Nationalism in the Arab Spring: Expression, Effects on Transitions, and Implications for the Middle East State

Reviewed by Iris Aikaterini Frangou

The focus of Danielle Bella Ellison’s paper “Nationalism in the Arab Spring: Expression, Effects on Transitions, and Implications for the Middle East State; A Comparative Analysis of Egypt and Libya” is on nationalism; in particular she examines whether the status of a state as a nation-state or not is a central factor to the determination of the viability of a country, following a period of political disruption and regime fracture.

The author engages in a comparative analysis of Egypt and Libya, two countries in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa), which display vastly divergent levels of nationalism, to show how nationalism contributed to the determination of their trajectories following the eruption of the Arab Spring. The contrasting levels of nationalism are primarily manifested through the discourse of uprisings, the cleavages that came into being and have become more pronounced over the respective transitional periods along with the demands by key actors, and finally, the violence and the future of the states, accordingly. These three domains constitute the three hypotheses that Ellison formulates in her paper as mechanisms for basing and carrying out her comparative analysis. The hypotheses are consistent with the existing literature on nationalism in the Arab Spring and more generally, on the role of nationalism in political transitions.

More specifically, the first hypothesis through which Ellison’s investigation on Egypt and Libya begins is on the discourse of the uprisings. It examines how mobilization takes place and where identity becomes evident and then crucial to this process of political mobilization. The second hypothesis that Ellison makes, on cleavages and demands, focuses on the intermediate steps involved in transitions and in particular, on the manner in which political, social, and military groups join or separate to confront the power vacuum generated by the collapse of an old regime and to establish a new governing order. The third and final hypothesis, on violence and the future of the state, engages with existent literature in reflecting upon the long-term vivacity of a post-revolution state under several circumstances, on whether the establishment of a new stable government is probable, and upon whether the violence which has been produced as a result of the transition process is likely to abate or escalate, and subsequently endanger the future trajectory of the country.

The author’s investigation concludes that the independent variable of the existence or non-existence of nationalism in a given country will, through the three mechanisms outlined above, impact the dependent variable regarding the likelihood of a country undergoing conflict and even separation. As Ellison demonstrates however, her findings are not solely specific to Egypt and Libya but can be generalized in revealing the role of nationalism in the Arab Spring overall.

Read the full paper here!

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