- Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa
Despite the seemingly unfortunate timing of the publication of Joel Beinin and Frederic Vairel's edited volume on social movements and social mobilization in the Middle East and North Africa, there is a silver lining. On the one hand, because all of the principal articles in the volume were written prior to the outbreak of the Arab Spring, when authoritarianisms across the region seemed resilient, the volume feels somewhat dated. Contentious space, for example, is often characterized as being created, managed, and manipulated by authoritarian regimes, and social movements are depicted as showing signs of weariness and social fatigue. On the other hand, the volume is full of critical insights into the prevailing social movement framework more generally—insights that are aimed at the middle range of theoretical abstraction. Combined with the consistently strong quality of the case study contributions, the result is a volume that, despite its temporal limitations, pushes beyond the boundaries of classical social movement theory and, as a result, will have more lasting scholarly appeal.
There are three particular contributions of this volume that stand out. They revolve around the desire of the editors (1) to broaden the range of studies that might be included in the social movement school of analysis, (2) to recognize the inherent complexity of microdynamics within social movements—ones that do not necessarily follow from the structural contexts within which they exist—through the application of empirical, historicized, and social constructivist analysis, and (3) to question assumed macro-level relationships between civil society activism and the transition to democracy. Paradoxically it is these latter insights that will prove to be particularly important in the future, fostering more sober analysis of the civil societies and social movements in the post-Arab Spring Middle East and North Africa.
First, the issue of the scope of social movement study in the Middle East and North Africa. Up until now, the gold standard for the study of social movements in the Middle East has been Quinton Wiktorowicz's edited volume Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach (2003).1 Seeking to take social movement theory beyond its roots within the industrialized world, Wiktorowicz and the first-class group of scholars that contributed to his volume worked to prove the relevance of social movement theory to the Middle East and North Africa by applying it to the study of Islamic activism, the most prevalent form of protest in the region in the latter part of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first century. Wiktorowicz's volume has been an unmitigated success, especially from a pedagogical perspective, challenging ever-lingering orientalist perspectives on Islamic protests movements by reintegrating them into the mainstream social science fold. Yet, as Beinin and Vairel recognized, because of its exclusive focus on Islamic activism, the scope of Islamic Activism ignored the much broader array of secular actors at work in the public spheres in the region and, hence, was in danger of misrepresenting the broader nature of contentious action. As a result, while including chapters in Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation on Islamist actors in Saudi Arabia (Pascal Ménoret), Egypt (Roel Meijer), and Lebanon (Anne Marie Baylouny), Beinin and Vairel's volume also devotes significant attention to secular protests actors and movements such as labor (Beinin, Emre Öngön, Montserrat Emperador Badimon), which have proven to be of crucial importance in the various Arab Springs of 2011. While not excluded from the Wiktorowicz volume, gender analysis and, in particular, case studies of women's activism are incorporated into Beinin and Vairel's collection, with chapters being devoted to the role of women and the media in the institutional transformation of Hezbollah (Baylouny) as well as the role of women in the Saturday vigils for the disappeared in Turkey in the early 1990s in Galatasaray Park, Istanbul, vigils that are described in Zeynep Gülru Göker's essay...