In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Arab Spring

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Military
  • Political Islam
  • Democratic Disillusionment and Frustrated Expectations
  • Microfoundations
  • Feminist Activism and Gender
  • Refugees and Host States after the Arab Uprisings
  • Electronic Resources

Political Science The Arab Spring
Allison Hartnett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 June 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0337


The Arab world’s resilient autocracies are a central puzzle in the comparative politics of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). But just as the Arab Spring was a critical juncture for MENA regimes, the popular uprisings that began in 2010 and 2011 also reoriented the study of MENA politics toward questions of social justice, redistribution, and inequality. Protesters, activists, and opposition groups articulated clear demands that aimed to dismantle systemic inequalities of political and economic opportunity after decades of failed neoliberal policies and cronyism. Identity groups and geographies conventionally considered peripheral to the study of MENA politics now featured as prime movers and arenas of contestation. This annotated bibliography focuses explicitly on these themes and their application to the study of the Arab Spring in comparative political science. The resources included in this guide fall under three main categories. The first grouping includes general and case-specific accounts of the Arab Spring. This includes not only zeitgeist cases like Tunisia and Egypt, but also those where the rapid spread of the Arab Spring forced changes to politics “as usual.” This includes second-wave cases like Sudan and Algeria, where protest movements coalesced several years following the Jasmine Revolution. The second category considers how structure and agency factor into analyses of regime strategy, contentious politics, political economy, the military, and political Islam. Third, the bibliography highlights the identity politics of the Arab Spring, including youth, minority populations, and gender.

General Overviews

Gause 2011 observes that the Arab uprisings took most scholars of the region by surprise. Many studies, therefore, revisit the recent authoritarian past to make sense of why this moment was prime for revolt, and to explain why post-Spring trajectories varied so widely. Despite rapidly diffusing throughout the region in late 2010 and early 2011, protest movements in each country were shaped by their own unique authoritarian histories, as described by Anderson 2011 and Gelvin 2015. Taking a comparative approach emphasized in Gerges 2014 and Heydemann 2016 highlights the uprisings’ diversity across a range of actors, grievances, and regime responses. The contributions in Lesch and Haas 2017 acknowledge the significance of the uprisings in shaping downstream political outcomes, from democratic transition in Tunisia to autocratic reform and retrenchment in Jordan and Morocco to civil war in Syria and Yemen. Despite the wide range of outcomes and effects of this contentious moment, the Arab Spring prompted the discipline of comparative politics to, as Amar and Prashad 2013 wrote, “rethink how we all apprehend the Arab world.”

  • Amar, Paul, and Vijay Prashad, eds. Dispatches from the Arab Spring: Understanding the New Middle East. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

    This volume presents case study chapters that cover fourteen countries. This multidisciplinary collection provides context for both cases that experienced uprising and revolution and those countries less active in the Arab Spring’s first wave.

  • Anderson, Lisa. “Demystifying the Arab Spring.” Foreign Affairs 90.3 (2011): 1–3.

    Anderson draws on her deep knowledge of state formation in North Africa in this early analysis of the differences between Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan uprisings. She identifies the key elite players and the distinct demographic and political challenges in each case.

  • Gause, F. Gregory. “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring.” Foreign Affairs 90.4 (2011): 85–90.

    Gause outlines the reasons why the academic community failed to predict the Arab Spring. He argues that knowledge creation in Middle East studies focused on explaining the mechanisms of durable autocratic rule, namely co-optation and coercion, without paying sufficient attention to regime-military relations, the economic foundations of authoritarian bargains, and shifts in pan-Arab and other political identities.

  • Gelvin, James. The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1093/wentk/9780190222741.001.0001

    This text is organized in a question-answer format and provides a thematic overview of the Arab Spring. Beginning from a historical background of the development of Arab states, case studies of first movers (Egypt, Tunisia), weak states (Yemen, Libya), and coup-proofed regimes (Bahrain, Syria) make up the majority of the analysis. The book concludes by evaluating the implications of the Arab Spring for Arab monarchies, American foreign policy, and the other regional and global conflicts.

  • Gerges, Fawaz, ed. The New Middle East: Protest and Revolution in the Arab World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    An edited volume divided into four sections. The first contextualizes the structural and economic causes of the Arab uprisings. The second identifies core themes that emerged from the protests themselves. The third and fourth sections provide regional and country case analyses, often in comparative perspective.

  • Heydemann, Steven. “Explaining the Arab Uprisings: Transformations in Comparative Perspective.” Mediterranean Politics 21.1 (2016): 192–204.

    DOI: 10.1080/13629395.2015.1081450

    This article invokes a comparison between the Arab Spring and other moments of political change, particularly post-1989 democratic transitions in Eastern Europe. Heydemann raises questions about academic theories of democratization and our empirical understanding of power structures in Arab autocracies. The article is part of a special issue in Mediterranean Politics devoted to understanding the elite politics and opportunity structures that led to divergent outcomes in Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt.

  • Lesch, David W., and Mark L. Haas, eds. The Arab Spring: The Hope and Reality of the Uprisings. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2017.

    The second edition of this edited volume compiles expert cases studies on how the Arab Spring affected Arab and non-Arab states, including a new chapter on the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq.

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