Nationalism in the Arab Spring: Expression, Effects on Transitions, and Implications for the Middle East State; A Comparative Analysis of Egypt and Libya

Reviewed by Iris Aikaterini Frangou

In her paper “Nationalism in the Arab Spring: Expression, Effects on Transitions, and Implications for the Middle East State; A Comparative Analysis of Egypt and Libya” Danielle Bella Ellison examines whether the status of a state as a nation-state is a central determinant of the country’s viability.

The author engages in a comparative analysis of Egypt and Libya, two countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) which display vastly divergent levels of nationalism, to show how nationalism contributed to their respective trajectories following the eruption of the Arab Spring. The contrasting levels of nationalism are primarily manifested through the discourse of uprisings, the cleavages that arose and deepened over the respective transitional periods as well as the demands made by key divisive actors, and finally, the violence and the future of the states. These three domains constitute the three mechanisms upon which Ellison bases 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.

Ellison first examines how mobilization took place in Egypt and Libya and where identity became salient to this political process. 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 existing 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 trajectory and viability of a country undergoing conflict and even separation. As Ellison demonstrates, her findings are not limited to Egypt and Libya but can be generalized in revealing the role of nationalism in the Arab Spring overall.

Read the whole paper here!

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