Recent debates on societal transitions to democracy have focused their attention on the notion of “civil society,” putting great hope in its democratizing effects. This essay re- examines the notion’s utility in the context of the post-2011 Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. It argues that at least in its conceptualization along the lines of the “transition paradigm,” the civil society framework is unable to capture the complex catalysts of the non-teleological, open-ended uprisings in North Africa. Not only does it largely ignore the importance of socioeconomic forces as well as the non-institutionalized, spontaneous forms of organization present in these democratization processes; the analytical failure of the civil society framework also takes up a transformative power in and of itself, structuring the empirical realities that it claims to describe. The concept of civil society therefore fails to accurately represent the dynamics at play in Tunisia and Egypt, and has negatively shaped them with respect to the outcomes of revolutionary contestation. “Civil society” has integrated an open and contingent arena into the closed structures of reproduced sovereign statehood. Rather than unleashing democratic energies in Tunisia and Egypt, it has sometimes even reinforced the very power structures it allegedly set out to challenge. Borrowing from the work of Hannah Arendt on revolution and Giorgio Agamben on the notion of “destituent power,” this essay argues for a conceptual opening in our analytical framework that corresponds to the radical contingency that lies at the heart of any revolutionary process.
The increased use of and attention to drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), have led to a widespread debate about their application. Much of this debate has centered on their use by governments, often for the purpose of surveillance and warfare. This focus on the state’s use obscures the opportunity for civil society actors, including social movements, to make use of these technologies. This article briefly reviews the technological innovation before proceeding to a typology of civil society uses, ranging from art to digital disruption. This typology emphasizes the dual-use nature of this technology and, in the process, highlights the need for a best-practices framework to guide such use. Drone usage for the public good, it is argued, should prioritize 1) subsidiarity; 2) physical and material security; 3) the “do no harm” principle; 4) the public good; and respect for 5) privacy, and 6) data. These factors are introduced and discussed.
This article presents a brief characterization of the transformational consequences of the Arab Spring for global policy frameworks and democracy promotion efforts regarding Internet infrastructure. To do so, we begin with unpacking the battle that took place in Dubai in December 2012 at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) between competing state powers, technology policy regimes, and civil society activists jockeying on the global stage to promote Internet freedom. Particular emphasis is placed on the discourses and controversies carried over from the Arab Spring surrounding Internet freedom as democracy promotion, including the growing importance of transnationally-organized and tech-savvy civil society activists who have joined these opaque policy debates. The next section focuses on highlighting the new practices and ideologies of this particularly novel “community of practice” comprising transnational tech-savvy activists who have joined the Internet freedom proto-regime. The final discussion elucidates the policy innovations and frameworks born from the interactions of this diverse stakeholder network since the Arab Spring, and contrasts them with those of the state and private sector stakeholders who traditionally hold sway in shaping information infrastructure policies. We conclude by outlining the opportunities and challenges facing these policy entrepreneurs and the democratic interests of global Internet users.
In the spring of 2011 when citizens in Arab countries rose up against their regimes, it appeared that the “third wave” of democratization had begun in the Middle East and the Maghreb, and that countries would embark on successful democratic transitions. Issues such as the gendered nature of the uprisings, how gender relations and women’s mobilizations have shaped trajectories, as well as how women and their rights have been affected, have been under-researched. In this article, I put the spotlight on North Africa—Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia—which saw different protest dynamics and political outcomes subsequently. Drawing from mainstream literature on determinants of democratization and feminist literature on women and democratic transitions, I examine how women’s preexisting legal status and social positions, as well as the broad structural, institutional, and cultural contexts, shaped the course and immediate outcomes of the Arab Spring in the countries examined. I argue that those countries that saw advances in women’s participation and rights prior to the Arab Spring are the ones most likely to transition successfully to democracy, and indeed, to establish a more women-friendly democracy; and that women’s growing political leadership will influence the quality of ongoing democratizations in the Maghreb countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
If there are two things that unite the stunningly diverse movements of the last five years, it is their reliance on new digital media and their determination to enact, as well as bring about, more participatory forms of democracy. In this paper, I look at these developments separately and together. Why has enthusiasm for consensus-based decision making and leaderless organizations that were seemingly abandoned by the 1970s gained new life? How has that enthusiasm come to be shared by the right and left, by Tea Party members alongside Occupy activists? Without diminishing the importance of economic crises and policymakers’ responses to those crises in shaping the movements of the last five years, I call attention to developments both outside and within movements that have made ours into a participatory age. Among those developments, the rise of the Internet has not only made protests easier to organize, it has also produced new understandings of equality, organization, and democracy. Yet the contemporary zeal for participation has also created new challenges for activists. Among these is the challenge to make participatory democracy attractive to people who do not have a deep ideological commitment to it.
This article situates recent political turbulence in the Middle East within the long-term failure of the Arab development model that is based on economic controls and welfare concessions. After having sustained generous welfare entitlements for several decades, this development model is coming under increasing strains in the face of a growing and increasingly educated youth population, falling public spending, and an inflexible economic structure. Underpinning this failure is a weak and dependent private sector that survives largely through privileges rather than competition. This failure is most evident in the region’s labor-abundant economies, where privileges are concentrated amongst connected firms but employment is concentrated amongst small, informal sector firms operating at the margins of the economy. I argue that there is a deep trade-off between employment and autonomy; sustainable employment generation is not possible without giving greater autonomy to the private sector and releasing competitive space for its operation. However, private sector development is not simply a question of technocratic policy reform. In a context where economic controls generate rents for insiders and are used to sustain elite coalitions, development has to be conceived as part of a broader political concession.
Energy systems can be an integral part of the initiation of insurgencies and revolutions. Their quality and reliability may be causative factors in some instances and contributory factors in others. Energy systems are systems within systems nested in other systems, so the effect of an attack on a fuel source or parts of an energy system may have more far reaching effects than initially expected. This article will look at various energy systems and fuels, as well as some of the systems attached to them, including communications, transportation, water, and food. It will also look at examples of attacks on energy systems and why they may occur and by whom during times of conflict. There is a discussion of how a country could use energy to help reduce the chances of further conflict in the initial post-conflict environment. Energy policy options for a government wishing to stay in power, both pre- and post-conflict, are presented.
South Sudan is a prime example of how governance arrangements can either achieve and maintain peace, or become the trigger for civil war. South Sudan’s experience shows that the appropriateness of constitutional provisions to a local context remains key, and that the time-tested elements of good governance still matter: devolution and separation of powers, appropriate government and electoral systems, and strong institutions. In nations as ethnically diverse as South Sudan, decentralization is necessary for effective public participation, and it also contributes to bringing government closer to the people and empowering local governments to be more responsive to their constituencies’ needs. Ineffectual decentralization, on the other hand, leads to marginalization of some groups, and causes allegiances to form along ethnic rather than national lines. Should fighting break out in such a context, the conflict frequently takes on an ethnic nature, as it has in South Sudan. While failures in decentralization and other governance arrangements may have provoked civil war in South Sudan, addressing such weaknesses through constitutional amendments and capacity building, for example, may put the country back on track towards achieving and maintaining peace and stability. Other key reforms would include economic diversification, improved natural resource management, and tighter budgetary control. Despite the significant challenges ahead, there is hope yet for the world’s youngest nation.
Following the coup of 22 May 2014 in Thailand, the military has striven to narrow the democratic space while curtailing many forms of freedom. But even with the worst kind of authoritarianism, political legitimacy remains fundamental for the longevity of the regime. To prolong its political life, the military has embarked on distributing economic benefits to the people in an effort to acquire acceptance and loyalty through various populist programs, a practice made famous by its political nemesis, the Shinawatra political clan. For example, the military has ordered the disbursement of funds owed to poor farmers by the previously deposed government under a rice subsidy program. For the military, its survival depends on popular appeal. To keep the people happy, the military must demonstrate its ability to deliver economic benefits; and this partly hinges on how much the West perceives the suspension of democratic freedoms as a threat. Thailand is vulnerable to sanctions as it is linked to global supply chains of crucial commodities. The disruption of these links would impact the local economy and thus local consumers. Here, international sanctions have the potential to influence the behavior of the Thai junta. The United States and the European Union have warned that they may take more aggressive measures, including boycotting Thai products, if the military fails to restore democracy soon. Harsher sanctions will affect the economic livelihood of Thais and could consequently defy the legitimacy of the military regime.
Bahrain is one of the only countries where, four years into the “Arab Spring” uprisings, most people continue to use peaceful methods of resistance, including technological advancements and the use of social media for mobility. Over time, political stalemate, impunity, and the closure of most avenues for peaceful dissent caused many individuals to become disenchanted with the results of these nonviolent tactics, turning instead towards more violent means of protest. Inside Bahrain, opposition groups used the people’s dedication to nonviolence to better position themselves. In addition, international responses to violent strategies elsewhere in the region have led to foreign military intervention, greater political attention in international forums, and more consistent coverage in mainstream media outlets. The use of peaceful dissent also suffers from a lack of international legal protection and regulation. The lack of regulation left those suffering from grave human rights violations as a result of peaceful dissent with few avenues that could provide more protection and accountability. Through the lens of the Bahraini protests, this article analyzes how the strategy of using nonviolence to create social and political change has been undermined and almost obliterated due to the lack of international legal structures to protect peaceful protesters from their governments, as well as the double standards apparent in the response of the international community.
Recently, social movements have shaken countries around the world. Most of these movements have thoroughly integrated digital connectivity into their toolkits, especially for organizing, gaining publicity, and effectively communicating. Governments, too, have been adapting to this new reality where controlling the flow of information provides new challenges. This article examines the multiple, often novel, ways in which social media both empowers new digitally-fueled movements and contributes to their apparent weaknesses in seemingly paradoxically ways. This article also integrates the evolving governmental response into its analysis. Social media’s empowering aspects are real and profound, but these impacts do not play out in a simple, linear fashion. The ability to scale-up quickly using digital infrastructure has empowered movements to embrace their horizontalist and leaderless aspirations, which in turn have engendered new weak- nesses after the initial phase of street actions ebbs. Movements without organizational depth are often unable to weather such transitions. While digital media create more possibilities to evade censorship, many governments have responded by demonizing and attacking social media, thus contributing to polarized environments in which dissidents have access to a very different set of information compared to those more loyal to the regime. This makes it hard to create truly national campaigns of dissent. This article provides an overview of this complex, evolving environment with examples ranging from the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt to the Occupy movement.
The citizen journalism group 140journos was founded in early 2012 by a group of college students who were frustrated with the shortcomings of the mainstream media coverage in Turkey. The group of students began aggregating on-the-ground news using Twitter, and their group name is a reference to the maximum number of characters in a tweet—140. The group gained momentum when the Gezi Park protests erupted in the summer of 2013. The new surge of protest activity helped the group develop a network of contributors, and their Twitter account has grown into a trusted source of news. Now with 53,000 followers, the account is still a small operation. Nevertheless, the news group is protective of the reputation that it has earned and vigorously checks sources and verifies its tweets. The Journal of International Affairs spoke with Burcu Baykurt, who joined 140journos in mid-2012, to talk more about how the group formed and how it is contributing to a changing media landscape in a country still grappling with censorship. Baykurt is currently a third-year PhD student at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, where she is researching Internet policymaking.
Massive pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong in late September 2014, which began with university and secondary school students boycotting classes. Protesters are demanding the right to democratically elect their next chief executive, Hong Kong’s highest elected position, in response to the Chinese government’s announcement that they will vet and pre-approve all candidates. Pro-democracy activists say that this is not the universal suffrage promised by Beijing in the Hong Kong Basic Law and a further 2007 decision of the National People’s Congress. The Basic Law is the constitutional document of the Hong Kong administrative region. Law professor Michael Davis teaches at the University of Hong Kong and has lived in Hong Kong for thirty years. He has long observed and written about the pro-democracy political movement in the administrative region. He spoke with the Journal about the latest developments in the protests, as of 1 October 2014.
Kalev Leetaru is the creator of GDELT (Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone), a comprehensive, open source data set that aggregates news media to track political events and protests throughout the world, as well as the people, organizations, themes, and emotions underlying them. He just finished a term as the 2013–2014 Yahoo Fellow at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and is working to expand the GDELT project. Leetaru provided the Journal with insight regarding the origins of the database, some of its complexities, new developments, and his vision for how GDELT can forecast future uprisings and political violence to help those affected.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is a left-wing guerilla group that, since its inception in the mid-1960s shortly after the start of the country’s pernicious civil conflict, has grown to become one of the most influential armed groups in Colombia’s struggle. As the conflict dragged on, paramilitary groups organized to combat some of the left-wing groups that were grabbing land and terrorizing the countryside with violent tactics. This has made the conflict more complex and difficult to resolve, despite the fact that one main paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), was largely demobilized by 2006. Today, the effects of the conflict have taken a toll on the country’s society. For instance, Colombia has the second-largest number of internally displaced persons, after Syria, because of its ongoing internal struggles. Peace talks have taken place on and off unsuccessfully over the years, but in 2012 FARC representatives and President Juan Manuel Santos returned to the negotiating table, this time in Havana, Cuba. The prospect of a revised political solution attracted both actors to the negotiating table. Indeed, President Santos’ re-election in June 2014 largely hinged on his ongoing commitment to the peace process. Tanja Nijmeijer, alias Alexandra Nariño, of the FARC peace delegation answered questions about the ongoing peace negotiations from Havana.
Peaceful protests in Bahrain, the small island nation in the Persian Gulf, began in February 2011, shortly after the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia. The situation quickly devolved as Bahraini riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition on protesters. After several months, the country’s ruler, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which found that the court system had convicted hundreds of people who were exercising their right of freedom of assembly. Despite the commission calling for the release of these prisoners, a May 2014 Human Rights Watch report concluded that little has changed since 2011. Restricted press freedoms have also led to severe crackdowns on photographers and journalists who have used social media to cover the unfolding events. Several award-winning photographers remain in prison, including Hussain Hubail and Ahmed Humaidan, who are serving five and ten-year sentences, respectively. A third photographer, Sayed al-Mousawi has been detained since February of this year. A collection of photographs taken by the trio is published within this issue of the Journal. Meanwhile, civil unrest and demonstrations continue against King Hamad. The Journal of International Affairs also spoke with ex-detainee and photographer Mohammed Al Oraibi from Bahrain to give some context to the situation that media professionals currently face.
Long before a Tunisian fruit vendor sparked the Arab Spring, student protesters in Paris led a revolt in 1968 that spread to the labor unions and touched off similar protests in London, Berlin, Mexico City, and Rome. The protests took on the pertinent social issues of each city, and it was a turbulent year around the world. Decades later, in the midst of another tumultuous period, university students continue to be a force that sparks and sustains protest culture around the world. The Journal of International Affairs spoke with university students in Ukraine, Turkey, and Venezuela who joined the protests in their respective countries. The students spoke about their experiences, the impact of their actions, and their visions for the future.
Based on rational choice theory, this essay develops a theoretical approach to explain how an individual's expected utility of protesting is affected by the probability of having a new government, together with the expected costs, expected benefits, and the probability of retributive consequences for protesting. The essay argues that the probability of having a new government is positively correlated with the opposition's ability to coordinate. By modeling how these variables interact, this essay revises the concept of a “threshold,” or point where the expected net benefits exceed the expected costs of joining a rebellion. The concepts of “bandwagon” and “reverse bandwagon effect,” introduced by traditional models of collective behavior, are integrated to explain the dynamics of a revolution and how popular disaffection may lead to regime change. The resulting theoretical framework is then applied to analyze the unexpected escalation in the number of protests and the movement's subsequent dissolution that took place in Venezuela during the first months of 2014.
As part of the crackdown on recent protests in Bahrain, authorities have detained numerous photographers and journalists. The Journal of International Affairs has curated a photo essay of the work of three award winning photographers from Bahrain: Hussain Hubail, Ahmed Humaidan, and Sayed Ahmed al-Mousawi. Their work has garnered international acclaim, and the Journal is pleased to include a selection of their images from the conflict in Bahrain that began in 2011.