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Revolution and Counter-Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa

October 14, 2021

Speaker: Dr. Paola Rivetti, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland
Moderator: Professor Raffaella A. Del Sarto, Johns Hopkins SAIS Europe, Bologna, Italy

The Middle East 10 Years after the Uprisings Series

The discussion begins with Dr. Paola Rivetti noting that there are two main topics she will be talking about: the formation of revolutionary and anti-revolutionary fronts and what is spurring social movements across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. She delves into the idea that the uprisings have played a role in the formation of anti-revolutionary fronts and supports this idea by highlighting the importance of the precarity that accompanies uprisings. The uncertainty and level of unrest that uprisings invoke in a society can empower workers and other social groups to come together to fight against social conditions they are unsatisfied with and work to create a better status quo for themselves and others. As a result, she notes that the middle class has been an important counter-revolutionary actor in many contexts in the post-2011 era, wanting stability and a return to some form of normalcy. While individuals studying revolutions often analyze revolutions from the perspective of the nation-state, Rivetti also asserts that there is much to be gained from moving beyond nation-state politics and looking more closely at the role substate actors play in revolutions. Equally, supra-national perspectives can help us look beyond wellestablished assumptions about state’s inclination towards revolutionary politics. Iran is a case in point, as the country has played a large role in supporting regimes and governments in place in contexts like Lebanon and Iraq, where incumbent political authorities were challenged by mounting, revolutionary popular mobilisations.

Rivetti then discusses the question of what happens when we have revolutionary processes that do not result in revolutionary outcomes. She emphasizes the importance of the fact that revolutionary processes often do not end in revolutionary outcomes. Instead, they often create small transformations by creating cracks in the existing system and provoking change in these areas. As sufficient time passes and enough of these cracks are exploited, civil society is able to build an alternative form of sovereignty that more closely aligns with the initially hoped for revolutionary outcome. She then discusses how many of these revolutionary uprisings have organically been linked to global struggles revolving around race, environmentalism, resources, and neoliberal capitalism, and how these uprisings have also had a global impact by creating awareness of systemic and intersectional injustice.

Rivetti concludes her presentation by bringing up salient points for future thought and conversation. She questions the extent to which the Arab uprisings have actually ended. She also raises the question of how our understanding of regional politics might change, should borders and our perspectives on what geographically counts as the region shift. She believes the idea of regions needs to be rethought and that greater attention should be paid to relations between various MENA countries as opposed to relations between MENA countries and European countries. She also highlights that the idea of democracy has changed over the past ten years, moving away from an emphasis on procedural issues to focusing on issues such as social justice and wealth redistribution. This shift will likely play a large role in shaping revolutionary processes moving forward.