During the Spring of the so-called Arab Spring, the euphoria that characterized the Winter of 2010/2011 has increasingly given way to more somber attitudes associated with Winter. For those who were expecting a linear progression towards freedom, in which vain autocrats and sclerotic regimes would fall with growing ease and rapidity, despondency is an appropriate response to the increasing ferocity with which ruling elites seek to remain in power. Yet in the life of peoples, as in life itself, linear does not exist. There are no victories without defeat, hope is constantly shadowed by despair, the future consistently threatened by the combined weight of present and past. This is not to say that further Arab uprisings will necessarily triumph, but merely to point out that it would be rather naïve to expect the ouster of one tyrant per month.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the Arab revolt, it has already transformed the region. Even if Ben Ali spends his remaining days in Jeddah playing solitaire, and Mubarak is the last of his colleagues to go the way of Mubarak, 2011 will go down in Arab history as the Year of the Citizen. The year in which Arabs from Marrakesh to Musqat initiated the process of transforming the contemporary Arab state from private fiefdom to public property, thereby changing their status from subject to participant.
The assertion that Arabs are at long last beginning to exercise ownership of the state is very different than the ridiculous proposition that Arabs are overcoming a historical-cultural legacy that has produced congenital docility. The latter half of the twentieth century alone is littered with examples in which, individually as well as collectively, Arabs have been active agents of transformative change. The Algerian struggle for independence and the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising are but two cases in point.
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.