More than two years after the waves of mass uprisings in the Arab world, and the term ‘Arab Spring’ has lost its glamour in the media. Current social and political indicators in the countries that witnessed the protests are not conducive to optimism, with the common theme being a persistence of authoritarianism, and the post citizen uprisings political arenas largely dominated by new hegemons who appear to be disinterested in push an agenda of genuine, progressive democratic reforms.
A dream hijacked? Persistent authoritarianism vs. an idealistic drive for change.
More than two years after the waves of mass uprisings in the Arab world, and the term ‘Arab Spring’ has lost its glamour in the media. Current social and political indicators in the countries that witnessed the protests are not conducive to optimism, with the common theme being a persistence of authoritarianism, and the post citizen uprisings political arenas largely dominated by new hegemons who appear to be disinterested in push an agenda of genuine, progressive democratic reforms. In Egypt, Islamists who have managed to capture both a parliamentary majority as well as the presidency refuse to acknowledge ideological and social diversities, and continue to dismiss any input from other political entities and voices in the civil society calling for an open, inclusive dialogue on what is essentially a transition period that is shaping the post-Mubarak sociopolitical public sphere in terms of rights, political participation, governance and accountability.
Can a collective memory of resistance be sustained?
It could be argued that the ideological homogeneity that characterizes a collective resistance during a popular uprising has distinct temporal and physical boundaries. Beyond milestones that define the relative success of confrontational mass dissent (e.g. a dictator being ousted), many divisive factors will naturally force their way to the forefront of the sociopolitical arena. Faced with a common, much more able foe as the strongly entrenched regime, social identities coalesce and ideological divides are diminished temporarily during an act of popular uprising. Following a short-lived revolutionary euphoria, a society in which open political participation and self-expression was heavily stifled for several decades suddenly gains a level of freedom that in turn invokes a sort of collective hyper-awareness of perceived self-identities. Consequently, ideological affiliations became much more pronounced, and binary identification with certain political ideologies or factions became a way for most people to find and assert these identities.
Technology, popular dissent and the ‘new’ public sphere
Attempting to understand the prospects for genuine, desirable democratic transformation in Egypt after the 2011 revolution (as well in other recently manifested contexts of popular dissidence) necessitates an analysis that is not confined to the conventional frameworks of institutional politics and citizen-state relationships. Far-sighted analyses that aim to assess the extent to which grassroots drives for change can endure against continued oppression must have, at their core, a thorough consideration of how societies are making use of the networked world to bring voices previously stifled or unheard to the foreground of traditional politics. Sociopolitical change is a historical inevitability, and the reasons behind why people protest and revolt are globally and historically universal. Nonetheless, the modalities and processes of how such change takes place are undergoing profound changes, largely due to the exponentially advancing technologies shaping how people communicate, share information and create knowledge requisite to bring about the transformations they collectively seek.