Ten years after the overthrow of authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt faces economic downturn and continuing support for General Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s authoritarian regime. In this essay, Jessica Winegar explores how “the alluring aesthetics of authoritarian populism'' contributed to a departure from the revolution’s demands. Drawing upon her research in Egypt, she examines why Egyptians, exhausted by the upheaval of the uprisings, called for stability (istiqrar). Winegar argues that Sisi’s authoritarian rule based on “masculine, military, and middle-class aesthetics” cultivated his image as a strongman and savior, enticing everyday citizens yearning for dignity, respect, and stability.
As the ten-year anniversary of the 2011 Arab uprisings comes to an end, we invited SSRC fellows who are experts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to reflect on those events. Despite the hopes and promises of those months of protest, many of the countries that saw people take to the streets clamoring for new social contracts and more freedom are now under the grasp of new strongmen or embroiled in conflicts. The scholars gathered in this essay series examine the uprisings from the perspective of the present and how the protests, and the responses to them, help us understand recent events in or potential futures of the region. They also reflect on the uprisings’ impact on their work or the broader impact on the field of MENA studies.
Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, among others, are the places this essay series will visit, touching on the uprisings’ impact on local dynamics to broader national and regional trends. In curating this series, this group of contributors will provide important insights for those hoping to learn more about uprisings of 2011 and their enduring effects on the region.
Banner photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy/Flickr.
Ethnographic Entanglements: Reflections on Fieldwork with Musicians of the Syrian Diasporaby Jonathan Shannon
Based on his research of Syrian musical cultures, Jonathan Shannon explores what it means to conduct methodological and ethical research in contexts of turmoil and displacement. In this essay, Shannon considers how the Arab uprisings and the Covid-19 pandemic have affected ethnographic fieldwork in Syria. Shannon argues that adapting to fieldwork during these global challenges has generated a new model of research. This model centers collaboration and coproduction, opening the door for “ethnographic entanglements” to create “new forms of knowledge.”
Futures of the Arab Springby Joel Beinin
Despite the overthrow of autocratic rulers during the Arab popular uprisings of 2010–2011, the Middle East and North Africa have experienced continued upheaval over the last decade. In this essay, Joel Beinin examines why the Arab Spring was unable to adequately address diverse economic and social issues across different nations and establish stable alternatives to their regimes. Beinin argues that “mere procedural democracy,” “rebranded neoliberal economic policies,” and disconnect between the working class and the educated urban middle class have prevented the majority population from achieving their economic, social, and cultural aims.
Free Citizen to Real Refugee: Yemeni Minorities at the Margins in 2011 and 2021by Nathalie Peutz
A decade after the 2011 Yemeni revolution, Yemen enters its seventh year in a civil-and-proxy war that has caused a severe humanitarian crisis with millions of Yemenis suffering from famine, facing internal displacement, and depending on humanitarian aid. In this essay, Nathalie Peutz reflects on the changing desires of marginalized Yemenis who, during the revolution, had protested for full citizenship rights, but now in wartime seek refugee status. As refugees describe experiencing more rights in camps than they once had in Yemen, Peutz argues that “refugee” has transformed into an ascendant status, capturing the “hopes and disappointments” of postrevolution Yemen.
Living through Thick Concepts in Revolutionary Egyptby Yasmin Moll
Through the lens of Egypt’s “Spirit of Tahrir Square” ten years on, Yasmin Moll reflects on the intersection of Islam and creative arts, as it connects to the way Egyptians give meaning to their public and private lives and consider a “New Egypt.” Rather than proclaim that something is singularly “Islamic” or “creative” or “revolutionary,” it is more meaningful, Moll argues, to consider the shifting categories—these thick concepts—and the impact these shifts have on Egyptian lives.
Gender Justice and the Possibilities and Limits of Digital Mobilization in Post-Arab Spring Tunisiaby Ola Galal
A decade after the uprisings that saw the end of dictatorship in Tunisia, the promise of democracy remains unfulfilled, particularly for Tunisian women. Examining the dynamics of justice in cases of gender violence, Ola Galal looks at how Tunisian women use social media to challenge the entrenched tendencies to ignore violence against women through online campaigns like #EnaZeda. However, as Galal argues, women in rural areas seldom benefit from these digital mechanisms for redress.