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School of Government & International Affairs

The Arab Spring: Between Authoritarianism and Revolution 12-13 March 2012


The recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) represent an unprecedented political shift in the Arab world. The long standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt were toppled by massive popular protests; the regimes in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria are all experiencing popular challenges from below; and the NATO-backed revolt in Libya ended the rule of Muammar Qaddafi. At the same time, most of the regimes ruling the region contain many of the same actors that were part of the previous ruling elites.

This two day event has been organised to discuss the historical transformations in the MENA region and identify the nature and direction of social and political change in the region. The panels will discuss the factors leading to the revolts, the nature of social and political change underway in the MENA region, the consequences of domestic political changes for the regional balance of power and the responses of the international community, notably the European Union and the United States to these changes. An underlying theme is the role theory plays in both making sense of these changes, and in impeding our understanding.

Questions that would be considered by the speakers include the following:

  • Can the Arab Spring be understood as a singular phenomenon or should it be understood as a series of disparate struggles with different objectives, different structural drivers and different sources of material and ideological support?
  • What factors and processes enabled public dissent against the regimes in the MENA region to erupt so forcefully at this particular juncture? How can theories of social protest help us make sense of these events and how do these events challenge existing theories?
  • What has been the outcome of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya?
  • What is the nature of the social and political conflict in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria?
  • What has been the response of the major regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and Iran to the Arab Spring? How has the Arab Spring affected the balance of power among these regional players?
  • How have the major global actors reacted to the changes under way in the region, and what has been the role of the Western states in shaping and influencing developments in the region?