Stop Thinking of Only the "Arab World"

tags: Middle East, Arab Spring, revolutions, Egyptian Revolution, Bassam S. Haddad

Bassam S. Haddad is director of the Middle East Studies program at George Mason University.

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.

Before addressing some complex factors, we must disembody the notion of the “Middle East” or even the “Arab World,” as we often speak of the uprisings across the region in monolithic terms. But “Arab World” should not be the unit of analysis. True, there are enduring cultural commonalities that created the demonstration or domino effect, and limited such effect to the Arab world, but this is where the commonality ends. To develop a deeper understanding of the uprisings, we must address them on a case-by-case basis, starting from the historical and proceeding to the social, political, and economic factors.

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