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After the Arab Spring: power shift in the Middle East?

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The events of the Arab Spring were an inevitable surprise. In a region where political oppression and economic under-development were most keenly felt among a demographic bubble of well-educated youth, the classic conditions for revolution were met. However, few could have predicted the spark that would ignite a wave of protest across the region, the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor who felt humiliated by his treatment at the hands of petty local officials. The final outcome of the protests across the region is still uncertain, but more than a year on, events have settled into patterns sufficiently to allow an interim assessment of their success. Toby Dodge concludes this report by noting that ‘successful revolutions are very rare indeed’. Behind the headlines, this report’s conclusions are pessimistic. The authors here find little evidence to suggest that future historians will rank the events of 2011 with those of 1848, or 1989. Simply too few of the fundamentals of social, economic and political organisation in the Arab world have been successfully contested by the protests. As 2011’s Spring turns into 2012’s summer, the answer to the question of whether there has been a power shift in the Middle East, is a decisive ‘not yet’.

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