ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Arab Uprisings and the Question of Democracy

The current difficulties that the Arab uprisings in west Asia face, most notably in Egypt, only affirm that the window of democracy is small and the implications of their closure cannot be underestimated. Yet the fact that there exists something so important, but so little understood or studied, is a cause for cautious optimism because it fi nally frees the study of Arab politics from the clutches of the two equally pretentious paradigms of "democratisation" and "post-democratisation".

Although much has been written about the “Arab Uprisings” of the recent years, there is hardly any consensus on anything about it. Yet, ever since Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on 17 December 2010 in a small Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, it caused reverberations in west Asia that did the unthinkable – successfully toppling autocrats like Ben Ali (Tunisia), Hosni Mubarak (Egypt), Ali Abdullah Saleh (Yemen) and Muammar al-Gaddafi (Libya), from what seemed to be the unquestioned seat of power, it also sparked significant regional protests in Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Algeria, with an alacrity that took everyone by surprise. While the concrete implications of this on the Arab world will become apparent only in the fullness of time, it has already put the west Asian studies in an acute crisis.

For over a decade now the paradigm of authoritarian resilience dominated studies of the Arab world, entirely replacing the democratisation paradigm that was prominent throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. This inter-paradigm debate made up much of the serious scholarship on the “proper” way of studying Arab politics in which the democratisation paradigm remained excessively hopeful to the possibilities of emergence of democracy, while the other explained why authoritarianism was so resilient in west Asia. What makes these uprisings important is that they call for a revision in the way in which Arab politics has been studied by holding both the paradigms to account for their failure to explain, much less predict, what caused these uprisings and how to make sense of them.

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