"Indignity is at the heart of protest movements in the Arab world"

For Myriam Benraad, the challenges brought by the apolitical youth in large part fit into the continuum of the "spring" of 2011 and the disappointments that followed.

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A student during demonstrations against rising prices and taxes in Tunis, January 9, 2018.
A student during demonstrations against rising prices and taxes in Tunis, January 9, 2018. ZOUBEIR SOUISSI / REUTERS

The "Arab Spring" of 2011 appeared to be stuck in endless conflicts (Libya, Syria, Yemen) or stifled by the counter-revolution (Egypt). In 2019, emerged a new wave of protest, carried by a youth who calls themselves apolitical, Egypt, Iraq and Algeria. Political scientist and specialist in the Arab world, Myriam Benraad, author of Jihad: from religious origins to ideology (The Blue Rider, 2018), decrypts this new situation.

What is the driving force behind these new challenges?

First, there is the anger of people left abandoned by states that have no intention of reforming. The actors in these disputes – not so new when they are put back in the long time – are mostly citizens who no longer support their living conditions, and a youth, demographically still larger, who is no longer satisfied with this status quo. The grievances of these crowds are a profound challenge to the political systems that have failed to hear them and to meet their expectations through tangible institutional action. It is impossible to separate socio-economic demands from the political component.

Then there is dignity, karama in Arabic, a central and decisive notion, referring to a plurality of meanings that have constituted, since 2011, as many protesting expressions as issues for transitions still in progress. When Arabs come down the streets, they demand above all respect and recognition. They intend to give substance to this citizenship to which all aspire. For some protesters, this demand also corresponds to a quest for identity, morality, justice and values, after long years of political authoritarianism and violations of their most fundamental rights.

Dignity was already central in the 2011 uprisings. Are these the same jurisdictions?

Beyond the national specificities, all the uprisings of 2011 aimed at castes of established dignitaries whose monopoly of the economic and financial resources was guaranteed to them by the exercise of the power. In the eyes of these, the dignity is "aristocratic" and is confused with a sharp awareness of their privileges. It is also not possible to take advantage of it if we consider the situation of certain ethnic or religious groups. Finally, women, humiliated among the humiliated, suffer a double oppression.


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