What is the Arab Awakening?

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What is the Arab Awakening?

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What is the Arab Awakening?


Defining A Revolution




 Faculty Collaborator: Patricia Turner, History Department  University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

The “Arab Awakening” is the recent trend of popular protest in the Middle East resulting in the usurpation of several dictators, extensive political reform, and prolonged conflict. This poster will examine several possible vulnerabilities contributing to the uprisings listed by Gelvin, Wright and Davies. Utilizing Charles Tilly’s theory on revolutions, we will determine what type of domestic conflict three Arab protest movements resulted in as well as the role of the vulnerabilities in their outcomes.

Charles Tilly defines a “revolutionary situation” as possessing the following characteristics:The appearance of contenders advancing competing claims to control of the state.Commitment to those claims by a significant portion segment of the citizenry.An unwillingness or incapacity of rulers to suppress the claims of the opposing coalition. (Tilly, 1996)

Evaluating the Success of the “Arab Awakening”

Revolutionary Situations

Began in January 2011 with a protest movement of the citizenry taking control of Tahir Square in Cairo and rebuffing the aggressions of Mubarak loyalists. The military has long had a strong relationship with the regime, however they remained neutral during the uprising, allowing the protests to unfold without interference..Since Mubarak stepped down, the military council has ruled over the daily affairs of Egypt, butting heads with newly elected officials regarding the drafting of a new constitution,


NOTE: The conclusions I have drawn are topical and any new development can dramatically alter them. Egypt’s military or Assad could surrender power; Libya could fracture.Egypt: Top-down seizure of power. Although the protests began as a popular uprising, the military remains in control, bringing the validity of any transfer in power into question until they relinquish control.Syria: Revolt. The situation persists with two groups violently competing for power. Recent support from the international community for the STC may yet lead to a regime change.Libya: Great Revolution. Control of the state has been completely transferred from the Gaddafi regime to the NTC. Elections are planned for summer 2012.While food prices and demography have been instrumental to the formation of revolutionary situations, the most important factor in a great revolution has been regime weakness, where the government has failed to curb opposition and stay in power.


Thank you to Paula Hagen for her support and advice.The printing of this poster was funded by Differential Tuition through the UW-EC Office of Research.

Cited ReferencesDavies, James C. “Toward a Theory of Revolution.” American Sociological Review 27.1 (1962) 5-19. JSTOR, Web 3 April, 2012Gelvin, James L. The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print. Goldstone, Jack A. "Understanding the Revolutions of 2011." Foreign Affairs 90.3 (2011): 8-16. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. Tilly, Charles. "Conflict, Revolt and Revolution." European Revolutions, 1492-1992. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993. 2-18. Print. Wright, Robin B. Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion across the Islamic World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.


Protest movements in February 2011 were largely a surprise. Early demonstrations were small and quickly broken up by security forces.Protests gained momentum when school children were apprehended by the government and tortured in prison. Months of crackdowns led to military desertions and the formation of the Syrian National Council, which is still opposing the regime today.


Protests in March 2011 were largely peaceful to start with, but the regime reacted with violence, ordering aircraft to fire on civilians.Mass military defections gathered in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, forming the National Transition Council.Loyalist forces attempted to crush the opposition. NATO intervention on the side of the NTC gave the them the advantage.In Oct, 2011, Moammer Gaddafi was captured and killed outside of Sirte, effectively ending his regime.

Contributing Vulnerabilities

Food Crisis

: Cut government subsidies resulted in higher prices. There was also an increase in global demand and decrease in production.Regime Weakness: Aging dictators and deteriorating regimes had long oppressed their populations.Demography of the Arab World: 60% of the Arab World is under the age of 30, many of whom are unemployed. (Gelvin, 2012)Counter-Jihad: A collective rejection of the adopted policies and methods fundamentalist Islamic organizations in favor of pursuing Democracy as a more favorable alternative to authoritarianism. (Wright, 2011)

Not all revolutionary situations result in revolutionary outcomes, in where there has been a complete transfer of power from one body of government to another. As the chart illustrates, a coup or palace revolution is not a true revolution as the regime remains intact. Other situations such as revolts can deteriorate into violent conflicts where the opposition is simply crushed. (Tilly, 1996)

The J-Curve

James Davies believed that any model for predicting revolutions would include a reverse correlation between the rising expectations of a society and a sharp reversal in reality. His theory can explain the contributions the vulnerabilities have made in producing revolutionary situations in the region (Davies, 1962)Some of the vulnerabilities like a food shortage or high youth unemployment contribute to the differential between expectations and reality, where an increased standard of living resulted in higher population growth, but food supply and job creation didn’t keep up.Much of the high youth population is dissatisfied with corrupt regimes and a lack of democratic institutions in the modern world, providing fuel for protest.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: yorku.ca

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