When people think about social movements in the middle east or north Africa, they might not even think the word social – they usually relate to Islam, irrational radicalism, authoritarianism, terrorism and violence. It’s true, because those words pretty much describe the extent of my knowledge on the topic prior to reading the articles.
The Social Movement Theory (SMT) is usually used to explain why social mobilisation occurs, and its consequences, but people rarely take the middle east and north Africa into consideration during discussion, according to Beinin and Variel. This is because it takes similarities in different social movements and tries to explain them as a whole – this cannot be applied to the middle east and north African countries; every social movement, mobilisation and contestation is dynamic and relative, their context, networks and contentious practices all need to be take into consideration for each individual case.
What I have gotten out of the articles is that the difference between those countries’ movements and those of the western world is that they do not have the same freedom and resources to form organisations. Informal networks are also key to their mobilisation, even though the goal of these networks is to unite people and make their voice heard without presenting themselves as threats to the authority.
Other than movements and organisations with religious agenda, human rights is actually a main factor behind a lot of recent movements/revolutions in the middle east such as in Turkey, Egypt, Bahrain and Morocco. The exact cause of mobilisation and outcome in each country is different for each country. For example human rights is more supported by the government of Bahrain than by Egypt, and human rights activists often do not want to work with Islamist groups even though they are usually more powerful. Maybe this has an obvious answer, but why not?
What I do not understand is how social and political change can be achieved when most of these countries are under authoritarianism with heavy constraints against protests? I would not want to challenge that, which is understandable why they connect locally through informal networks. Even though it makes sense to not have conventional forms of activism against authority when the society is politically closed, its hard to wrap my head around how this collective but silent effort by the people could work.
So maybe a lot more research needs to be done to understand more than the fact that secular movements had and will continue happening under those circumstances.