Analysis vs. Prediction: Before and After the Arab Spring

“When philosophy paints its grey in grey, a shape of life has grown old, and it cannot be rejuvenated, but only recognized, by the grey in grey of philosophy; the owl of Minevra begins its flight with the onset of dusk.” (Georg Hegel) [1]

Immediately after Hamit Bozarslan published his “Political Sociology of the Middle East” in French in February 2011, the whole Arab world — traditionally described as a region unlikely to change — was turned upside down by a series of revolutions launched, not by external intervention as was expected due to the Iraq experience, but by its own internal dynamics. As the seemingly most persistent authoritarian regimes were torn apart one by one by “ordinary” Arab men and women, a worldwide controversy over the causes and possible consequences of the Arab revolutions began. The well-known conspiracy theory, which degrades the revolutions to the overt or hidden intentions of international actors, was immediately proven false, as Western forces were more than sorry at the ongoing collapse of their authoritarian allies, and hesitant to support the revolutions since the security of their interests in the region could be threatened by a possible rise in Islamic/Islamist actors from democratic elections. The hypocrisy over the discourse of democracy and human rights could not be more blatant. By underlining the preceding economic crises in the region, the theorists of Homo economicus, on the other hand, saw in the Arab revolution nothing but the usual “rebellion of the stomach”; as if the behavior of those “ignorant masses” were determined solely by economic interests, as if they could not have any transcendent ideas (freedom, democracy, justice etc.) or emotions (solidarity, community, fraternity etc.). The rioters, however, displayed the moral economy[2] of the “ordinary” people in an extraordinary act, proving without doubt that man is (not only also, but primarily) a political and emotional (thumos) social being.

In order to understand the Arab riots, therefore, we should turn our attention from these crude perspectives to the political sociology literature on the Middle East that analyzes it as a cultural space rather than a geo-strategic one, taking into account its historical and sociological context within both a regional and global comparative framework. Regarding the line between analysis and prediction in social sciences, however, the difficulty does not solely lie in contingency, but in the very nature of thinking, as the thought of this world “appears only at a time when actuality has gone through its formative process and attained its completed state.[3] When Bozarslan’s study was published, the question to be addressed related to the reasons for the persistence of the authoritarian regimes and the absence of a social rebellion in the Middle East. Bozarslan responded: “A complex balance between defiance and obedience is observed that explains why the ‘Arab streets’ do not lead to any ‘social explosion’. Except a revolution scenario or large-scale urban riots, which are unpredictable by definition, this balance has the chance to ‘constantly’ reproduce itself without forbidding opposing movements.”[4] Bozarslan studied, in other words, the coexistence of the weakness of collective action at the macro level and the innumerable ways of resistance at the micro level. By presenting an analysis of the historical turning points and a critique of the reductionist paradigms, Bozarslan read the Middle East as an authoritarian world that was governed by cartel states — ones dominated by security paradigms, framed by metaphysical or supra-historical concepts, and which required obedience (not full-fledged embrace of the regime as it is the case for the totalitarian world). Thus an authoritarian state could tolerate opposition and dissent unless it threatened the existence of the regime.[5] Still, the reader, in retrospect, finds in Bozarslan’s analysis the very pillars on which the upcoming Arab riots would built themselves, together with clues for their possible futures: (i) the stable rise of Islamic/Islamist actors, (ii) the loss of legitimacy by Arab governments, (iii) the relative advantages of the Syrian and Iranian regimes in persisting, and (iv) the increasingly rebellious spirit of the Arab cities.[6] In the rise of counter-spaces in the cities that produce counter-histories and counter-heroes, Bozarslan had already framed the upcoming events: “Street, first of all, seizes the right to decide who is friend and who is foe; then, monopolizes it, and eventually forces the power to disappear by withdrawing itself in its palaces.”[7]

It is now clear that the process of demobilization and apathy in the Arab world that lasted for 20 years came to an end in 2012, but the revolutions are still far from completion. Regarding the ongoing change in the Middle East, Bozarslan’s study gives crucial insight not only by including Turkey in the comparative analysis of the region — with reference to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) political power, the ongoing process of de-militarization, and the Kurdish question — or by predicting the use of raw coercion at times of crisis by those regimes for their reproduction[8], but also for his additional paper in the Turkish edition, i.e., an analysis of the causes and possible consequences of the Arab riots from the point of view of political sociology. In this additional article, the reader will find the typology of the Arab revolutions; the reasons for the success of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions due to the hegemonic role of their capitals; an explanation of the positions of the social classes and the army towards the revolutions with reference to the concept of a “cartel”; the subtleties of the domino effect, illustrated by clarifying the similarities and differences between the countries of the region; an analysis of the rising Islamic/Islamist actors; the use of new social media; and the need for the Arab left.

Reference: Özcan, Ahmet (2013). “Analysis vs. Prediction: Before and after the Arab Spring”, Turkish Review, Vol. 3/2, March-April, pp. 214 – 215.
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[1] G.W. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, H. B. Nibset (trans.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 23.

[2] For the concept of “moral economy”, see: E.P. Thompson’s analysis of urban unrest in the 18th century England: E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century”, Past & Present, 50, 1971, p. 76-136.

[3] Hegel, p. 23.

[4] All translations belong to me. Hamit Bozarslan, Ortadogu’nun Siyasal Sosyolojisi (Sociologie Politique du Moyen-Orient), Melike Isık Durmaz (trans.), Istanbul: Iletisim Yay., 2011, p. 130.

[5] Ibid, pp. 98 – 100. It is crucial to note that Bozarslan interpreted these authoritarian regimes as the products not of Islam or classical Middle Eastern political culture, but of modernization processes in the region. Ibid, p. 96.

[6] Respectively, ibid, p. 45, 101, 102, 110.

[7] Ibid, p. 122.

[8] Every crisis, by its very nature, is an opportunity, especially for the one that is in crisis.

2 thoughts on “Analysis vs. Prediction: Before and After the Arab Spring

  1. Trusted leader????? We have lined the poktecs of these ‘leaders’ while they continue to let their citizens live in poverty. What they didn’t keep for their own pleasures was used for guns,bombs,and rockets, to keep their people in line, to fight Israel, and to support terrorists. Sure, keep that money flowing!

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