Arab Citizenship: the Arab Spring and its Unintended Consequence


  • Bryan S Turner
Palabras clave: Citizenship, Jeffrey C. Alexander, Max Weber, middle class, Muslim Brotherhood, public religion, secularization, unintended consequences.


The wave of protests and revolts across North Africa and the Middle East occurring in the first half of 2011 has generated considerable academic and journalistic interest. Starting in Tunisia, the centre piece of these uprisings was the 25 January Revolution in Egypt resulting in the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, the popular election of Mohamed Morsi, and the creation of a panel to develop a new constitution. A popular uprising in Libya resulted in the killing of Colonel Gaddafi and the arrest of his son. In the Yemen, the unstable relationship between the tribal North and the modernized South began to unravel. Despite the general enthusiasm for a peaceful transition to democracy, by the autumn of 2012 there was more realism if not cynicism about the prospects of lasting social change. I refer to this unanticipated development of the Arab Spring and associated popular uprisings as ‘the winter of our discontent’.

There is widespread concern about what might come after the overthrow of the regimes in Yemen, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and even more anxiety about what, if anything, may come after the civil violence in Syria. Democratic elections in Tunisia and Egypt are producing governments and legal codes that are inspired more by conservative Islam than by secular versions of democracy. One indicator is the trend towards an erosion of the rights of women by new laws. I analyse these developments within the framework of Max Weber’s notion of the unintended consequences of action by arguing that these societies will struggle to create citizenship, viable civil societies and democratically transparent political institutions. Social movements are unlikely to survive without becoming embedded in local institutions and social groups. The growth of citizenship typically depends on a relatively well established and successful middle class – a social class that is largely absent in the region with the exception of Turkey. The Muslim Brotherhood gains strength from its long-term involvement at the village level, and hence its more conservative view of social transformation has slowly replaced more inclusive, secular components of the revolution.


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Turner, B. S. (2012). Arab Citizenship: the Arab Spring and its Unintended Consequence. Sociología Histórica, 1(1). Recuperado a partir de
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