2012 Cline Symposium: After the Arab Spring: The Future of Democracy in the Middle East

(April 9-10, 2012)

Roundtable Discussion and Public Forum: "Looking Back at the Arab Spring, Why it Happened, Why it Matters Today, and What's Coming Next"

  • Date | Time: April 9, 2012  |  3:00-4:30 PM
  • Location: 119 Material Science Engineering Building, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Campus
  • Roundtable Panel: Professor Scott Althaus (Chair), Professor Timur Kuran, Professor Milan Svolik,   Professor Jose Cheibub, and Professor Hadi Esfahani.
  • [Forum Poster] | [Mini Poster] | [Resources on the Arab Spring]

Keynote Address: "Religious Obstacles to Democratization in the Middle East: Past and Present"

  • Date | Time: April 9, 2012 |  7:30-9:00 PM
  • Location: Alice Campbell Alumni Center Ballroom, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Campus
  • [Lecture Poster]
  • Keynote Speaker: Professor Timur Kuran


Background Information:

The events that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East since January 2011 have transformed the political map of the region.  Jointly termed the Arab Spring, these popular uprisings have brought down some of the most entrenched and repressive authoritarian regimes of our times.  Yet the political future of the Middle East is far from set.  While some countries in the region are setting up transitional governments and devising constitutional frameworks for their first democratic elections, others are in the midst of violent protests and fierce repression.  The political origins, dynamics, and implications of these momentous events will be the focus of the 2012 Cline Symposium.

The Arab Spring presents challenges that are both intellectual and political.  As with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989-1990, scholars and policy makers are once again surprised by the speed and scope of the transformation that is shaking the Middle East.  Why did these events occur now?  Why did experts fail to anticipate them?  Are revolutionary changes inherently unpredictable?  Were these regimes as brittle a decade ago as they seem today?  Or did technological change - the widespread ownership of cell phones and the emergence of social networks - undermine authoritarian stability?  Will the Arab Spring be the catalyst for a new, democratic Middle East?

This year's Cline Symposium will provide a retrospective on the Arab Spring that is both conceptual and policy-oriented.  In light of the ongoing transformation in the Middle East, we will examine the conditions under which popular uprisings emerge (Would these  changes occur without the self-immolation that triggered the Tunisian uprising?)  as well as factors that shape their dynamics and success (Are revolutions contagious?  Why have they overthrown dictators in Tunisia and Egypt but not Bahrain and Jordan?); we will consider the role of repression and ideology in authoritarian governance (Does repression instigate or impede protest? Were the aging dictators of the region and their successors too slow to adapt to technological change?); we will discuss the role of economic conditions (Did increasing world food prices play a role?  What about the worldwide financial crisis?), as well as the role of American and European foreign policy (Did the cautious, indirect support that the Obama administration has given to protesters facilitate or slow down the uprisings?).

The Arab Spring opens the potential for an outcome considered unthinkable just a few years ago by most policy makers, political scientists, and the citizens of the region - a new, democratic Middle East.  Yet a striking feature of these uprisings is the lack of an existing opposition or charismatic revolutionary leaders.  These have been truly popular revolutions.  While the popular character adds legitimacy to the ideals and aspirations of these uprisings, it may also prove a weakness on the path to actual democracy.  Due to decades of severe oppression, the opposition forces in almost every transforming country in the region lack recognized leadership, partisan organization, and coherent political ideology.  In fact, the only organized political force in this region comes from conservative Islamist groups.  Meanwhile, the emergent transitional governments are being formed under the tutelage of defecting, formerly authoritarian elites and their militaries.  Are these societies ready for democratic elections, and if so, when should these be held?  What constitutional framework should they adopt?  What should be the role of the United States in this process?  Will they result in democracy as we know it or a new form of illiberal, Islamic republics?


Keynote Speaker Bio:


Professor Timur Kuran is the Professor of Economics and Political Science and the Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University and is one of the world's leading authorities on the dynamics of social revolutions and the effects of Islam on the evolution of political institutions in the Middle East.