Five years ago, revolution was spreading across the Arab World. In different countries, it followed different courses: civil uprisings brought down Governments fell in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen. In Libya, it took armed insurrection and foreign intervention. In Bahrain, a government succeeded in suppressing mass protests. In Syria, protests triggered repression, which triggered armed insurgency, which turned into the protracted civil war de-stabilizing the region today. At the time, there was a lot of writing about what was behind the wave of unrest: a generational shift from a concern with nationalism to a concern with democracy; an economic shift that drove up prices for food and fuel; a climate shift and resulting drought that made an already-hard life for farmers unbearable; the emergence of social media-based organizing, which breathless pundits said would spell the end of dictatorship everywhere. But none of those facile descriptions account for how each country moved in very different directions afterwards. Tunisia has a robust democracy. Egypt flirted with islamist rule and then returned to military control. Libya is a failed state. We’ll explore one of the most fundamental drivers behind the uprisings, and what followed: the role of labor.
- Joel Beinin, professor of history at Stanford University; now out with a book called Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt