Human Rights Review

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 413–431 | Cite as

You Say You Want a Revolution: the Arab Spring, Norm Diffusion, and the Human Rights Regime

  • Julie Harrelson-StephensEmail author
  • Rhonda L. Callaway


We discuss how the Arab Spring is a reflection of the resiliency of the human rights regime. In order to accomplish this, we explore the extent to which the Arab Spring represents norm diffusion among Middle East and North Africa (MENA) states. Specifically, we examine the cases of Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain and consider how economic and demographic changes created space for human rights discourse in these countries. We find that, in the case of MENA states, the Arab Spring represents significant pressure from below. Access to new forms of social media allowed civil society to organize, publicize, and protest relatively efficiently. Social media expanded the potential role of individuals and created newly empowered latent human rights activists who emerged as leaders of the norm diffusion process. The resulting diffusion of human rights norms in the Arab region represents one of the most significant expansions of the human rights regime since the regime’s inception.


Arab Spring Norm diffusion Human rights regime Social media Constructivism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceStephen F. Austin State UniversityNacogdochesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political Science, College of Humanities and Social SciencesSam Houston State UniversityHuntsvilleUSA

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