Rethinking Democratization in the Wake of the Arab Spring

Rethinking Democratization in the Wake of the Arab Spring

Tuesday, 30 April 2019 - 5:00pm
Investcorp Auditorium, Middle East Centre, St Antony's College
Professor Carrie Wickham (Emory University)
Dr Michael Willis (St Antony's College)
MEC Seminar

About the seminar:

Developments in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring underscore the fact that the legacies of authoritarian rule are difficult to unravel.  With the lone exception of Tunisia, democratization in the region has stalled, and in the view of many observers, the “Arab Spring” has morphed into an “Arab Winter”.  Yet this portrait of the Arab world  risks flattening out and homogenizing a more complex reality.  I propose that democratization can be understood as a multivalent process extending beyond the domain of formal politics to encompass changes at the level of society, culture and the individual psyche.  This enables us to discern trajectories of change that studies focused solely on macro-level structures and relations of power tend to miss.  In particular, we become alert to numerous instances of social experimentation occurring now, in real time, in which a diverse mix of state and non-state actors are working to strengthen “civic” or “humanist” norms and values under existing institutional constraints.  Under the radar of the daily news cycle, Arab citizens engaged in the “art of the possible” are quietly transforming public habits of mind and behavior and sowing the seeds for wider culture-shifts in society at large. In so doing, they demonstrate that the mobilization of hope and resilience can alter the region’s future.

About the speaker:

Carrie Rosefsky Wickham is Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Emory University.  She studies social movements and contentious politics with a regional focus on the Middle East and North Africa.  She is the author of Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism and Political Change in Egypt (Columbia University Press, 2002); The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement (Princeton University Press, 2013, released with a new Afterword in 2015); and numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals.  Wickham has presented her research findings at universities and think-tanks in North America, Europe and the Middle East, as well as to members of the U.S. State Department, the National Intelligence Council, the Department of Homeland Security, and other policy-makers in the United States and Canada. Her new book project focuses on recent efforts by Arab state and civic leaders to revive the traditions of humanistic thought and inquiry that once featured as a core element of Arab-Islamic civilization.  In addition, it aims to identify broader patterns of humanist culture-change by situating recent developments in the Arab world in cross-regional and cross-historical perspective.

​Cover image credit: MWC news