The article, which goes into a detailed analysis of the genesis of the book, as well as its structure and the overall value of its contribution, also touches upon some of the things said at the book’s launch event in SOAS.
We publish an extract of the article below. For the review in its original context (and its entirety) check out Egypt Independent by clicking here.
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Its essence is in its name: Jadaliyya, stemming from the Arabic word jadal, which means dialectic. Put simply, the word denotes a healthy debate using logical arguments or an intellectual investigation of an issue.
The name sets the tone for the website. Jadaliyya, founded just months before the Arab uprisings by a group of academics, quickly became a port of call for many wanting to understand the tumultuous events unfolding across the region.
With daily analysis, increasingly in Arabic as well as English, Jadaliyya offered more nuanced, in-depth coverage than most, but without the delays and exclusivity of academic journals.
“The Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of an Old Order?” published by Pluto Press is a collection of articles published on the website in the first months of the uprisings. Jadaliyya’s importance lies both in its analytical strength and political commitment. It combines sophisticated and informed analysis with what Adam Hanieh — one of its contributors — described as “a political commitment to a project of emancipation.”
Jadaliyya is avowedly partisan, positing a relationship between academia and the world about which it writes and from which it sustains its existence, where scholarship’s credibility comes not from claims of being objective but from being engaged.
Both scholarly and accessible — simplifying language, not ideas — it has implications on both journalistic and academic writings in the region. In terms of bridging that gap, some articles are unsurprisingly more successful than others.
The book is a collection of more than 30 articles published on the website in the first few months of the Arab uprisings. While not intended to be exhaustive, the book does offer a wide breadth of analysis geographically, and aims to address the silences or gaps in more mainstream analysis.
Organized by country, rather than thematically, the collection does not set out to offer an equally in-depth analysis of each country. Rather, in the words of co-editor Ziad Abu-Rish at the book’s launch at the London School of Oriental and African Studies this week, (the other co-editors are Bassem Haddad and Rosie Bsheer), its unevenness is itself a document of the unevenness of the field of Middle East studies.
The nine sections include Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, with a section dedicated to regional reverberations that broadens the analysis to countries less directly affected by the uprisings. An opening section sets the stage, addressing questions such as the terminology of revolution, the historical nature of the moment, and the problematic nature of dominant discourses about the uprisings.
The longest section is that on Egypt, with seven chapters, some published before Mubarak had stepped down. As with the rest of the book, the analytical tools and focal points are diverse. An essay by Elliot Colla published within a week of the beginning of the uprising discusses the importance and centrality of poetry.
Also published during the 18 days is Paul Amar’s piece discussing social actors and movements as well as charting a conflict between the military as “national capitalists” and the neoliberal “crony capitalists” associated with Gamal Mubarak. Walter Armbrust’s “The revolution against neoliberalism” in which he warns against technocratic “transitions,” and Adam Hanieh’s discussion of how the aid and investment initiatives on offer will only deepen Egypt’s neoliberal experiment and represent a restraint on the revolution were also widely read.
Omnia El-Shakry seeks to understand 2011 by looking at the continuities and discontinuities with previous moments of popular mobilization in Egypt, the revolutions of 1919 and 1952. An article by Saba Mahmood covers a range of questions from the purported leaderless nature of the uprising to labor protests and the blogosphere.
Meanwhile, Linda Herrera explores the blogosphere and the role of social media such as Facebook. Exemplifying the best sort of analysis offered by Jadaliyya, she is clear that there can be no such thing as a Facebook revolution, whilst also offering detailed analysis about the generational and demographical aspects of the use of social media and what this heralds for Egypt’s political and cultural life.
Collectively, the articles offer informed analysis of the region, one that challenges Eurocentric approaches and incorporates political economy, as well as taking account of each country’s regional and international positioning.
Stepping away from grand metanarratives, the book looks at divergences across countries. A certain understanding emerges from the collection: to make sense of the different trajectories of these countries, we should look at the level of regime cohesion, societal dynamics, as well as regime-society dynamics, and tie all of this into an analysis that also has a regional and international perspective.
The book warns against “overstating the affinity” across the Middle East, calling instead for a focus on the “significant differences among these polities, in terms of social structure, political-economic, ethnic, regional, social, and sectarian diversity.”