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The Arab Spring

The unprecedented events of the Arab Spring—also known as the Arab Awakening—have compelled scholars, politicians, pundits, and even artists to rethink long-held conceptions (and misconceptions) about the Middle East. A seemingly monolithic status quo, entrenched for generations, has now been replaced by an uncertain yet hopeful new phase in which new actors and groups have become empowered to reshape the future of the region.

The scholarly community has a special obligation to foster this process of "rethinking," and to explore some of the most important questions that the Arab Spring has raised. First, what are the causes of this turn of events? What international factors, as well as systemic political and cultural trends, have contributed to the wave of uprisings? Why has the Arab Spring produced such different results in different countries? Who are the new actors and interest groups who have taken the lead in the transition? And, if so many experts were caught by surprise, is it possible that they simply misunderstood the region all along?

Another set of questions involve the unfolding political situation: How can competing factions within the emerging democracies work together to build just societies based on the rule of law? What is the role of the youth movement, and its connection with modern communications technology and social media? How can the concerns of secular modernizers be reconciled with the popular desire for a democracy that is informed by religious values? Should the international community intervene—and if so, how?

Finally, there are questions involving the impact of the uprisings, as well as the future direction of change. In short, how will the various democratic movements influence or inspire similar calls for reform in other parts of the Islamic world? What will be the impact on movements on behalf of women's rights, minority rights, and overall human rights? How will the revolutions affect relations with Western governments, as well as Muslims living in the West? And how will people's view of Islam—the religion so deeply rooted in this part of the world—be affected?

It is with these questions in mind, along with many others, that the Editorial Board of Oxford Islamic Studies Online has launched this new section of the site dealing exclusively with the Arab Spring. Each update will feature a guest scholar focusing on a relevant issue, from religious discourse to political developments to cultural and artistic expressions. These essays will support the ongoing revisions to existing OISO content, as well as the addition of other reference articles, lesson plans, thematic guides, and interviews that will allow users to explore the complexities of the Arab Spring.

If you have suggestions about future topics, please contact us here.


Post-Revolution Libya: Reasons for Optimism

Ronald Bruce St John

With the death of Muammar al-Qaddafi and the official end in October 2011 of the February 17 Revolution, the rebels inherited a country with no institutions, no civil society, and no democratic experience. Since then, a series of interim governments have struggled to restore security, draft a new constitution, and rebuild a war-torn economy. Clearly, much remains to be done to make the country a model for Islamic democracy; however, the consensus on critical issues that has emerged offers reason for optimism.

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The Public Sphere: The Other Side of the Arab Spring

Maryam Jamshidi

Since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013, the future of the Arab Spring appears headed for the precipice. While the story of Egypt's retrogression is complex, at its forefront is the gutting of a nascent public sphere, by both elite and ordinary Egyptians alike. Lawyer and writer Maryam Jamshidi, the founder of Muftah.org, discusses how the restoration of a vibrant public arena in Egypt is vital for the democratic movements in the region.

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Post-Islamist Democracy

Asef Bayat

Despite the setbacks to democratic reforms in the Middle East, the general cynicism regarding democratic reform may be overstated. A good part of the anxiety over an "impending Islamist threat" comes from the habit of lumping together substantially different movements and ideas under the rubric of "Islamism." Indeed, many of the groups and movements, such as the Tunisian al-Nahḍah, the Moroccan ruling Party of Justice and Development (PJD), or the Turkish Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP) that are labeled in this way, are not, strictly speaking, Islamist. Instead, they may be characterized as "post-Islamist". And this distinction has important implications for the question of democratic polity in Muslim societies following the uprisings.

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Obstacles to Democracy after the New Arab Revolutions: The Tunisian and Egyptian Cases

Farhad Khosrokhavar

Democracy in the Middle East faces numerous obstacles, namely entrenched power structures, economic turmoil, and distrust among religious groups. In this context, the revolutions of the Arab Spring have threatened to devolve into violence before a democratic system can take hold.

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Qatar and the Arab Spring

Allen Fromherz

Thanks to its enormous wealth, the influence of its media outlets, and the shrewd decisions of its leaders, the tiny Gulf State of Qatar has played an outsized role in the unfolding events of the Arab Spring. Unfettered by the geopolitical concerns of larger powers in the region, Qatar has been able to intervene diplomatically, financially, and even militarily in the revolutionary movements of its neighbors.

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Islamism's Image Problem: Revolution Versus the Rhetoric of Resistance

H.A. Hellyer

In the years leading up to the Arab Awakening, Ḥizbulāh and Ḥamās were well known in the region for combining an anti-imperialist political rhetoric with religious symbolism—an amalgamation that appealed to local populism and those with legitimate political grievances. However, as the revolution spread throughout the region, those reputations began to falter, largely due to the organizations' sometimes muddled attempts to formulate a coherent position. As a result, the very future of Islamism is in question.

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The Revolution Within: Islamic Televangelists and the Politics of Ethics in Egypt

Yasmin Moll
New York University

Most commentators on the recent parliamentary elections in Egypt have framed the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand, and increasingly politicized Salafi religious actors on the other , as metonyms for the projected role of Islam in a (post)revolutionary public sphere. However, the religious discourse put forward by al-duah al-gudud—as the three Islamic televangelists Moez Masoud, Amr Khaled, and Mustafa Hosni are known in Arabic—is also refashioning politics and the practices of citizenship. Indeed, for the millions of Egyptian youth who choose to watch their programs, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, attend their gatherings, and make sense of their teachings within their everyday lives, these Islamic televangelists are providing a compelling religo-ethical framework for how to build a "New Egypt" in increasingly uncertain times.

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