The Arab Spring: Ten Years On – Asef Bayat + Rabab El Mahdi

Middle East And Islamic Studies Lecture Series

Date: March 22, 2021, 6 pm. 

The Arab Spring: Ten Years On 

Featuring two guest speakers

First guest speaker: Professor Asef Bayat 

Presentation title: Arab Spring: A New Generation of 21st Century Revolutions

Abstract: The outbreak of the Arab uprisings created an unprecedented optimism about the future of the Arab world. But today, a strong sense of pessimism and despair surround the trajectory of these uprisings. Why did the Arab revolutions experience such trajectories? How do we understand the nature of the Arab Spring? My presentation attempts to historicize the Arab revolutions comparing them with those of the 1970s notably the Iranian revolution of 1979. I suggest that what transpired in Tunisia, Egypt or Yemen represent a new generation of 21st Century revolutions that are remarkably rich as movement, but woefully poor as change. I discuss why this is so, and what it means for the outcome of these revolutions.   

Second guest speaker: Associate Professor Rabab El Mahdi 

Presentation title: A Decade of Uprisings: What explains the Outcome? 

Abstract: A decade after the onset of Arab Uprisings, the euphoria that surrounded it has given in to frustration, prompting a return to the Arab “exceptionalism” and “anti-democratic tendencies” debate in some circles.  Whether in successful cases like Tunisia and Sudan or in failed cases such as Egypt and Syria, I argue that the outcome in terms of structural change has been limited.  What explains this limited outcome (despite variation) in those different cases? And is it particularly “Arab” or limited to those countries? Focusing on the genealogy of class-structure in these countries, I argue that the main culprit has been the middle-class.  



Asef Bayat, the Catherine & Bruce Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies, teaches Sociology and Middle East at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Before joining Illinois, he taught at the American University in Cairo for many years; and served as the director of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) holding the Chair of Society and Culture of the Modern Middle East at Leiden University, The Netherlands. His research areas range from social movements and social change, to religion and public life, urban space and politics, and contemporary Middle East. His recent books include Being Young and Muslim: Cultural Politics in the Global South and North (ed. with Linda Herrera) (Oxford University Press, 2010); Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam (Oxford University Press, 2013); Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Stanford University Press, 2013. 2nd edition), Revolution without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring (Stanford University Press, 2017), and Global Middle East: Into the 21st Century (ed. With Linda Herrera) (University of California Press, 2021). 

Rabab El Mahdi is an associate professor of political science at The American University in Cairo. Her research interests cover the areas of state-civil society relations, social movements, and contentious politics.  Her publications include; Political Manipulation Or Empowered Participation? Civil Society and the State in Egypt and Bolivia. Brill, 2012 and the edited volumes Arab Spring in Egypt: Revolution and Beyond (with Bahgat Korany)2012, Egypt: The Moment of Change (with Philip Marfleet) 2009 and a number of book chapters and journal articles on labor movements, the feminist question in Egypt, youth mobilization, and the Ultras football fans. She is the founder and director of AUC’s research project, Alternative Policy Solutions (APS)