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Political Change in the Middle East and North AfricaAfter the Arab Spring$
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Inmaculada Szmolka

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474415286

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474415286.001.0001

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Civil society and social movements

Civil society and social movements

(p.190) Chapter 8 Civil society and social movements
Political Change in the Middle East and North Africa

Carmelo Pérez-Beltrán

Ignacio Álvarez-Ossorio

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter establishes a general framework that enables to assess the situation of civil society in the MENA region, before and after the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring undermined many of the theories that dwelt on the depoliticisation of civil society, its inability to influence the political agenda and the customary use made of it as an instrument of authoritarian regimes. Although this activism appeared to take on new forms, it was not spontaneously generated, but included an accumulation of baggage from the past, in constant relationship and tension with the state; hence, along with associations concerned with charity work and development, there also existed another more critical and politically committed type of organisation, in which the theory of the persistence of authoritarianism had not shown sufficient interest. Likewise, the Arab Spring questioned the institutionalised, structured, organisational nature of civil society that transitology usually supports. During the uprisings, none of the traditional or formal civil society organisations came to the fore, either in their interventionist (NGOs) or their most contestatory dimensions (human rights organisations, Islamist groups, or more politicised platforms). Thus, the chapter shows that it is necessary to go beyond a certain reductionist view of what civil society is and to propose another concept, much more dynamic, creative and horizontalist that involves not only hierarchical organisational structures, but also other spaces of mobilisation in which the citizenry can express its social, political and economic commitment.

Keywords:   Political change, MENA countries, Arab Spring and Post-Arab Spring, Civil society, Social movements, Associations, Political rights and freedoms

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