ruling authorities. established 1996. the realm of human affairs from its normal. also helps explain the spontaneity of such revolts. the late bandwagoning by its leadership during the January protests.278 Constellations Volume 18. The re-activation of traditional class-based parties in Egypt (in March. and their position inimical to class politics. alienated large segments of the Brotherhood. clustering of social-democratic parties for the elections) or in Tunisia (revival of the post-communist party Ettajdid. but lower classes have to reinvent a new leadership. This. and more detached from religious overtones. Palestine and Egypt in particular. natality is the “miracle that saves the world. but also that this counter-power is a very young one. The class dimension ought not to be written off of the current protests (with the daily strikes in Egypt).43 or the strange but frequent conversion of former Marxists into Islamists. because more than half of the population in the Middle East are below the age of 24 (even younger for other places like Palestine. In the last decades. We can therefore conclude that what we see at work is not only the counter-power of civil society. the latter have been loyal to the regime as evidenced by participating in rigged elections. in the professional segment of civil society. The hypertrophy of the Islamist sector is to a large extent the result of anti-communist crusade during the cold war.
This represents a fundamental sociological shift for the contemporary Arab worlds. Such popular discontent created the bed for popular opposition and challenge of Islamism from the 1980s onwards. Islamism has constituted the fourth dominant ideology in the region. The revolts have opened the door to a totally new era characterized by a profound reinvigoration of the nation (watan). Lebanese.47 Like a progression of ideal-types. . This type of ideology also failed to impose a regional alignment free of external domination and. one could say that 20th century Arab political history is epitomized by the passing of four dominant ideologies. Islamism. Olivier Roy had predicted that the Islamist movements would fail in delivering a true political alternative. faced difficulties in creating a deep sense of national identification amongst its citizens.Emergence of a New Political Imaginary in the Arab World: Benoit Challand 279 professionalized form of civil society. etc). which could potentially make Islamism a quickly outdated political product. these nationalisms were replaced by or enmeshed in socialist. aid patterned in a bias toward security.49 The initial shock of defeat against Israel in 1967. which comprises the third dominant political imaginary (the period of the “developmental state”). we should add. In that sense. This project did produce a shared sense of political identification around the Arab language and culture (religion was marginal in this period). etc. All of these ideologies failed to deliver fruits to the majority of the populations of the Middle East that remained economically and politically disenfranchised due to the lack of real participation in politics. Still. Egyptian. with the current Arab revolts.50 In the last third of the 20th century. This pristine Pan-Arabism was then substituted a few decades later by sub-nationalisms inside newly independent states.”46 Yet. I am arguing that. these protests have also gone beyond previous forms of secular mobilization. in some countries. and maintaining the architecture of peace around Israel) have become a sort of cage that could well undermine the spontaneity of these popular revolts on the long run. favored by spontaneous protests in which people regained more than the streets and political leverage. The power of religion remains C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. in particular Arab nationalism or Pan-Arabism. in the extraordinary moments of these revolts. Gradually. the Islamic revolution in Iran (1978/79). or renaissance. communist or modernist ideologies. in turn. a new political imaginary has emerged. but it failed to produce an Arab kingdom during the Great Arab Revolt (1916–18). as other leaders had done so far.) were the second influential political imaginary. was the first political imaginary that federated Arabs together at the time of Ottoman domination. These various nationalisms (Syrian. is a re-invitation to all segments of the population to fulfill their modest part on the road to enhanced collective welfare. religion has thus occupied the imaginary space left empty by these other failing ideologies.48 or four competing political imaginaries. Pan-Arabism. a political ideology taping into the symbolic and sanctified repertoire of religion was the main challenger to both the state and existing regimes. Iraqi or Jordanian nationalism. Iraq. Youth and disenfranchised social groups now prefer tapping into secular (not automatically secularist) and nationalist repertoires. As I have tried to illustrate elsewhere. and was in large part generated by the (first) Arab nahda. but also brought water to the mills of their being re-imagined as a collective actor unified around a renewed sense of nationalism and citizenship. what we are witnessing is the creation of a new political imaginary. This. he is right to say that these revolts are “post-Islamic. and the unsettled dispute between Israel and Palestine (the two intifadas of 1987 and 2000) further inflamed the political imagination of Muslims in the Middle East and sparked a search of a local leadership that would not betray their struggle. the “infidel” Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979). from the 1960s onwards. Instead Mandatory powers established rather artificial entities under British and French control (Transjordan.
decided to bring down the eponymous monument on Pearl Square by mid-March 2011. this cannot but struck our eyes as observers. most often entwined with nationalist projects). Former ministers are in trial or custody. seen from a perspective favoring democratic openings (understood as improvements for popular participation in the political system. not just in procedural but also in substantative terms). as has happened elsewhere in terms of historical sociology. The Bahraini regime. On the contrary. indictments have already been given against the former minister of Interior and close confidents to Mubarak. collective practices of remembrance can also serve as the site of critique and can reinforce this new political imaginary. In Egypt. Successful forms of mobilization in the collective imaginary are now more about political participation. Iraq. with other types of consequences for these revolts. then one can foresee that reactionary forces will exploit this thread of development. to prevent revolutionary or progressive elements from prevailing. creating an important change in their political views. Number 3. The current revolts point to the fact that there is now a much greater sense of identification between the constituent sovereign (the people) and a more or less liberal nation-state. on the other hand. In Egypt and Tunisia. But it was certainly also an effort to obfuscate the fact that the monument was originally erected as a symbol of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC. In Tunisia. and that it was the strongman of the GCC. after the first month of protests and occupation of one central roundabout in Manama. If we think of how weak the post-colonial states (e. these might be epiphenomena or just names. Saudi Arabia. and isonomy – in short. we have to add. . we are now at a watershed period. Political Reform and Transition to Democracy. Sending bulldozers to bring down the sculpture symbolizing six local sailboats was an obvious motive to dislodge the occupants. rapid trials have taken place and we can here link the politics of memory to that of justice. etc) originally were and how little overlap there was with the state and its citizenship.g. This is a moment where the social and political imaginary can unfold in either positive or negative directions. and the jihadi style of Islamist militantism have lost the plot and remained entrapped in a particularist discourse that fail to offer common horizons of political participation (a step back from the 1970s when it appeared.”55 In Egypt. 2011 strong but Islamists also have to speak this language of the nation and of nationalist affiliation. while policemen C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. a new notion of citizenship. the Islamists’ view that strike and labor protests are fitna and disrupt Muslims’ unity51 suggests that the Islamist ideology. let me briefly illustrate this point by referring to the politics of memory.” then. a universalist appeal going beyond the developmentalist ideologies. there are also new emerging factors such as the constant reference to a secularized version of the nation. If it is true that politics has increasingly become a “struggle for people’s imagination.280 Constellations Volume 18. back then. this can result in both new forms of domination as well as new possibilities for emancipation.56 or “The First Conference of Egypt: The People Protecting their Revolution. On the other hand. Jordan.” or even of a “Higher Committee for the Achievement of the Revolutionary Objectives. as Islamism had. that had sent its police forces to crack down violently on Bahraini protestors in the few days preceding the destruction of the artifact.”57 To some. If this reading of a reinforced identification with the nation-state is accurate. both in terms of nationalist movements such as Hamas. the last months have seen the creation of “popular committees in defense of the revolution. The Minister of Interior stated that this was done to “erase bad memories” for the government. even the ex-presidents have been summoned to answer the court’s calls.53 In conclusion. The loose social coalitions that poured onto the streets managed to strike important points in terms of alternative political projects. national equality. Lebanon. but a similar trend of invoking symbols of popular participation emerges also in the judiciary context.54 but there was more to it.52 Thus. made of six countries) back in 1982. the line is similar with the emergence of the “Coordination Committee of the People of the January 25 Revolution. Yet.
five months after the initial incident. 1981). as a “gesture of tolerance”59 hints at the fact that a new political imaginary in which they count themselves as included has been initiated. 1987). 20. 2010). “Democracy assistance and the search for security. “Algeria’s Midwinter Uproar. For example. see. Forms of truth and reconciliation processes can now gradually emerge. U. NOTES 1. 2. 200–206. Febr. Jan. 2004).S. See also Larbi Sadiki. 11. 1. 1996). 7 and 25. XIXe-XXe si` ecles (Paris: Seuil. But even if this new emerging political subjectivity in Arab countries is extremely fragile. 73–90. The Politics of Imagination (London: Birkbeck Law Press. 13. 6. we share some of his argument on how extraordinary beginnings need to be thematized and theorized about.” though. 5. it seems to embolden actors elsewhere in the region. The following list C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 275–329. Document RL32260. See http://www. The fact that the family was motivated to drop the charge and presented it.60 if not accompanied by substantial improvement on the ground. the milling wheat increased from 130 euros per ton in July 2010 to 270 in February 2011. 1983). Which is slightly different than Andreas Kalyvas’ notion of “constituent power. for example. No. Ibid.” but rather that people witness justice being done and exercised in an impartial manner. 10. “Permanence du th´ eologico-political?” Essais sur le politique. overseeing some of these trials to shut down the process of civic participation sooner than later. Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary: Max Weber. as discussed in the conclusions.Emergence of a New Political Imaginary in the Arab World: Benoit Challand 281 accused of killing demonstrators have been sentenced to years in prison. See Congressional Research Service. For some of these labels. but hastened measures in that direction could backfire. the power of imagination disclosing a new sense of solidarity and a reinvigorated notion of citizenship will have lasting effects for politics well beyond the Arab world. Online Report No. 9. Cornelius Castoriadis. Carl Schmitt. Nancy Bermeo. 2011 at http://www. Arab Political Thought in a Liberal Age: 1798–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. where the family of the self-immolated Mohammed Bouaziz withdrew complaint against the female police officer that had slapped him in December 2010 and provoked his famous act of despair. rather wisely. 1–29 is a good example for such theory (how Islam prevents the emergence of a “modular man”). 258. See also Le Temps. 7. Peter Burnell and Richard Youngs (London: Routledge. 4. 8. “Le retour attendu de la crise des prix alimentaires.61 Whatever happens to these revolts in the near future. “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution. The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and CounterDiscourses (London: Hurst & Company. Recent Trends. See Claude Lefort.indexmundi. .com/ commodities/?commodity=food-price-index. Ernest Gellner’s Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals (New York: Penguin Books. 2011). Interview avec Ronald Jaubert” March 3. See data taken from BBC. Albert Hourani.org/mero/mero012011. See Mona el-Ghobashy. 12. on the necessity that such trials do “not to take on the color of revenge.58 This “restorative” dimension of prosecution was also poignantly illustrated in Tunisia. eds.” Middle East Report. See Andreas Kalyvas. see Chiara Bottici and Benoˆ ıt Challand. The Imaginary Institution of Society (Cambridge: Polity Press. For a discussion and definitions of imagination and imaginary. Some activists are aware of the danger of proceeding too quickly with these trials as they could invite military strongmen. See http://www. eds.merip.” New challenges to democratization. Others insist. 2009 and June 2010). for a discussion of the (first) Arab Nahda and how the political vocabulary in Arabic evolved in that period. 4–7.” Middle East Report.org/arb/?fa= show&article=43675&utm_source=Arab+Reform+Bulletin&utm_campaign=75402b9fd8-ARB+ Weekly+%28English%29&utm_medium=email. 2011. See Jack Brown. Politics here refer to what Lefort and others have described as la politique and not just le politique. 3. http://www. Foreign Assistance to the Middle East: Historical Background.ch/Jahia/site/ iheid/cache/bypass/lang/en/institute/news?newsId=111654&archive_month=2&archive_year=2011. and the FY2011 Request (Washington: CRS. Another index of the IMF compiling the prices of basic food commodities illustrates a sharp increase from December 2010 onwards.carnegieendowment. and Hannah Arendt (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.iheid. 2008).
Chris Toensing. 28. 1997). eds. See Cornelius Castoriadis.” or at times of “normal politics and ordinary lawmaking. 10. Psychoanalysis. Nadia Marzouki.org/c/fcimmateriallabour3. Number 3. 258.” in Peter Wagner. available at http://www. Benoˆ ıt Challand. Le carrefour du labyrinthe (Paris: Seuil.” Middle East Report. there is also the negative connotation that Western aid has conferred to these NGOs recipients of funding under dictatorial conditions. Palestinian Civil Society. and trans. Online Report. at http://www.” Jadaliyya. Jan. 2006). 18.bbc. Caroline Abu-Sada and Benoˆ ıt Challand (Paris: Karthala IREMAM IFPO.” ´ Le d´ eveloppement. See William Amburst. El-Ghobashy.generation-online. 14. 1992). 15.org/mer/mer258/tunisian-labor-leaders-reflect-upon-revolt-0.%20not%20alawis&st=cse. 2011. . 16. Etats et bailleurs dans le monde arabe. 1–26. David A.1. Such negative association might also have enduring adverse effect in the post-revolts period.” Political and Social Writings. See Blandine Destremau. See Armando Salvatore. 81.org/mero/mero011911. Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary. 295. 23 February 2011.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=not %20sunnis. Yemen might be the only place where these NGOs functioned as a catalyst to the initial protest. See Ibn Thabit’s call to the Libyan Youth to demonstrate on February 15. 250–271. which are based on USAID figures that did not include Qatar or Israel.. ed. “Uprising in Egypt: The elusive subject of revolution. 2011. Immaterial Labour. 26. Writings on Politics. To make the point clear: this type of actor was absent in the initial moments of the revolt. Foreign Donors and the Power to Promote and Exclude (London: Routledge. 1961–1979. The concept “was first proposed to explore the possibility and limits of collective selfdetermination on the eve of the “democratic revolutions. The quotes are taken from an abridged English version in Maurizio Lazzarato.” Kalyvas. 17. Beyond the effects of isomorphic pressure. Domaines de l’homme.org/tif/2011/02/16/the-elusive-subject-ofrevolution/. 21.wordpress. 33.nytimes. available online at http://www. as the negative perception might endure. trans. World in Fragments. Originally written in 1976 and published in 1977 in French. Development Policy in the Twenty-first Century (London and New York: Routledge. Beyond Tocqueville. and the Imagination. eds. 157–160. Cornelius Castoriadis.merip.com/2011/02/14/ibn-thabit-call-to-the-libyan-youth/. Vol. 2001). It does not mean that their expertise has not been handy at a later stage of the revolts.” Middle East Report. 518. “Civil society and the probl´ ematique of political modernity. 19. “The Hungarian Source. “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution. “Produire du changement social en promouvant de nouvelles relations? Essai d’analyse relationnelle d’un projet de d´ eveloppement au Y´ emen. 25–58. 20. Here Andreas Kalyvas’ effort to produce a democratic theory of “the extraordinary” comes handy: civil society organizations victim of this isomorphic pressure can have a political role to play but certainly limited in what Kalyvas calls the “instituted democracy. Challand. 17. 31.ssrc. A. 25. The Languages of Civil Society (Oxford: Berghahn Books. ed. Society.uk/news/world-middle-east-12995174. 2011. 2009).co. see Bob Edwards. 23.” Quote taken from Jean Terrier and Peter Wagner. 32. Ibid. 24.”’ namely in the contractualist theories of the 16th and 17th centuries and at the beginning of the 19th century. Costas Lapvitsas and Jonathan Pincus. 2011).com/2011/03/29/world/middleeast/29syria. Lavoro immaterial.” Civil Society and the State.” 34. “Tunisian Labor Leaders Reflect Upon Revolt. 27. Curtis (Stanford: Stanford University Press. See the analysis on this chiasmus of individual and collective rights in the case of Palestine. “Tunisia’s Wall Has Fallen. 2011 merges two different indicators included in Table 5. 22. See Ben Fine. I elaborate at greater length this definition in my Palestinian Civil Society. John Keane (London: Verso. See http://www. 73–99.jadaliyya. D.” The Immanent Frame. For a discussion of the neo-Tocquevillian view on civil society (and its influence by Hegel’s definition of civil society as the sphere of needs collocated between family and the State.282 Constellations Volume 18. Cornelius Castoriadis. une affaire d’ONG? Associations. 1986). “Gramsci and the Concept of Civil Society.com/pages/index/717/the-revolution-against-neoliberalism-. C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. No. Palestinian Civil Society. Civil Society and Social Capital in Comparative Perspective (Hanover and London: University Press of New England. Maurizio Lazzarato. 29. 23–50. as is the case in Egypt with the central role played by human rights groups. Curtis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 3. 2001). “The Revolution Against Neoliberalism. ed. 19. SSRC Blog. at http://blogs. See also Norberto Bobbio.htm. 1988). 30. See http://www. available at http://sunduqedunia. Michael Foley and Mario Diani eds. 1997). February 16. available at http://www.merip. Forme di vita e produzione di soggettivit` a (Verona: ombre corte edizioni.
we prefer the plural to signify the plurality existing within the Arab region. available at http://religion. 49. March 3rd. ´ gyptiens face a ` la Seuil. 37. l’autre r´ evolution conservatrice (Paris. “The Hungarian Source. 52.. 54.Emergence of a New Political Imaginary in the Arab World: Benoit Challand 283 35. March 18. April 19.lemonde. 39. 269. 231.500 activists.pdf. 44. Is There an Islamist Alternative.thedailynewsegypt. 36. May 3. 2011. Pioppi.” Middle East Report. See also Patrick Haenni and Husam Tammam. “The Reawakening of Nahda in Tunisia. February 12.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=once% 20feared%20egypt&st=cse. Is There an Islamist Alternative. Timothy. The Logic of Neo-Liberalism in Egypt. eds. 56. Perry Anderson draws similar parallels to previous instances of transnational eruption of revolutions in his “On the concatenation in the Arab World. L’Islam de march´ e.” Al-Masry Al-Youm. Patrick Haenni. “The Post-Cold War Political Topography of the Middle East: Prospects for Democracy. “Une r´ evolution post-islamiste. 58. 40. 455–68.merip. Etudes et analyses n. 2011.com/2011/05/06/world/middleeast/06egypt. available at http://www. 61. The thesis was originally spelled out in Olivier Roy. 55. “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution.” Comparative Politics 36. Is There an Islamist Alternative in Egypt? (Roma: IAI Working Paper 3. El-Ghobashy.fr/idees/article/2011/02/12/revolution-post-islamiste_1478858_3232. 48. No Problems.” The Politics of Imagination. 1135–1156. Les Fr` eres Musulmans. no. 50. 2011. The Failure of Political Islam (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. See “2. 7 (2005).org/mero/mero043011. . In the apt formulation of Kalyvas. 51. for example.iai.” New York Times. 59. Like Albert Hourani. 7–10. Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary. Chapter 8. Fred Hallliday. no. 47. May 5.’” The Daily News Egypt. available at http://www. Benoit Challand is Visiting Associate Professor at the New School for Social Research. “The Path to moderation: Strategy and learning in the Formation of Egypt’s Wasat Party. “Religion and the Struggle for People’s Imagination.it/pdf/DocIAI/iaiwp1103. Carrie Rosefsky Wickham. See Albert Hourani. See Olivier Roy. 2011. 45. As illustrated by various interviews conducted by author with citizen activists in Palestine. Challand. available at http://www.’” Le Monde. 2009). 57. “Religion and the Struggle for People’s Imagination: the case of contemporary Islamism. at 1136.html. 1991). He is also affiliated with the University of Bologna in Italy where he has been teaching Middle Eastern politics since 2008. 2005).” The Guardian. The Human condition (Chicago: Chicago University Press. On the tormented internal elections and evictions of different currents from the political bureau. 2005). 7. Timothy Mitchell.com/egypt/2500-activists-officials-politicians-toattend-first-conference-of-egypt. See. 193–228.pdf. “the more a revolution aspires to a total break with the past. 42.” 151–54.82 (1999).” 257 and footnote 8. 46. Available at http://www. 53. no. available at http://www.” Al-Jazeera Net. May 5.” Kalyvas.nytimes.” New Left Review 68 (March-April). Daniela Pioppi.” Sidi Bouzid is the name of the town where Mohammed Bouazizi immolated himself in the first place. 5–16. See Sandra Halperin. C 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.co. 41. See “Feared Egypt Official Gets 12 Years and Fine. Online Report April 30. See “Calls for three separate large-scale demonstrations on Friday. 2011. 2 (2004). available at http://www. 20. officials.uk/world/2011/apr/19/tunisia-courtmohamed-bouazizi-arab-protests 60. The Politics of Imagination. The Middle East in International Relations: Power.html. See “Bahrain tears down protest symbol.” Review of African Political Economy 26. A History of the Arab Peoples (New York: MJF Books. See “Tunisian court closes Mohamed Bouazizi case at centre of Arab protests. June 18–26. 205–228.info/pdf/2009_05_fm_social. the more likely it is that this past will return in one form or another.almasryalyoum. Hannah Arendt. Bottici and Challand. Haenni and Tammam. 1958). 2011). See Castoriadis. See Benoˆ ıt Challand. 247. Le Temps (Geneva-based daily). politicians to attend ‘First Conference of Egypt. “No Factories. available at http://www. Graham Usher.guardian. 43.com/en/node/433405. 38. 3–7 and 10–11. see Pioppi. 1994). Politics and Ideology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 14–17. Department of Politics (2010–2012). Les Fr` eres Musulmans e question sociale: autopsie d’une malaise socio-th´ eologique (Fribourg: Institut Religioscope.” Third World Quarterly 26.