Libmonster ID: TJ-538
Author(s) of the publication: A. R. SHISHKINA

A. R. SHISHKINA

National Research University Higher School of Economics

Keywords: Arab Spring, protests, civil society, opposition, social identity

A series of mass protests in Arab countries that began in 2011 drew particular attention to the role of civil society and social movements in democratic transit processes. It is associated with the beginning of protests and mass demonstrations that ultimately led to regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, stimulated significant reforms in many countries, and provoked significant international tensions around, for example, the situation in Syria. Nevertheless, the question of the applicability of the phrase "civil society" to Arab countries remains the subject of scientific discussion.

Let's try to analyze this issue taking into account some features of the development of the modern world.

As a rule, the concept of civil society is perceived by researchers through the prism of the Western tradition, where it has been formed, developed and taken institutionalized forms throughout history.

It is generally accepted that civil society belongs to the "zone of voluntary social life outside the family or belonging to a clan" 1, therefore, "its strategic area is located between citizens and the state", but at the same time it is separated from market relations 2.

Thus, civil society consists of associations and organizations whose main purpose is to reflect and represent the views and interests of various groups of the population and to carry out activities and take appropriate measures. At the same time, the British orientalist, T. Niblock highlights important conditions for the functioning of relevant associations - first of all, independence from the state, commitment to the peaceful settlement of differences between individuals and communities, etc.

It should be noted that in this article, the nonviolent orientation of civil associations is considered as one of the main characteristics of civil society.

The concept of "civil society"is also firmly embedded in the Arabic-language discourse: according to the American political scientist S. Yom, officials use this term to promote their projects of mobilization and modernization, Islamists-to take their place in the public space, 3 and independent activists and intellectuals-to expand the boundaries of individual freedom. 4 As a rule, civil society in these cases is presented as a field of interaction between various groups, associations, clubs, associations, parties, etc., which can act as a kind of buffer between the state and citizens. 5

Despite the significant role of the spontaneity factor in the preparation and further development of the events of the "Arab Spring", among the most obvious organizers of protest actions, it is worth highlighting, for example, the "April 6 Movement" in Egypt - a group of like-minded people created by Ahmad Mahir in the spring of 2008 to support the strike of workers in the city of al-Mahalla al-Kubra, as well as the online movement "All of us Khalid Said", organized by-


The research was carried out within the framework of the HSE Basic Research Program in 2016 with the support of the Russian Science Foundation (grant N 14 - 18 - 03615).

page 9

written by Wael Ghonim, a Google employee in the Middle East, after the murder of Alexandrian blogger Khalid Saeed by police.

It is noteworthy that the supporters of the" April 6 Movement "chose a clenched fist as their logo-a symbol previously used by other youth organizations: "Repulse" in Serbia, "Kmara" in Georgia, etc.

Initially, in 2008, the movement was not actively involved in the strike, providing organizational, technical and legal support to the protesters. It played a similar role in the events of 2011 : its activists disseminated information, established contacts with potential participants via Internet technologies, and so on.

It is also worth mentioning the "Egyptian Movement for Change", better known as "Kifaya" ("Enough!"), which reflects the" new format " of the Egyptian opposition, based on the support of diverse political forces, including Nasserists, Islamists, secularists, liberals, etc.

The first wave of protests involving this movement dates back to 2005, when its representatives held a rally in Tahrir Square, opposing the presidency of H. Mubarak, as well as the possibility of transferring power to his son Gamal. In 2011, Kifaya joined the protest actions thanks to activists who were well-versed in the field of virtual communication tools.

Since the beginning of the protests in 2011, there have been several rather disparate groups in the Egyptian political field - such as the" April 6 Movement"," January 25 Movement"," March 9 Movement", and"Youth Movement for Freedom and Justice". However, they were not able to become a consolidated force and united only on January 25 in Tahrir Square.

As for the opposition, in this case the greatest interest is caused by Syria, where the division of opposition forces into internal and external was most clearly expressed.

Thus, the former, whose core was the Coordinating Council for Democratic Change, were characterized mainly by disunity (as, indeed, in other countries of the "Arab Spring"). And also, in general, a loyal attitude to the current government, which can largely be explained by the noticeable influence on young people of the National Union of Syrian Students , an authoritative organization that has significant resources and opposes revolutionary actions.

The second group is primarily represented by the so - called Free Syrian Army (FSA), an organization that enjoys the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and consists mainly of military personnel who defected from the government army. The FSA has its headquarters in Turkey. 6 The FSA has conducted operations against the military, attacked transport facilities, and so on, acting as one of the main supporters of foreign military intervention in Syria. For example, in the fall of 2011, FSA forces disabled 17 armored vehicles in ar-Rastan, and there were regular clashes between security forces and rebels in Idlib, Hama,and other governorates. 7

It should be noted that the latter of these groups, as well as other associations that use violent methods, cannot be considered as a structural component of civil society due to its militarization and clear deviation from the principles of peaceful conflict resolution, but the activities of the FSA indirectly influenced the civil activity of Syrians, fueled by the idea of rallying against a common goal. dangers. This was reflected, for example, in the development of online journalism, the purpose of which was to provide reliable coverage of events in the crisis zone.

Despite the fact that the concept of "civil society" is usually associated with the Western concept, it is not fundamentally alien to the Arab world, since it can include not only political or professional associations, but also other groups - religious, commercial, industrial, scientific and research, etc. 8 In addition, the Arab states have managed to develop a mechanism for the development of civil society. the formation of civil organizations, including due to Western influence - this point of view is defended both by Arabic-speaking activists and human rights defenders, and by Western experts, in particular, S. Ibrahim, L. Kubba, T. Niblock 9 and others.

Be that as it may, the events that began in 2011 in the Arab countries showed both the presence of civil society and its weakness.

Of course, the existence of differences in the development of civil society in Western countries and in the Middle East is an indisputable fact. So, by many thinkers (from M. Luther, J. -J. Rousseau and I. Kant before F. Hayek and R. Inglehart) emphasized that one of the main characteristics of Western society is individualism, where the priority of personal interests and goals comes to the fore, and active citizenship is highly valued.

In the Arab world, on the contrary, groupthink is a fundamental value, and "the status of the regime is considered more important than ensuring individual rights and freedoms or developing private initiatives"10. Given the above characteristics, it can be assumed that information security is more important than the protection of individual rights and freedoms.-

page 10

communication technologies have had a significant impact on the younger generation in Arab countries11, effectively forming a new form of sociality and group identity, but technology alone, as has been repeatedly noted, is not a sufficient condition for ensuring social and political activism.

Professor at the University of Dublin F. Cavatorta notes that the definition of civil society should not be limited to speculations about formal organizations and movements that do not give an idea of the completeness of the forms of "self-expression" by society.12

There are many other ways in which people can interact to challenge an authoritarian regime, from individual recordings, artistic expressions of discontent, to mass political participation. Such forms of political involvement can be activated in the presence of certain trigger events , such as acts of self-immolation in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries.

F. Cavatorta concludes that this indicates a high level of civil activity in its various forms in the period before the beginning of active actions, and also indicates the viability of civil society, even in the face of repressive measures of authoritarian regimes.

Despite the fact that the ideas of revitalizing and rejuvenating civil society in Arab countries were proclaimed long before the events of the "Arab Spring", the reality is that its representatives did not manage to put the Arab States on the path of democratic transit by undermining the foundations of their authoritarian institutions.13 For example, the most notable democratic steps in the Middle East and North Africa region-the elections in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon - were not the result of years of intense struggle by activists in these countries, but were caused by political and military upheavals: the sudden death of Yasser Arafat, the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Taking into account the above, we can conclude that at the present stage of the political development of the Arab states, the series of upheavals, called the "Arab Spring", has become a unique example of real manifestations of civil society, which in some cases resulted in a total change in the political situation in the country.

One possible explanation for why such transformations did not occur earlier may be that individual non-governmental organizations were not able to mobilize a critical mass of their supporters, since most of them are focused on solving a specific problem. 14 In addition, members of such associations often show a significant degree of passivity and apathy.

By the beginning of the events of 2011, a rather serious level of dissatisfaction with the economic and socio-political situation among the population of Arab countries had accumulated, which was overlaid with new ways and channels of mobilizing protest activity in the form of information technologies.

During the "Arab Spring" protests, the following picture was observed: often the authorities were not prepared for such manifestations of protest activity and incorrectly assessed the threat from the protesters, making fatal mistakes for them. From our point of view, in the modern world, this can be explained (among other things) by the rapid development of Internet technologies, which give the opposition the opportunity to train protest potential in a virtual reality that is not controlled by the authorities.

The fact is that the authorities, who are used to fully controlling the information flows of traditional media-television, radio, and print media-in most cases underestimate the mobilization potential of the latest mass communication media. The latter, in turn, are characterized not only by the ability to instantly disseminate any information, but also by wide feedback opportunities, as well as an extremely reduced level of mobilization costs.

Thus, in conditions of a rather low level of trust in the authorities, as was the case during the "Arab Spring", a significant part of communications, primarily those of the opposition, is transferred to the virtual sphere, effectively escaping the control of government censorship.15

It is also worth adding that these processes give rise to a format of communication in which there are no pronounced ideological factors and recognizable leaders of protest movements. Perhaps it is this feature that has become fundamentally new in comparison with the preparation of protests carried out through traditional media. In this case, we can say that the authorities usually interacted with the "old" type of opposition, represented by charismatic leaders and operating with more or less clear ideological programs. In the cases we are considering, it was forced to face an unusual format of opposition activity, did not have time to adapt to new circumstances, and, as a result, began to make mistakes.

Such characteristics of the Internet space as ubiquity, the possibility of feedback, the absence of clearly recognizable leaders, etc., form a new lo-

page 11

the geek of public interaction compared to, say, traditional media. Accordingly, there are other forms of expressing discontent and protest activity.

Most of the communication in this case takes place through the so-called social media. This term is used to describe a new generation of digital networked information and communication technologies. They can be put in a variety of forms :Internet forums, blogs, media hosting sites, and so on.

The key characteristic of this type of media is the ability to simultaneously create content and consume information products. The main functional and semantic differences between social media and other types of mass media and communication are anonymity, the possibility of feedback, and the absence of pronounced leaders or authors (both in the literary and news aspect, and in the formation of a new type of social movements).

In a preliminary summary, I would like to turn again to the concepts of civil society and recall the theory of the German sociologist J. Habermas, according to which one of the key forms of public formation is the political space, namely coffee shops, clubs, clubs or discussion clubs, where certain public issues were discussed. 16

According to Habermas, the spread of print media contributed to the politicization of public life and stimulated the political activity of citizens. Projecting such reflections on the current situation and assuming that virtual communication platforms structurally reproduce the forms of public interaction described above (and with a much higher mobilization potential due to the erasure of social, property and cultural boundaries), we can conclude that Internet technologies have significantly contributed to the formation and strengthening of the public sphere in Arab countries.

* * *

The involvement of Arab youth in political life was largely determined by the mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt, where they played a major role. Protests in Arab countries have inspired demonstrations in other parts of the world, and the main feature of these processes has been the formation of a new sense of citizenship. The French sociologist B. Schalland notes that, despite the fact that some moments were characteristic of the Middle Eastern countries, in general, the protests of the Arab world marked a radical break from the point of view of the mentioned new sense of citizenship, based on two basic revolutionary principles.17

The first of them is the logic of inclusion in protest activity, based on the growing level of national identification: people acted not only in defense of their own interests, but were ready to take responsibility for socially vulnerable segments of society. The participation of women in demonstrations can serve as a clear example in this case.

As the second principle, we can consider the so-called presentism - the orientation of participants in protest actions to the current time, the method of conducting a dialogue here and now, when postponements are unacceptable. However, it was precisely this kind of haste that led to the fact that most of the protesters ' demands were not met, since the reforms are somehow stretched out in time.

Currently, the main challenge faced by young people as a driving force of protest actions is to create a common platform for further interaction and building a dialogue between culturally and ideologically disparate groups. If spontaneous mobilisation based on virtual platforms has circumvented these differences, and collective action and mass demonstrations have been successful, then additional conditions and efforts on the part of civil society representatives are needed for the further development of civil society mechanisms and effective tools for further change.18

At first glance, it may seem that the uprisings in Arab countries mark the end of the era of "militant" manifestations of civil society. The spontaneity and grassroots organization of protests indicate an anti-government orientation of actions carried out outside the framework of formal political institutions.

In this case, it is worth emphasizing that this kind of civil society is formed and acquires its main features precisely during the uprising, which significantly differs, for example,from the reformist manifestations of civil society in Western countries. 19

Civil society in the Arab world has very little in common with the" professional", liberal civil society that Western political theories speak of - for example, in the first case, anti-regime demonstrations were the result of spontaneous aggregation of people and demands, and not the result of the existence of human rights organizations or NGOs funded by influential structures for many years.

Spontaneity, however, does not mean ... -

page 12

It simply indicates that there is a different logic of interaction and unification of people: the protesters in Arab countries simply did not need the usual organizational structures and funding for mobilization - they were largely replaced by media communication channels.

According to the British political scientist J. R. R. Tolkien, Civil society in the Arab world is based on several types of public associations: 20 First, these are Islamist organizations that promote Islam and spread religious tenets. This type of organization carries a potential risk of radicalization.

Another type is non-profit organizations based on the experience of Western countries and engaged in providing services, primarily in the field of professional training, etc.

The third type of organization is associated with professional associations. There are also solidarity societies and pro-democracy organizations.21

The importance of developing civil society tools in relation to Arab countries is particularly pronounced against the background of the political culture of the Arab world, which is not fully disposed to such manifestations of civil activity.

However, the success of revolutionary actions does not mean a period of socio-political stability, and as we can see, both local and global conflicts continue to flare up in the region. In these circumstances, the further development of civil society institutions and mechanisms can play one of the most important roles, both in terms of destabilizing the current situation and achieving public agreement on the socio-political structure of society.


Hawthorne A. 1 Middle Eastern Democracy. Is Civil Society the Answer? // Carnegie Papers Middle East Series.

2004. N 44. P. 12. Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - http://carnegieendowment.org/files/CarnegiePaper44. pdf

Niblock T. 2 Civil Society in the Middle East // A Companion to the History of the Middle East / Edited by Youssef M. Choueiri. P. 487. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 2005.

Yom S.L. 3 Civil Society and Democratization in The Arab World // The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). Vol. 9. 2005. N 4 - http://www.eden.rutgers.edu/-spath/351/Readings/Yom%20-%20Civil%20Society%20and%2 0Democratization%20in%20Arab%20World.pdf

Bellin E. 4 Civil Society: Effective Tool of Analysis for Middle East Politics? // PS: Political Science & Politics. 1954. P. 510.

Yom S.L. 5 Op. cit.

Shishkina A. R. 6 Syrie: secrets of regime stability // System monitoring of global and regional risks: The Arab world after the Arab Spring / Ed. by L. M. Isaev, A. R. Shishkina, A.V. Korotaev, M., LENAND. 2013. С. 323 - 353. (Shishkina A.R. 2013. Siriya: sekrety stoikosti rezhima // ... Arabskiy mir posle Arabskoy vesny / Eds. L.M.Isaev, A.R.Shishkina, A.V.Korotaev. M.) (in Russian)

Isaev L. M., Shishkina A. R. 2012. Siriya i Yemen: neokonchennye revolyutsii. M. (in Russian)

Vallionatos S. 8 Arab civil society at the crossroads of democratization: the impact of the Arab Spring / / Neighborhood Policy Paper. 2012 - http://www.khas.edu.tr/cms/cies/dosyalar/files/NeighbourhoodPolicyPaper(10)RussianVersio n.pdf

Ibrahim S.E. 9 Civil Society and Prospects for Democratization in the Arab World // Civil Society in the Middle East. Ed. Richard Augustus Norton.. Leiden: E.J.Brill. 2005, p. 28; Niblock T. Op. cit.; Kubba L. The awakening of civil society // Islam and Democracy in the Middle East. Ed. Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner and Daniel Brumberg. P. 28 - 29. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press. 2008.

Samad A.Z. 10 Civil Society in the Arab Region: Its Necessary Role and the Obstacles to Fulfillment // International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law. 2007. N 9 (2).

Karolak M.M. 11 Civil Society and Web 2.0 Technology: a Study of Social Media in the Kingdom of Bahrain // Arab Media & Society. 2011. Issue 14 - http://www.arabmediasociety.com/?article=773

Cavatorta F. 12 Arab Spring: The Awakening of Civil Society. A General Overwiev // IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook Med. 2012 - http://www.iemed.org/observatori-en/arees-danalisi/arxius-adjunts/anuari/med.2012/Cavatort a_en.pdf

Yom S.L. 13 Op. cit.

Langohr V. 14 Too Much Civil Society, Too Little Politics // Comparative Politics. Vol. 36, 2004. N 2.

Isaev L. M., Shishkina A. R. 15 Tempted by the revolution / / Politiya: Analiz. Chronicle. Forecast. 2014. N 2. pp. 21-33.

Habermas J. 16 The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. MIT Press Edition. 1991.

Challand B. 17 Citizenship against the Grain. Locating the Spirit of the Arab Uprisings in Times of Counter-Revolutions // Constellations. Vol. 20, 2013. Issue 2.

Halaseh R. 18 Civil Society, youth and the Arab Spring. 2012 - http://www.um.edu.mt/_data/assets/pdf_file/0012/150411/Chapter_13_-_Rama_Halaseh.pdf

Bottici C., Challand B. 19 Civil Society in Revolt: From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street // Jadaliyya. 2012 -http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/8073/civil-society-in-revoltfrom-the-arab-spring-to-o c

Boose J. W. 20 Democratization and Civil Society: Libya, Tunisia and the Arab Spring // International Journal of Social Science and Humanity. Vol. 2, 2012. N 4.

Sean Y. 21 Civil society and democratization in the Arab world // Middle East Review of International Affairs. Vol. 9, 2005. N 4. P. 14 - 33.


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