Most of the available analysis –either academic or opinion based – concerned with the Arab Spring has revolved around political, economic, or security aspects. The questions on the effects and outcomes of the still ongoing wave mostly turns to the areas of regimes, internal and external policy speculations, economic consequences, and, cases such as Libya and Syria, civil war analyses. It would be a good idea, I believe, to direct some attention towards another dimension that manifested significantly throughout the Arab Spring and can be seen as an outcome of a still ongoing process.
The Arab Spring has affected the way explicit affiliations and self-definitions are shaped in the region.
Affiliation towards a certain group or self-definition in light of belonging to a particular entity has been a natural tendency of human beings and continues to be. Be it a culture, a religion, a sect, or a state, affiliations springing from awareness of the self have their vital and effective touch on the social and political conduct of individuals and groups. What is interesting about times of political instability and crises, such as the Arab Spring, is that the public awareness of affiliations gets refreshed and sometimes entirely reshaped by their effect. When found in a politically unstable environment, questions on identity in general and belonging to a certain group become important and consciously demanding. In his book Nationalism, Craig Calhoun states the effect the dissolution of the Soviet Union had on fuelling the endeavor to a more nationalistic behavior and the formation of conflicts based on affiliation such as the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
What is common between all the countries that were affected by the Arab Spring was that they all experienced shocks in their political and security systems. In Tunisia, the rise of the Nahda Islamist party by election marked a less radical shift than other countries but it still signified the movement towards a certain type of national conception. In Egypt, the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and the continuous division on the matter of presidency is strong and persistent. Yemen is continuing to host an arena for civil conflict caused by the Zaydi-sect followers known as Houthis. And Syria is currently the playground of conflict between groups that represent all shades of the spectrum of ideologies, more notably the religious one. It is clear that the absence of the political authority of the state did not only – and simply – allow other entities to occupy the political field, but that these entities have managed to be an answer to the peoples’ refreshed questions about self-identity and affiliation. The idea of national belonging has been challenged by the idea of religious affinity, cultural background, or other defining factors of the citizen.
These changes have also had their go in other countries, the Arab countries in which the experience was not as shocking as the aforementioned states. The question on the nature of belonging and defining ones affiliation are among the most pressing in the last few years. Examining those questions further could provide an understanding of the dynamics of actors and groups that are shaping the political picture in the region today.
*The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not represent those of The Political Analysis.