Popular Movements in the Middle East and North Africa

Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements book series (PSHSM)


Against top-down or one-dimensional histories, this chapter draws attention to the importance and the variety of popular movements in the Middle East and North Africa since the eighteenth century. Resistance has occurred at multiple scales, from the anti-imperial to the domestic, and involved everyday forms as well as collective confrontations, abstract ideology as well as proverbial wisdom, religiosity and secularism, organization and spontaneity, and armed struggle, civil disobedience, and persuasion. The chapter advances a four part periodization to identify change over time, and situates protest movements in geopolitical, political, socio-economic, and cultural contexts. While the cultural essentialism and exceptionalism of (neo)Orientalism is rejected, the main goal of the chapter is to challenge socioeconomic determinism and modernist teleology. Emphasized are geopolitical, political, and ideational dynamics, including the machinations of external and regional powers, the location and role of the state and political contestation, and the role of intellectual labour. Activism is not seen in developmentalist terms, but as jagged with peaks and troughs; form and content change over time; consciousness does not simply expand: ideas are forgotten, as well as re-discovered or developed anew. Rather than seeing the national context as the natural one for the history of popular movements, the chapter pays attention to the trans-local, illustrating throughout some of the ways in which transversal ties between non-state actors have been at play in popular movements. The chapter aims, finally, to foreground the movements of subaltern social groups compared to middle class or elite-based collective action. Overall, the chapter aims to show that popular movements are not epiphenomenal, but an integral part of the region’s history.


Middle East Civil Disobedience Muslim Brotherhood Protest Movement Popular Movement 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GovernmentLondon School of EconomicsLondonUK

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