Serious concerns are expressed currently in Tunisia and Egypt about the sabotage of the defeated elites. Many in the revolutionary and pro-democracy circles speak of a creeping counter-revolution. This is not surprising. If revolutions are about intense struggle for a profound change, then any revolution should expect a counterrevolution of subtle or blatant forms. The French, Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and Nicaraguan revolutions all faced protracted civil or international wars. The question is not if the threat of counter-revolution is to be expected; the question rather is if the ‘revolutions’ are revolutionary enough to offset the perils of restoration. It seems that the Arab revolutions remain particularly vulnerable precisely because of their distinct peculiarity—their structural anomaly expressed in the paradoxical trajectory of political change.
Historically, three types of bottom-up regime/political change stand out. The first is the ‘reformist change’. Here, social and political movements mobilize in a usually sustained campaign to exert concerted pressure on the incumbent regimes to undertake reforms through the institutions of the existing states. Resting on their social power—the mobilization of the grassroots— the opposition movements compel the political elites to reform themselves, their laws and institutions often through some of kind of social pacts. So, change happens within the framework of the existing political arrangements. The transition to democracy in countries like Mexico and Brazil in the 1980s was of this nature. The leadership of Iran’s Green movement currently pursues similar reformist trajectory. In this trajectory, the depth and extend of reforms vary. Change may remain superficial; but it can also be profound if it materialized cumulatively by legal, institutional and politico-cultural reforms.
This article is now featured in Jadaliyya`s edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.