Leyla Dakhli coordinated and directed a collection and research program on the Arab revolutions. This work resulted in the publication of The Spirit of Revolt. Archives and news of the Arab revolutions (Seuil, 2020, 320 pp., 24 €), an abundantly illustrated collective work that focuses on the “how” rather than the “why”.
Have the Arab revolutions failed?
The question is not to judge the success or failure of a popular revolt movement. We do not go back, even when violence and oppression could have worsened by a backlash after the revolutions of 2010-2011. Counter-revolutions and wars often accompany revolutionary movements, which complicates the analysis of a popular uprising simply as failure or success. An insurgency literally raises society, it produces chain reactions, difficult to predict, which are not all attributable to the insurgents.
If few regimes have fallen, what is the main achievement of these revolutions?
The first achievement is the entry of the revolutionary paradigm into the social and political history of these independent states. The very idea of revolution is undoing the clothes it previously wore, linking it to anti-imperialist struggles (Algerian and Palestinian revolutions) or to charismatic figures like that of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. The revolution has become a figure of popular uprising, an attribute of the “Arab street”. It is a space for the development of new political forms which are addressed to authoritarian and despotic regimes (in 2010-2011), but also to failing states plagued by corruption (in Lebanon and Iraq, for example, in 2019). The thawra [« révolution »] moves a certain number of borders, first of all those of the political game, which transformed societies into a vast playing field for clients and into successive chains of enslavement in the public and private spheres. These revolutions are radical because they reverse this chain of dependence, humiliation and enslavement, in the name of dignity.
Wasn’t the lack of leadership of these movements, in the long run, a handicap?
It does not seem to me that leadership is the central issue. What is in question is the capacity of political and / or trade union forces and / or civil society to come in support of popular movements. Where this militant infrastructure was not completely destroyed, and where it was able to come in support, it played a determining role while not replacing the popular movement in its diversity. This is, I think, the deep meaning of the Nobel Prize awarded to the Tunisian Quartet [quatre organisations ayant organisé des négociations entre les partis politiques dans le but d’assurer la transition vers un régime démocratique] in 2015. These are not “shadow” actions, in the sense that they are underground or shameful; these are support actions. Our book discusses very practical forms of this support, such as the provision of tents or equipment for demonstrations. This is played out on many scales. In countries where the dictatorship had reduced everything to nothing, revolutionaries found themselves without a net, without mediation, in the face of the sheer violence of the regime or the warlords.
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