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Arab Spring


  • Originally published 09/08/2013

    The Real Goal of Obama's Syria Policy

    A limited bombing campaign won't bring down Assad, but that's not the point -- it's to convince the government that the military situation is stalemated.

  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    Revolutionary Disillusionment, from 1789 to 2013

    Disillusionment is a time-honored revolutionary tradition. True believers risk their lives launching a revolution, only to see their ideals abandoned by others -- or, worse, to watch the former government return.

  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    Why the Arab Spring is Likely to Disappoint Those Who Are Making it Happen

    In the spring of 2008 I attended a talk at the German Historical Institute given by Bärbel Bohley, one of the leaders of the democratic opposition in East Germany (DDR) in the late 1980s. Her talk was part of a series of reflections on the end of the Communist regime in the DDR in 1989 and the reunification of Germany that took place the following year. Many in the audience, me included, were surprised at Bohley’s bitterness over the results of Germany’s reunification after more than six decades of division.Instead of telling us why it had been a good thing that the fall of the old regime had led to reunification, Bohley argued that reunification had destroyed a nascent and in her view, authentically democratic political culture that was in the first stages of development in the DDR in the months that led up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. As one of the founders of the Neues Forum, the main opposition group in the DDR in 1989, Bohley played a key role both in bringing down the old regime and in trying to shepard that nascent political culture from an inchohate protest to a way of living and governing.

  • Originally published 07/31/2013

    Daniel Pipes: Will Turkey's Military Emulate Egypt's?

    Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2013 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.That is the important question asked today by Steve Coll:Will Egypt's counter-revolution inspire Turkey's fragmented, avowedly secular military—which once dominated the country's politics, via coup-making—to reorganize and reassert itself? Could the military do so if it tried? … recent events in Egypt will surely stir and tempt Atatürk's heirs in the opposition.My take: It is hard to imagine, given how the top Turkish brass submitted so meekly to AKP control and permitted the imprisonment of so many of its members that, at this late date, it will find the gumption to challenge Erdoğan & Co.If there were to be a revolt, therefore, it would more likely come not from the ranks of the generals – who carried out all of Turkey's prior coups d'état – but from some disgruntled colonel fed up with his superiors' supine responses to Islamist domination and inspired by Sisi's bold action in Egypt.

  • Originally published 07/31/2013

    Revolutionary Situations are Inherently Messy

    Social scientists who study revolutions and other historical processes generally look for patterns and similarities. Historians, by contrast, have traditionally focused on factors that are specific to each situation, in each time and in each place. They seek to understand the particularities of each situation, rather than generalize about commonalities.Like most historians, I tend to analyze events based on particular historical contexts. And yet, after twenty-five years of studying eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revolutions (and watching new ones erupt in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries), I cannot help but notice certain patterns that recur in almost all revolutionary situations.

  • Originally published 07/30/2013

    Why Deng Zhengjia Will Not Be China’s Mohamed Bouazizi

    Cross-posted from Dissent.On July 17, Deng Zhengjia, a Chinese watermelon seller, got into an altercation with chengguan (para-police) officers. The chengguan allegedly struck Deng in the head, delivering a fatal blow with a weight from his own handheld scale. Local police claimed that Deng “unexpectedly fell to the ground and died,” a statement quickly mocked online for its absurdity. Deng’s case sparked an outcry against the blatantly abusive actions of chengguan on Weibo, the popular Chinese micro-blogging platform.

  • Originally published 07/30/2013

    Karima Bennoune: Killing the Arab Spring in Its Cradle

    Karima Bennoune, a professor of law at the University of California, Davis, is the author of the forthcoming book “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories From the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism.”...Since it attained independence from France in 1956, Tunisia has had some of the region’s most progressive laws relating to women and families. Many fear that Ennahda is trying to undo those laws. Amel Grami, an intellectual historian at Manouba University, whose campus was besieged last year by Salafi activists opposed to women’s equality and secular education, says the Arab Spring has “triggered a male identity crisis” that has magnified the extreme positions taken by Islamist parties.

  • Originally published 07/18/2013

    Leon Hadar: The Arabs Will Have Their Gettysburgs

    Leon Hadar, senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.This month Americans marked the 150-year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, an event seen by many historians as a decisive victory for the Union and a turning point in the Civil War.Indeed, hope among the leaders of the Confederacy for diplomatic recognition by Britain and other Europeans powers dissipated after the Union victory at the battle. While Great Britain remained neutral during the U.S. Civil War, Confederate leaders planned to secure independence through a strategy of drawing Britain (and France) to their side through diplomatic support and military intervention....In a way, any British effort to end the Civil War before Gettysburg would have changed the course of that war, and, by extension, American history. In such a counterfactual scenario, there wouldn’t have been a United States. And the historical narrative of the nation (or two nations) would have been quite different from the one being taught in American schools today, which is based on the notion that the Civil War amounted to a birth of the nation and that the abolition of slavery was necessary, if not inevitable.

  • Originally published 07/16/2013

    Stop Thinking of Only the "Arab World"

    For now, most serious treatments of the Arab uprisings will remain inadequate from a historical perspective, including this one! The first objective is to avoid the outlandish or lazy analytical treatments that proceed from some idiosyncratic political or cultural essence, and/or those monist approaches that reduce outcomes to one variable. There is no place for either sort of reductionism in serious political or historical inquiry. The second objective is to recognize the limits of our ability as analysts in pinning down the right mixture of weighted variables in explaining revolutionary outcomes. But explanatory despair should not be the takeaway from these precautions. The trick is gradually to refine the conversation on the question of causes. Revolutions, or uprisings, are not a science -- even according to Political Scientists! We simply can’t predict them, but we surely can do much better than the outlandish and the monist.

  • Originally published 07/11/2013

    Announcing "Revolutionary Moments"

    With the world once again filled with anticipation and dread of revolution, it is reasonable to examine what relevant past events our predecessors experienced. Inarguably, the past is at least a set of experiences that may be useful in considering the present. Even that relatively modest claim requires some hesitation in that historians do not write as oracles, somehow outside the fray. Politics, despite the best intention of scholars, inflicts this work. Nonetheless, reviewing the revolutionary past will be at least interesting and potentially instructive.Thus, the moderators propose to introduce questions relevant to current events with the notion that scholars who study revolutions throughout the globe will comment. Postings must be under 250 words and conform to scholarly norms.

  • Originally published 07/06/2013

    The Danger in Egypt is Real

    Egypt’s future stability and prosperity now depends on whether the officer corps and youth are mature enough to return to pluralist principals and cease persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood just because Morsi was high-handed.

  • Originally published 06/19/2013

    What Turkey's Riots Mean

     To assess the future of Islamism in Turkey, watch the economic indicators.

  • Originally published 05/07/2013

    Michael Lind: Is Revolution Coming to the U.S.?

    Michael Lind is the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States and co-founder of the New America Foundation. Will the third revolutionary wave hit the U.S. next? The revolutions in today’s world are getting ever closer to America.Revolutions tend to occur in waves, triggered by the aftermath of wars, like the world wars, or by revolutions in leading countries, like the French Revolution and the revolutions of 1848. In the last generation, there have been four regional waves of revolution. With the end of the Cold War, communist regimes were swept from power from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, surviving only in a few countries including China, North Korea and Cuba. Unable to justify themselves with the pretense of fighting communism, military dictatorships were swept away in Latin America. Then the Arab Spring triggered a wave of populist if not necessarily democratic revolutions against autocracies in North Africa and the Middle East.

  • Originally published 02/22/2013

    Juan Cole: Tunisian Democracy Challenged as Prime Minister Resigns

    Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  His latest book, "Engaging the Muslim World," is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. The resignation of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali in Tunisia has created a political crisis that the elected government will have to deal with. Jebali is a politician of the Muslim religious right, from the Ennahda Party, and had led an Ennahda-dominated cabinet in coalition with two smaller secular parties, Moncef Marzouki’s social democratic Congress for the Republic and another small partner.

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