The People Want to Topple the System: An Alternative Narrative of the Arab Uprisings
Since the toppling of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a one-dimensional narrative of the Arab Uprisings has become axiomatic in both foreign and Arab spheres. The mainstream narrative paints the movement as one for Western-style democracy and discursively associated economic neoliberalism. This account of the Uprisings not only obfuscates but also undermines the story that was put forth by activists themselves and that resonated so widely with diverse sectors of Arab populations. My thesis explores a narrative of the Arab Uprisings as put forth by activists. It presents and analyzes three demonstrations from Tunisia and Egypt to illustrate how, through their contentious performances, Arab activists attempt to challenge a system of imperial continuity--a centuries-old pattern of political, economic and social relations between foreign actors and the Arab people, and between Arab political elite and populations as a whole. Given the reach and history of this political system, such resistance is not easy. Nor is it straightforward; resistance to such a layered and variegated power formation must be relational. The Arab Uprisings present a dynamic by which actors revolted against local forms of oppression but also consistently reached for repertoires that were regional (rather than purely local) and drew upon networks and strategies that were Arab (rather than merely national). This indicates our need for a more nuanced narrative of how the Uprisings of 2011 constituted an event of Arab history.
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