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When Authoritarianism Fails in the Arab World: Understanding the Recourse to the Muslim Lexicon

28th February 2013

When Authoritarianism fails in the Arab World: understanding the recourse to the Muslim lexicon

Dr Francois Burgat , director of research at the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research)

For the first time in decades, ‘Arab revolutions’, ushered in by the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, make it possible to seriously envision a phasing out of the autocratic machinery in the Middle East and North Africa. Whatever the end results of this awakening, the glimpse at a post-authoritarian era has already affected domestic and international political dynamics, if only by anticipation. In the parliamentary arenas, even if it is clear that its roots are to be found deep in the fourteen centuries of Muslim history and the realities or the myths of a long interaction with the West, the explanation of the rise of contemporary Islamism can be circumscribed within a timeline of the last hundred years or so.

It is essential, to reach a better understanding, to distinguish two processes and so two levels of analysis: on the one hand, the essentially identity-centered reasons for which a generation of political actors originally choose to “speak Muslim”, that is to say, preferentially and at times ostentatiously to have recourse to a lexicon or a vocabulary derived from Muslim culture; on the other hand, the diversified uses that such actors make of this lexicon, in each of the countries where the failure of Authoritarianism offers them new opportunities as well as in the North/South arena, contingent on variables which are simultaneously multiple, banal and profane, and so determine their different political claims and mobilisations.

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Biography

Dr Francois Burgat is a political scientist, director of research at the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research), and, since 2008, director of the Institut français du Proche-Orient (IFPO – French Institute for the Near East), a leading multidisciplinary research institution at the service of knowledge production on the societies of the Near-East with a focus on Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Iraq. Dr Burgat has carried research in the Maghreb, Near East and Arabic Peninsula for the last 30 years and worked in the University of Constantine in Algeria, at the Cedej in Cairo, and was between 1997 and 2003 the director of the Centre Français d’Archéologie et de Sciences Sociales in Sanaa, Yemen.

The French Embassy has generously sponsored a cycle of lectures and workshops which bring to Cambridge leading scholars from France to interact and foster research collaborations with experts in Cambridge from across the Schools of Arts and Humanities and Humanities and Social Sciences. In this second year of collaboration, the cycle of talks and workshops will explore the complex theme of identity in 21st-century France and beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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