10 years after Arab Spring: gender issues and nationalism’s new lease of life

How should Russia reply to the turbulent processes in the Near East?

Russia has every chance of exporting its education and health care systems to the Arab East, these systems are becoming demanded in this region, thinks head of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vasily Kuznetsov. During the forum Islam in the Multicultural World, which recently took place in Kazan, the scientist explained what ideological tendencies were characteristic of Near Eastern countries after the Arab Spring. Read more in Realnoe Vremya’s report.

The whole world interested in the East’s problems

The 10th Islam in the Multicultural World international forum ended in Kazan on 26 December. During the plenary session o 25 December, head of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow) Vasily Kuznetsov delivered a report 10 Years after Arab Spring: Meta-Narrative Analysis. As the scientist explained, a number of plots in the Arab East have gone to the forefront of the public discussion:

  • the problem of civilisation identity;
  • the place of religion in public and political life;
  • the ratio of personal and general interest;
  • the problem of gender relations;
  • the problem of rethinking the colonial past.

“Narratives that were rethought in their own way manifested themselves again in these societies,” Kuznetsov said.

The political sphere of the Arab East is a complex interaction of all narratives.

Collage: 2011 Egyptian revolution, Tunisian revolution, 2011 Yemeni uprising, 2011 Syrian uprising. Source: wikipedia.org

Liberal-romantic and leftist narratives

So, he named the liberal-romantic narrative first. It becomes topical because civic society is getting stronger in the East.

“The number of non-governmental organisations in Arab countries has doubled in 10 years,” the orientalist explained. “This refers even to those countries that are experiencing conflicts. Around 80,000 non-governmental organisations are registered in Libya. The number was around zero under Kaddafi. We are dealing with more active societies that are more independent from states than before.”

A leftist narrative turned out to be second, it “has always existed and hasn’t disappeared anywhere”. It appears because socio-economic problems existing in society are going to the forefront. For instance, corruption is an unchangeable satellite of the development of different societies. This problem has become central to the Arab world precisely recently.

“There was a massive protest movement in Lebanon and Iraq in 2019 due to corruption,” the speaker commented. “There are other problems too — poverty, labour market, unemployment — and aggravate under the influence of economic crises. And the political discourse will in general turn into a leftist agenda.”

Protest campaign in Baghdad on 1 November 2019. Photo: wikipedia.org

Nationalism and conservatism

The nationalist narrative manifests itself in different forms. On the one hand, it is new Arab nationalism existing in two variants — as a grassroots movement based on cultural and communication community (the spring was precisely Arab, not Islamic or Near Eastern) and partly as a project that is purposively created in the region on anti-Iranian and partly anti-Turkish platforms.

“At the same time, we see new civic nationalisms strengthening in countries,” Kuznetsov went on. “Saudi Arabia that openly talks about an intention to ‘nationalise’ the Saudi state, that’s to say, turn it into the nation’s state is an illustrative example. Hence the religious reform Prince Mohammed bin Salman claims. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not the only example. According to him, these countries have to pay attention to security and development (the education and health care system).

“Russia has prospects from a perspective of exporting education and health care systems that can be in demand in this region,” he emphasised.

A conservative narrative is linked with a constant search for external reasons for their own disorder.

“Sources of the disorder have changed: world Zionism used to be the source, now the damn West is. But the general approach stays and remains popular,” the Moscow scientist concluded.

By Timur Rakhmatullin
Tatarstan