Instead of approaching the decade since the start of the Arab uprisings as an appraisal of an outcome, MERIP’s issue 301 reflects on an unfolding set of political struggles that are necessarily incomplete and spill across different scales—local, national, regional and global. “Revolutionary Afterlives” takes stock of lessons learned and unlearned. It considers hopes, dislocations and counterrevolutionary coalitions that speak as much to the power of revolutionary coalitions as to their shortfalls. The issue brings together analysts, revolutionaries, activists and cultural producers to reflect on how the protest movements and reactions to them have left a lasting imprint on the region and on the possibilities for solidarity.

We begin with the arts as a site of creative resistance and ongoing (re)imagining. “The Enduring Taste of Hope” includes an interview with prominent Libyan American poet Khaled Mattawa and his 2011 poem “Now That We Have Tasted Hope.” Mattawa reflects on the relationship between art, poetry and revolution as it has developed in the ensuing years. This conversation informed Atef Said and Pete Moore’s call to recognize the dialectic interplay of hope and despair that continues to shape the lives of revolutionary subjects, whether they persevere in their home countries or in exile. Several essays in the issue advance such a project, paying particular attention to the temporal and spatial complexities that Said and Moore argue are so important to understanding counterrevolution in the twenty-first century.

The issue offers rich accounts of ongoing reckoning with revolution and counterrevolution in North Africa with essays on Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan. Mona El-Ghobashy explores an evolving tension between revolutionary idealism and revolutionary pragmatism, or revolution as myth compared to revolution as realpolitik. As uncertainties dominate in Tunisia, Nadia Marzouki explores the paradoxical interplay of the demands for dignity (karama) and a more recent discourse of purity (nathafa). She uses this tension to highlight new configurations of power and conceptions of citizenship. Muzan al-Neel writes from Khartoum about the factors that led to Sudan’s revolution in 2019. She also identifies the continuities in revolutionary organizing that are resurfacing as important resources for activists in the aftermath of the recent coup.

Exile and dislocation among Arab revolutionaries pushed us to also consider the global practices and sites through which revolutionary subjects are made and sustained. Contributions addressing this theme include testimonies reflecting on various meanings of exile by four activists. Wendy Pearlman’s interview with Syrian activist in exile Oula Ramadan explores the development of a thriving Syrian civil society since 2011 and the challenges for activists operating inside and outside the country.

The issue also considers the impact of the past decade on knowledge production about the region. While the war in Yemen has hindered scholars’ access and tied research narrowly to war’s imperatives, Laurent Bonnefoy shows that this has had some unanticipated and positive effects. In particular, there has been an expansion of the role of Yemeni researchers and a re-emphasis on the place of Yemen within the Arabian Peninsula where its connections to regional dynamics are more visible than when it is considered a peripheral part of the Gulf. Arang Keshavarzian interviewed Aslı Bâli about the work of MESA’s Global Academy initiative, which supports displaced researchers from the region. Even as they endure “increasingly perilous circumstances” such scholars play a particularly important role in fighting for academic freedoms and political change in the Middle East and as contributors to research collaborations that cross borders.

Bringing this collection together was no straightforward task. We want to acknowledge the diverse (and changing) conditions under which MERIP contributors agreed to write for this issue. During our production cycle for this issue, there were coups in Tunisia and Sudan, Lebanon experienced new violence and economic devastation, the war in Yemen escalated precipitously and authoritarian rulers continued to consolidate power in Egypt and Syria by threatening research and freedom of expression. Intellectually, we may see this as underscoring the need to view the decade since 2011 as one of ongoing contention, political struggle and counterrevolution. But we know that these are not simply intellectual issues. These conditions presented ethical and political challenges for authors and editors alike. How do people write—and how do we ask people to write—from within the lived experiences of revolution, counterrevolution and armed conflict? Even if one wants to take on the burden of deciphering such experiences for others, the task of representing revolutionary situations is precisely that, onerous and taxing.

We acknowledge with thanks and humility the diverse ways in which our contributors navigated these challenges with us—and we equally acknowledge the essays that might have been here but ultimately are not. Those who contributed and those who declined or who withdrew had to decide what of themselves to guard and what to reveal in order to continue in their political struggle. As a collective of scholar-activists, MERIP’s editors have been attuned for 50 years to the reality that individuals must constantly assess and reassess the ways they navigate such subjectivity on the page and off. For those who wrote, we thank you. For those who ultimately could not, we stand with you.

 

Editors’ Note: We would like to thank the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University for hosting MERIP as their Practitioner in Residence for the Fall 2021 semester. As part of this residency we hosted a workshop for graduate students and this issue has benefited from their critical engagement and assistance. We would also like to thank Mohamad Bazzi, Fidele Harfouche, Jared MacCormick and James Ryan for making this opportunity possible and for their expert assistance throughout the semester. 

 

[The editors of issue #301, “Revolutionary Afterlives,” are Arang Keshavarzian, Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Atef Said and Pete Moore.]

 

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The Editors of Issue #301 "Revolutionary Afterlives," Middle East Report 301 ( ).
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