An Unsolved Transition

26 November 2013. 
GP Calchi Novati, Italian Institute for International Studies. 

The third of four seminars on The Arab Spring has been given by Gianpaolo Calchi-Novati t on 26th November 2013, 9.00 pm. 

The political movement that at the beginning of 2011 started and promoted the uprising in North Africa had no recognised leader and represented a large part of the society including students and graduates, but mainly people from the cities and the urban area. There were no ideologies underpinning the movement and the main topics were freedom and justice.  In Tunisia and Egypt the autocratic regimes were overcome with the alliance of the protesters and the army, while in Libya the Army was just a sum of tribal militia, thus the Tunisian and Egyptian scheme didn’t work properly.  In every country experiencing the uprising, Islamic parties won the elections, an event not unexpected, if we consider their organisation and ability to provide social support, namely a basic form of welfare otherwise unavailable from government. What is actually surprising is the mistrust of the “liberal” parties toward the Islamist political movements that had shared the same commitment in the uprising, and their willingness to accept a role of the Army in solving the developing conflicts. In certain ways it seems that the uprising of the Arab Spring lack a pre-constituted aim for change and the whole process can be understood, in a Eurocentric view, as an Arabic 1789, or 1989, or a new decolonisation.     

But in the European revolutions of 1789 or 1989 there was clearly a transition from an earlier situation (dependence or communism) to another one (sovereignty or capitalism). In the uprisings of the Arab Spring there is no such a clear way forward.  It must also be kept in mind that the actual situation offers important stimuli for a great change in the politics of the Middle East. Firstly, it is a last opportunity for Israel to change its role, since its risks not to be the only democratic State in the area anymore and needs a new position in the relationship with the western countries. Moreover, there is a chance for an important debate between the Sunni and the Shiites, with the increasing role of two non-Arab countries such as Turkey and Iran. The US and EU keep trying to save their power, which needs to be brought into question by the Arab Springs, if they are really a leap toward auto-determination.

Gian Paolo Calchi Novati is a researcher at the Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale in Milan, the Center of African Studies in Boston and the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). He has been the director of the ‘Istituto Per le relazioni tra l’Italia e i paesi dell’Africa, America Latina e Medio Oriente’ in Rome (IPALMO).  He was visiting professor at Addis Abeba University and lectured over the years at the Universities of Milan, Pisa, Urbino, Pavia, Tunisi, Nairobi and Mexico City. He was professor at University of Pavia in the Department of Political Sciences.


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