Civil Society in Tunisia: The Arab Spring Comes Home to Roost (Introduction)

To skip this introduction and go directly to read Alexander Mirescu’s In-Depth Analysis “Civil Society in Tunisia: The Arab Spring Comes Home to Roost,” click here.

The Arab Spring is now commonly understood as a tragedy, if not a colossal failure. Those who “knew” that Islam and democracy are fundamentally incompatible feel vindicated. Those critical of American foreign policy find their criticisms confirmed, whether the object of their criticism is that of realpolik – the U.S. should have never

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supported the purported democratic uprising – or more idealistic – the U.S. should have supported such forces sooner and more thoroughly. I believe these common understandings and criticisms are fundamentally mistaken, based as they are on lazy comparative analysis, not paying attention to the details of political and cultural struggles, and by ethnocentric obsessions and superpower fantasy, not realizing how much the fate of nations is based on local and not global struggles.

In today’s post on Tunisia, a very different understanding is suggested, as I as the author of The Politics of Small Things, see it. The uprising in the Middle East of 2011, sparked by protests in Tunisia, opened up possibilities for fundamental transformation. The possibilities were open

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by ordinary people, when they spoke to each other, in their differences, about their common concerns, and developed a capacity to act upon their concerns. In most countries in the region, one way or another, the power these people created together faced other powers and has been overwhelmed. But the game isn’t over, as this report on civic associations in Tunisia shows. The report suggests a corollary to the old adage: those who live by the sword, die by the sword. The persistence of civic action in Tunisia suggests a continued opening: those who manage to speak and act in the presence of others, in their differences, with common principled commitment to their public interaction, open the possibility of an alternative to tragedy.

The promise of the Arab Spring may yet live in the country of its birth. I think we should pay close to this, as we are overwhelmed by the tragic reports and images coming out of Syria and Egypt.

To go directly to read Alexander Mirescu’s In-Depth Analysis “Civil Society in Tunisia: The Arab Spring Comes Home to Roost,” click here.