Revolutions are the singular political events that “confront us directly and inevitability with the problem of beginning,” argued Hannah Arendt. MERIP’s coverage of the uprisings of 2011 struggled intensely with this conundrum while cross-regional mobilizations, alliances and confrontations emerged at a pace that ignited promise for meaningful change.
Since 1970 MERIP has reported on a Middle East suffused with previous beginnings. Courage in the face of power, loss and perseverance is not new. Whether writing about the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the first Palestinian Intifada or less visible everyday struggles, we have sought to balance appreciation for what came before with honesty and solidarity for those who fight to change their world now. MERIP writers continue to appreciate the enormity of those political struggles, while at the same time emphasizing their unfinished and indeterminate paths.
The importance of MERIP’s contributions to understanding the historical events of 2011 is recognized widely. According to political scientist F. Gregory Gause III:
The perspective ‘from below’ represented by the scholars publishing in MERIP…provides an extremely useful set of lenses for understanding the politics of the region. They did not predict the upheavals of 2011, nor do they propose a set of indicators that can predict when regime-threatening instability will emerge. They were not setting out to make such predictions. But they captured political dynamics whose importance was not sufficiently appreciated by those working out of more ‘top-down’ paradigms like the stability of Arab authoritarianism authors. They capture elements of regional politics that others miss.
We invite you to revisit MERIP’s essential coverage in the wake of the 2011 toppling of Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Husni Mubarak and the massive rallies in Yemen. A selection of key articles are highlighted below. Search our website for many other insightful essays. MERIP articles about the uprisings have also been collected in book format: The Journey to Tahrir: Revolution, Protest and Social Change, edited by Jeannie Sowers and Chris Toensing (Verso, 2012) and The Arab Revolts: Dispatches on Militant Democracy in the Middle East, edited by David McMurray and Amanda Ufheil-Somers (Indiana University Press, 2013).
“From the Editors (Spring 2011),” Middle East Report 258 (Spring 2011)
“At this juncture, almost two months after the fall of Mubarak, and nearly three months after the ouster of Ben Ali, it is plain that counter-revolutionary elements have stirred themselves to action in Tunisia, Egypt and outside. Will they win or lose? The balance sheet can be read both ways… A looming tension, however, is the inevitable lag in speed between political change and economic developments.”
Omar S. Dahi, “Understanding the Political Economy of the Arab Revolts,” Middle East Report 259 (Summer 2011)
“Over the years, the authoritarian populist social contract began to unravel; along with it, the impressive developmental accomplishments began to stall and, in some cases, retreat. GDP growth rates that averaged around 6 percent per year in the 1960s became less than 1 percent in the 1980s…By the late 1990s, much of the region had gone through two decades of structural adjustment characterized by the trinity of economic liberalization, deregulation and privatization. The economies of most countries, however, were not growing as rapidly as hoped.”
Nadia Marzouki, “Tunisia’s Wall Has Fallen,” Middle East Report Online, January 20, 2011
“No matter what happens over the coming weeks and months, and even if it is interrupted or ‘stolen,’ the Tunisian revolution has set a dramatic precedent for how democratization from below might begin.”
John P. Entelis and Laryssa Chomiak, “The Making of North Africa’s Intifadas,” Middle East Report 259 (Summer 2011)
“One of the distinctive characteristics of Ben Ali’s Tunisia was the virtual absence of an effective social movement. Almost from its inception, the Ben Ali regime outlawed the leading political currents on both ends of the ideological spectrum, the Islamist Nahda party and the Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party, building a de facto monopoly for its party, the Rally for Constitutional Democracy (RCD). In so doing, the regime nearly eliminated any possibility for opposition movements willing to work within the system to operate legally and freely. Yet there was ample expression of dissent through the everyday activities of ordinary people.”
The Editors, “Red-White-and-Black Valentine,” Middle East Report Online, February 14, 2011
“There are moments in world affairs that call for the suspension of disbelief. At these junctures, caution ought to be suppressed and cynicism forgotten to let joy and wonderment resound. Across the globe, everyone, at least everyone with a heart, knows that the Egyptian revolution of 2011 is such a time.”
Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution,” Middle East Report 258 (Spring 2011)
“In hindsight, it is simple to pick out the vulnerabilities of the Mubarak regime and arrange them in a neat list as the ingredients of breakdown. But that retrospective temptation misses the essential point: Egyptians overthrew a strong regime.”
Stacey Philbrick Yadav, “No Pink Slip for Salih,” Middle East Report Online, February 9, 2011
“Yemen, to be sure, presents a more puzzling picture than Egypt, where a hidebound state lords it over a population that is more homogeneous than those of many other Arab countries. Forged by the unification of North Yemen (of which Salih was president) and avowedly socialist South Yemen in 1990, today’s Yemen remains haunted by regional divisions and the state cannot claim anything like full control over many outlying areas in the mountains and desert.”
Carsten Wieland, “Asad’s Lost Chances,” April 13, 2011
“No matter what the course of the upheavals, the Syria that many have known for decades will never be the same. The protests have torn asunder the delicate fabric of rules, explicit and implicit, that for decades have determined the relations between the regime and the citizenry. By Syrian standards, the political concessions promised by regime representatives to quiet the unrest are far-reaching; long years of civil society activism were unable to achieve them. By the yardstick of the times, however, the moves have turned out to be inadequate. … And a rising number of Syrians are not swallowing their disappointment.”
Toby Jones, “Embracing Crisis in the Gulf,” Middle East Report 264 (Fall 2012)
“The upsurge in oppression by Gulf states in 2011 reflected their shared deep disquiet about their own weakness: They have narrow social bases and historically have sought to manufacture loyalty to governments that are corrupt and self-serving.”
Claudia Gazzini, “Was the Libya Intervention Necessary?” Middle East Report 261 (Winter 2011)
“Intervention cemented the authority of the NTC, flooded Libya with arms and—it seems clear—exacerbated the violence as well. The other long-term consequences of Unified Protector have yet to surface.”
Morocco and Western Sahara
Jacob Mundy, “Western Sahara’s 48 Hours of Rage,” Middle East Report 257 (Winter 2010)
“Tensions on the ground in Western Sahara had been noticeably escalating over the year prior to the November 2010 events. … In the years immediately following the 2005 intifada, Rabat appeared to be taking steps to improve its human rights record in the disputed territory, in concert with its unveiling in April 2007 of an autonomy proposal for Western Sahara. Morocco’s seemingly good-faith effort to sell autonomy to the Sahrawis actually had only one buyer in mind: Elliott Abrams, head of Near East affairs in President George W. Bush’s National Security Council.”
 Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1963), p. 13.
 F. Gregory Gause, III, “The Middle East Academic Community and the ‘Winter of Arab Discontent:’ Why Did We Miss It?” in Ellen Laipson, ed. Seismic Shift: Understanding Change in the Middle East (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, May 1, 2011) p. 25.