The Arab Spring: Religion, Revolution and the Public Square

Seyla Benhabib in Transformations of the Public Sphere:

Seyla_benhabib Of course, the Wisconsin protesters and the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutionaries are battling for different goals: the first are resisting the further pacification and humiliation of a citizenry, nearly converted into docile and hopeless homebodies by the ravages of American and global financial capitalism visited upon them in the last twenty years. Arab revolutionaries are struggling for democratic freedoms, a free public square, and joining the contemporary world after decades of lies, isolation, and deception. But in both cases, transformative hopes have been kindled: the political and economic orders are fragile and susceptible to change!

Yet we know that the spring of revolutions is followed by the passions of summer and the chilling discord of fall. At least since Hegel’s analysis of the follies of the French Revolution in his 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit, it has become commonplace to think that the Revolution will devour its own children. Such warnings were expressed not only by Hillary Clinton in the first days of the Egyptian uprising, but many commentators who have hid their distrust in the capacity of the Arab peoples to exercise democracy, are now rejoicing that the first signs of contention between religious and secular groups are breaking out in Egypt and Tunisia. The journalists and intellectuals of the European right, who have spilt a lot of ink on whether or not “Islamophobia” is racist, are now attempting to cover their own tracks, while the “pseudo-friends” of Israel among European conservatives are warning of doomsday scenarios of imminent attacks on Israel by Hizbollah in the North and Egypt cum Hamas on the South.

None of this is inevitable: it is not inevitable, or even likely, that fundamentalist Muslim parties will transform Tunisia or Egypt into theocracies; nor is it inevitable that Iran will gain ascendance and that the Arab states will conduct a new war against Israel. What we have witnessed is truly revolutionary, in the sense that a new order of freedom – a novo ordo saeclorum – is emerging transnationally in the Arab world.

More here.